The Philadelphia Eagles weathered a shoddy first-half performance to defeat the visiting Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday, but there are some concerns going forward.
By Mike Diviney
On Sunday, the Eagles shook off their slumber just in time to narrowly avert what would have been a disastrous loss.
Season openers are often odd simply by virtue of being the first games of the season, but the Eagles’ 34-17 victory unfolded in a way even odder than most.
After falling behind 17-0 to the visiting Jaguars, the Eagles went into the half in danger of being blown out by a team that had been the worst in the NFL last season.
Their troubles were caused mainly by horrid play from quarterback Nick Foles.
Even after recording the third-highest QB rating in NFL history last season, some doubted Foles’ ability to become a true franchise quarterback. Thus, there was added pressure as he entered his first season as “The Guy.”
In the first half, Foles indeed did seem to wilt under that pressure. He was jittery in the pocket and generally lost, surrendering two fumbles in Eagles territory and then throwing an interception in the end zone. His hallmarks of accuracy, poise, and ball security were seemingly gone.
The potential for disaster loomed even larger than losing a bad game. If Foles did not turn it around, if Chip Kelly had replaced him with back-up Mark Sanchez—for whom some fans were calling—the Eagles would have had a quarterback controversy on their hands. Entire seasons can be derailed by such problems.
Fortunately, Kelly realized such a move could have proved cataclysmic for the Eagles. Both Foles and Kelly showed great composure and leadership in persevering through that stretch of extreme adversity; however, they should not have been in that position in the first place.
Foles was still not sharp in the second half, but found his footing enough to lead the team back to win. He threw a touchdown pass to Zack Ertz and another, 68-yarder to Jeremy Maclin with seven minutes remaining to finally take the lead. These were sandwiched around a crucial 51-yard field goal by new place kicker, Cody Parkey, which knotted the score at 17.
The other touchdown that rallied the Eagles was Darren Sproles’ 49-yard burst up the middle, which got it all started. Sproles was everything fans could have hoped for in his first game as an Eagle. Kelly did a great job of utilizing Sproles’ playmaking ability in all phases of the game, and he contributed with catching, rushing, and return yardage.
It should be noted that, on a day when the Eagles’ vaunted offense sputtered early, it was the defense and special teams that prevented the Jaguars from building an insurmountable lead.
The special teams covered well and blocked a first-half field goal attempt to stop the bleeding. The defense played well all day, holding the Jaguars to 2 of 14 on third-down opportunities and playing stout against the run.
Tackle Fletcher Cox scored the Eagles’ final points of the game when he scooped up a fumble caused by a Trent Cole sack, and rumbled into the end zone. Eagles fans could finally breathe a sigh of relief.
The optimistic view is to attribute Foles’ uneven game and terrible start to first-game jitters. Truth be told, he should be beyond that by now, and it is very uncharacteristic based on his first two seasons.
If that is all it was and he plays a solid four quarters in the next game, fans likely do not need to worry about it. If it becomes a pattern, fans, Foles, Chip Kelly, and the Eagles have a huge problem.
Looking forward, the only other thing that could pose a problem were the losses of offensive linemen Alan Barbre (a backup starting in place of suspended right tackle Lane Johnson) and by guard Evan Mathis. The extent of their injuries is currently unknown.
A positive note is that the other three NFC East teams all began their 2014 seasons with a loss. To hope that the Eagles win the division by default is a dangerous modus operandi. Surely, one of those teams will jell at some point and pose a threat to the Eagles’ defense of their division crown.
We’ll all find out next week as the Eagles continue their 2014 in prime time, on Monday night in Indianapolis.