ARLINGTON, Texas -- LeSean McCoy was furious with himself.
He had the ball with two hands, and then he didn't. A helmet had knocked the ball loose. The Dallas Cowboys recovered it at the Philadelphia Eagles' 13-yard line. Early in the third quarter, it was the break the Cowboys needed to get back in this game.
"I was really angry and I never get like that when I fumble," McCoy said. "It happens. It's part of the game."
So McCoy made a promise: "Give me a little hole, and I promise you I'll score," he said.
The next time the Eagles had the ball, they faced a second-and-5 on the Dallas 38-yard line. McCoy got his hole. He burst off the right tackle and went 38 yards for a touchdown. The Eagles led 30-10 and wound up winning Thursday, 33-10.
Three times this season, the Eagles had played road games against NFC playoff contenders. Three times -- at San Francisco, at Arizona, at Green Bay -- the Eagles lost. The Green Bay game, a 53-20 blowout that was the most lopsided loss of Chip Kelly's tenure, was just two weeks ago.
So now here they were, soundly beating their one competitor in the NFC East race. McCoy, whose numbers were way down from last season, when he led the NFL, ran for a season-high 159 yards. Mark Sanchez threw for one touchdown and ran for another, without a single turnover. The defense that Aaron Rodgers embarrassed 11 days earlier held DeMarco Murray to a season-low 73 yards, sacked Tony Romo four times and intercepted him twice.
The Eagles improved to 9-3. With the calendar about to flip over to December, they have games against Seattle and Dallas in Philadelphia, then close out the season with road games at Washington and New York. It is the perfect time to be playing their best football.
"I've seen the team improve as the season's gone along," Kelly said. "Besides Nick [Foles], we're relatively healthy. I think we had our fair share [of injuries] early and I think we weathered that storm. We're just getting better. We've given ourselves an opportunity to play meaningful football in December."
Last season, the Eagles went 7-1 in the second half. They clinched the NFC East title by coming to Dallas and beating the Cowboys 24-22 in the final game. That night, McCoy wore a boxing-style championship belt to celebrate his NFL rushing title.
Earlier this week, McCoy conceded that Murray would win this season's rushing title. But he also takes pride in outperforming elite running backs.
"I just try to play my game," McCoy said. "I can't take anything from him, because he's a heck of a player. I've always thought that and always said that. I talked to him at the Pro Bowl. I said, 'Man, if they feed you more, there's some things you could do.' He's always been a good player. I know where I stand. In the big picture, we're trying to win games. Obviously I want to outrush him. It's a pride thing."
McCoy became the first Eagles back ever to top 1,000 rushing yards in four seasons. He also is closing in on Wilbert Montgomery's franchise record for career rushing yards.
But it's the Eagles' record that matters most. It's their chance to build on their earlier wins, finish strong and go into the playoffs on a hot streak. That is what became possible by beating Dallas so decisively here.
"I think we have the ability to be a great football team," wide receiver Jeremy Maclin said. "I think there's some things that we've got to get better at. We're hitting our stride. A couple weeks ago, we got our butts beat up in Lambeau. I'm excited about what we can do going forward."
For all the positives, and despite scoring 33 points, the Eagles walked off the field knowing they hadn't played their best game. They moved the ball well but bogged down when they reached the red zone. Kicker Cody Parkey made four field goals, all 31 yards or shorter.
"I'm really proud of this effort on such a short week," Sanchez said. "We left a ton of meat on the bone. We threw it in the red zone so many times."
Sanchez, too, played his best all-around game as the Eagles' starting quarterback.
"I think he's just getting more comfortable," Kelly said. "I said it earlier in the week. He missed an entire year of football. There's no substitution for playing. He played well in the preseason but then sat until the Houston game. So I think he's just starting to get more comfortable, starting to recognize the looks he's getting and sometimes getting to a second receiver, a third receiver, keeping things alive."
Sanchez outdueled Romo. McCoy topped Murray. The Eagles' offensive line was the better unit when compared to Dallas' line. The Eagles had the better defense.
"We wanted to make a statement," defensive tackle Bennie Logan said. "You know it is a divisional game. It is always a big win for us when you can win on the road against a division opponent."