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Points by Ben Simmons during Game 3 victory over Nets

It Ertz so good

Posted by Eric Fisher On January 1

When the 2016 schedule came out, the final two games – against the Giants and Cowboys – seemed crucial to winning the NFC East.

The Eagles accomplished that goal, beating the Giants and Cowboys at Lincoln Financial Field, but those victories didn’t have any effect on their fortunes in the NFC East.

The Eagles finished their season Sunday with a 27-13 victory over the Cowboys, who had already wrapped up the NFC East and homefield advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.

Head coach Doug Pederson cited the wins over NFC East opponents at the end of the season as evidence that the Eagles are pointed in the right direction, but the wins over the Giants and Cowboys didn’t prevent the Eagles (7-9) from finishing in last place in the NFC East. And these weren’t the real Cowboys the Eagles beat on Sunday.

Seven players were inactive for the Cowboys, including three starters on the defensive line. Standout rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott and star linebacker Sean Lee were active, but did not play a single down. Rookie quarterback Dak Prescott played the first two series before turning over the reins to Tony Romo for one series. For most of the game, the Eagles faced former Eagle Mark Sanchez, who threw two interceptions and finished with a miserable passing rating of 27.5.

Positive perspective

So what did we learn from the Eagles’ victory over the Cowboys in the season-finale?

“To win the last two games gives us momentum into the offseason,” said rookie quarterback Carson Wentz, who completed 27 of 43 passes for 245 yards and two touchdowns.

Pederson noted that he challenged the team a few weeks ago to finish strong, and he said, “Our last month shows me that we’re headed in the right direction.”

Positive signs included tight end Zach Ertz catching 13 passes for 139 yards and two touchdowns, Jordan Hicks intercepting two Sanchez passes, and Terrell Watson scoring a late-game touchdown in his first NFL game.

There were also some positive cumulative numbers. With 379 completions this season, Wentz set a franchise record and an NFL rookie record for completions in one season, passing Sam Bradford, the man whose trade elevated him into a starting role, in both categories. Caleb Sturgis topped David Akers’ record for field goals in one season by an Eagle. The defense only allowed 12 touchdowns at home, which is the best mark in the NFL this season.

Not so impressive

On the other hand, the Eagles were in a 10-10 battle at halftime and held just a 17-13 lead entering the fourth quarter against a team using its third-string quarterback and resting or limiting the time of practically every significant player.

Prescott led the Cowboys to a field goal on the Cowboys’ second possession. When Romo entered the game in the second quarter, he calmly led the Cowboys on an 81-yard touchdown drive that took just 2 minutes, 49 seconds. That touchdown gave the Cowboys a 10-3 lead.

The Cowboys may have retained that lead into halftime except that Hicks twice picked off Sanchez. The Eagles turned the second interception, which came on the first play after the two-minute warning, into a 6-yard touchdown pass from Wentz to Ertz for the tying score 7 seconds before halftime.

After the Cowboys took the lead on Dan Bailey’s 23-yard field goal early in the third quarter, the Eagles regained the lead with an 89-yard drive, culminating in a beautifully thrown 20-yard touchdown pass to Ertz on the left side of the end zone.

“It’s hard to win in this league without a quarterback,” said Ertz, who noted that there have been five quarterbacks in his four seasons with the Eagles. “And we know that we have a franchise quarterback.”

Eagles find franchise quarterback

The biggest positive that can be taken out of this 7-9 season is that Wentz had 16 starts to develop his game. The original plan, according to Pederson, was for Wentz to be inactive for most games. But the trading of Bradford eight days before the season enabled Wentz to gain valuable experience.

“His progress from the start of the year to today is night and day,” Pederson said. “Night and day. (For the) better. He’s surveying the field, he’s seeing the whole field, he’s using his legs.

“He’s an exciting player to watch – and to coach.”

Wentz, who passed as many times this season as he did during his college career, acknowledged that this year was a learning experience.

“I learned a lot about myself, about different (teammates) and about the league,” Wentz said.

When asked about setting the record for completions by a rookie, Wentz said, “It’s cool, but, at the end of the day, we’re still 7-9 and going home, so that’s what matters.”

Speaking of cool, after the go-ahead touchdown pass to Ertz, Wentz got the football and handed it to Angels outfielder Mike Trout, the Millville, N.J., resident and Eagles season-ticket holder who went hunting with the rookie quarterback between the Giants and Cowboys game.

Looking toward the future

Wentz isn’t Trout. Not yet. But he certainly appears to be a franchise quarterback. Now that the Eagles appear to have their franchise quarterback, how close are they to being a contender?

“We’re close. We’re very close,” Pederson said. “Even though the win-loss (record) is not more favorable, we lost six games by a touchdown or less.

“We’ve got to learn how to make plays and finish games, but I think we’re extremely close. Not just in the NFC East, but for the postseason.”

As has been the case all season, the head coach and rookie quarterback seem to be on the same page.

“We’re building something special,” Wentz said. “We truly believe that in the locker room.”

The jury is still out on the future. Receiver and cornerback certainly are areas of dire need. There are question marks at running back and linebacker as well, not to mention that the jury remains out on Pederson.

Nothing that happened during the final two games answered those questions.

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