The Eagles have been searching for the reasons that can explain their shaky season as defending Super Bowl champions. After Monday night’s 28-13 win over the sagging Washington Redskins, the reasons are becoming clearer.
It’s not the injuries, it’s not the schedule, it’s not the roster changes, it’s themselves.
It just seemed like the game was a struggle for the Eagles until the fourth quarter, when the Birds broke open a 14-13 game, scoring 14 unanswered points and improving their record to 6-6, setting up a showdown against the 7-5 Cowboys, in Dallas next Sunday for the lead in the NFC East. Both teams are 3-1 in division play.
To win that game, the Birds will not be able to make the mistakes or leave points on the field the way they did against the Redskins (6-6).
The Birds have yet to seize the moment on offense, defense and special teams. Two times, the Eagles looked impressive driving inside the Redskins five-yard line. One drive ended with no points when they turned the ball over on downs, with 9:36 left in the second quarter.
The second time came at the end of the Eagles’ first drive of the second half. Carson Wentz was outstanding, leading the Eagles to a first and goal at the Washington five-yard line.
For some reason, Wentz, with good protection, tried to force the ball into Alshon Jeffery. All-Pro cornerback Josh Norman intercepted the pass in full stride and raced 40 yards, giving third-string quarterback Mark Sanchez good field position.
The Eagles defense stepped up, and the drive went nowhere.
Second-year running back Corey Clement, who rushed five times for 27 yards and caught three passes for 47 more yards, said the Birds can’t afford to have long drives that net zero points if they want to have success in Dallas next week.
“Definitely, we have to get points out of every single drive,” he said. “There’s no drive we just say, Llet’s try to get three.’ We need to get seven every single time. You always have to be ready, you always have to be alert. We have to come away with points every time. I agree.”
Yes, the Eagles finally scored a touchdown in the first quarter on their opening drive. Wentz looked good leading the Birds on a 12-play, 75-yard drive, culminating with a six-yard touchdown pass to recently acquired wide receiver Golden Tate, his first of the year as an Eagle.
The Eagles scored a second touchdown with 1:54 left in the first half when Darren Sproles, making his first appearance since game one of the season, followed a block by center Jason Kelce and zig-zagged his way 14 yards for the score.
But those were the only points the Eagles would score until the fourth quarter, when the Birds broke open a game that was too close for comfort after three quarters.
Still, the offense put up 28 points. Wentz was asked about the offense starting to mesh and how big that will be playing the Cowboys defense next week:
“We know Dallas is a great team,” said Wentz, who 27-of-39 for 306 yards, two touchdown passes and one interception. He was not sacked and got hit just four times. “They’re a great team, a great defense, [and] they make things tough for you. So, the way we are finally starting to mesh a little bit offensively, it’s going to be big for us going down there. We have our work cut out for us, for sure.”
Rookie Josh Adams rushed 20 times for 85 yards to lead the Eagles.
Overall, the Eagles defense played well. Allowing 13 points is solid, especially with so many players still missing. But there were lapses. Redskins starting quarterback Colt McCoy was 4-of-4 for 50 yards two plays into the second quarter. The drive, Washington’s second of the game, had stalled at the Eagles’ 26-yard line. After the Redskins’ Dustin Hopkins kicked a 44-yard field goal, it was revealed McCoy had broken his leg on the previous play and was lost for the season.
In came Sanchez, a former Eagle.
Sanchez was signed by the Redskins on Nov. 19 to serve as the backup to McCoy after starter Alex Smith suffered a season-ending leg injury.
The Eagles defensive front must have been salivating at the thought of getting after Sanchez, who was chided early and often by Eagles fans. On his first play, from their own 10-yard line, Sanchez handed off to the ageless Adrian Peterson, who raced untouched 90 yards for the only touchdown of the night for the visitors.
“They caught us out of our gaps,” said safety Malcolm Jenkins, who had a sack, a tackle for loss and a quarterback hit. “It was just a big hole, and AP hit it downhill and broke one tackle and showed that he still has those jets. It was just one of those ones where you just chalk it up and move on. Before that play, we were doing good against the run and afterwards we were able to bottle it down. They just caught us.”
Sanchez finished 13-of-21 for 100 yards. He was sacked twice, hit nine times and intercepted once.
Peterson ended up with nine carries for 98 yards.
The Eagles will need to pull out all the stops next week against the Cowboys if they want to have a chance improve to 7-6 and make a run at the NFC East title.
They will need Sproles and Tate to be at their best.
The Birds will need Zach Ertz to continue to dominate like he did last night, catching nine passes for 83 yards, breaking Brian Westbrook’s single-season record of 90 catches in 2007.
The Eagles were 7-for-13 on third-down conversions on the night. They will need to continue that.
They cannot count on getting to play against the Cowboys’ third-string quarterback. Dak Prescott does turn the ball over, and it will be key for the Birds to help the offense with getting extra possessions. The have just nine takeaways on the season, which ranks them among the worst in the NFL.
Still, the Eagles can hang their hat on a productive night even with a secondary that is still missing Jalen Mills and Avonte Maddox. The Birds also were without the services of starting linebacker Jordan Hicks for the second consecutive game.
“I’m just happy with how we all competed,” said defensive end Brandon Graham, who had three tackles, a sack, two quarterback hurries and a forced fumble. “A lot of guys take a lot of stuff with the new guys in there, but everybody’s got each other’s back. You could see that today. Those boys (secondary) made some plays that got us off the field. And that’s all you really want on third down. That’s what’s been killing us.”
One of those plays Graham was referring to happened with Washington facing third and 14 from the its own 21-yard line with 10:53 left in the fourth quarter and the Eagles up nine, 22-13.
Sanchez took a shotgun snap, then hit tight end Jordan Reed with a short screen pass, four yards behind the line of scrimmage. The Eagles defense appeared to bite as Reed fired a long overhand lateral to Chris Thompson, who, while the ball was in the air, looked like he could take it to the house.
But second-year cornerback Rasul Douglas stayed home and tackled Thompson for just a net 4-yard gain, forcing the Redskins to punt.
“All I know is I turned around and I just seen him (Thompson) running,” Douglas said at his locker after the game. “I just put my foot in the ground and chased him. I just knew I had to make a play, at least slow him down until someone can come and help.”
Douglas said don’t give up on the Eagles.
“We’ve got a lot of ball left,” Douglas said. “We got a lot guys in this room and the leaders that we got…next play, let’s go.” ••