The list included: a coach’s job security, a quarterback struggling to make plays, an offensive coordinator perhaps on his last chance and a defense left wobbly after its previous game. All in all, it added up to a season on the line.
But the Cowboys left Lincoln Financial Field with a 27-20 victory that seemed improbable after losing their first four road games of the season, and they find themselves alive and breathing, if not entirely well just yet.
“When you’re feeling low and you’re seeing the Grim Reaper and then come in and have your team perform the way these guys did, I promise you it’s a special feeling,” owner and general manager Jerry Jones said. “I won’t need any wings on that airplane getting back to Dallas.”
They left Philly with a win after Jason Garrett rallied a young team that had been rattled and a coaching staff that had been questioned.
They left with a win after Dak Prescott threw two touchdown passes in a road game for the first time this season. After Ezekiel Elliott rushed for more than 150 yards against the NFL’s second-best run defense and scored twice.
After coordinator Scott Linehan managed the offense as well as it has been managed all year. After the defense did just enough, with Leighton Vander Esch book-ending a first-quarter interception with a huge fourth-quarter tackle, which preceded Jeff Heath’s fourth-down stop of Zach Ertz with 1:09 to play.
“I don’t know that I learned anything new [about his team],” Garrett said. “You try to build a team of guys who love football, who are mentally tough, and I think those things get revealed when you have to go through some adversity over the course of the season.
"I thought they did a great job coming back after [the Cowboys' 28-14 loss to Tennessee the previous week], just getting back to work, not blinking. Just going back to work and understanding the importance of what this next opponent is and playing 60 minutes. Thought we did a better job of that in this game than we have in the last few games. Dealing with the adversities of the game and keep playing. Dealing with the successes of the game and keep playing.”
At times early in the game, Prescott was bad. He held on to the ball too long, which resulted in sacks -- including a 13-yard sack in the second quarter.
At times, Prescott was brilliant: At the end of the first half, he connected on five passes for 79 yards and sneaked in from a yard out with 19 seconds left for the Cowboys’ first touchdown.
Then with 7:27 to play in a tied game, Prescott turned it up a notch once again, with a 17-yard completion to rookie tight end Dalton Schultz, a floater to Amari Cooper for 24 yards and a critical third-and-8 completion to Allen Hurns for 23 yards. From there, the Cowboys rode Elliott, giving him the ball three straight times, leading to his second touchdown of the game.
When the Cowboys were at their best in 2016, they rode rookies Prescott and Elliott. Now almost grizzled veterans in their third year, Prescott was efficient and Elliott was explosive on Sunday.
Prescott completed 26 of 36 passes for 270 yards and a touchdown. Elliott finished with 151 yards on 19 carries with a touchdown run and touchdown reception.
"We needed it,” Elliott said. “It was absolutely mandatory that we went and got this win. We want to keep our hopes up for winning this division and making the playoffs. So we had to go out there and win."