Nick Foles stood tall in the clutch behind a motley, overachieving offensive line that is bolstered by unity, if not good health.
By Mike Diviney
In Week Three, the Eagles defeated the visiting Washington Redskins 37-34, continuing their pattern of playing wild games. The last two games in particular have also been wildly entertaining for Eagles fans.
The Eagles’ penchant for falling behind early in each game has led to high drama down the stretch. This time, the largest deficit they faced was 17-7 with 8:49 left in the second quarter.
It was only that close due to a 102-yard kickoff returned by Chris Polk for a touchdown—the first ever by an Eagle at Lincoln Financial Field.
At that time, the vaunted Eagles’ offense had barely touched the ball. Polk’s touchdown and a quick fumble by Darren Sproles in the first quarter meant that, after 28 minutes of play, the Eagles offense had possessed the ball for all of five-and-a-half minutes.
On a day that Lesean McCoy had perhaps his least productive game as a pro and the productive Darren Sproles had just five touches, the pressure fell squarely on the shoulders of quarterback Nick Foles.
Foles responded with one of his best and gutsiest performance to date. He completed 27 of 41 attempts for 325 yards and three touchdowns without throwing an interception. He had relied on running backs and tight ends for the first two weeks of the season, and was having trouble connecting with his wide receivers. Against the Redskins, however, he repeatedly found Maclin, Matthews, and Cooper for first downs, and hit wide receivers for all three of his touchdowns, including two to emerging rookie Jordan Matthews.
The second half featured nine combined scores, frenetic play, and a brawl reminiscent of old-time NFC East football. The Eagles and Redskins have a lengthy rivalry, and often play close, exciting games; on this day, both teams were playing very physical football, and neither would give up.
Perhaps the heightened intensity was fueled by the presence of former Eagle Desean Jackson on the opposing sideline. Jackson has always been a lightning rod because of his otherworldly speed, his ability to make big plays—and his penchant for being a malcontent. What had been a quiet day for Jackson turned quite loud in the third quarter with an 81-yard, game-tying touchdown reception.
Jackson’s big play was upstaged in the fourth quarter, however, when Foles sustained a brutal cheap shot from Redskins defensive lineman Chris Baker that ignited an all-out brawl. Baker and Eagles lineman Jason Peters were ejected afterwards, and the officials ordered both teams back to their benches.
Considering the Eagles had lost three starters from their already depleted offensive line, as center Jason Kelce was felled earlier in the game, Peters’ action were perhaps unwise. However, doing whatever is necessary to protect his quarterback will endear Peters to Eagles fans and forge deeper bonds among his teammates that will pay big dividends down the line.
For Foles, the hit gave him an opportunity to show the kind of grit and toughness Eagles fans love. That he led the team on a drive to retake the lead will only further persuade them. In a bit of poetic justice, the go-ahead touchdown was a beautiful 18-yard strike to Jeremy Maclin, whose return from injury was part of the impetus to cut Jackson. Maclin outplayed Jackson on the day, gaining 154 yards on eight catches.
Cody Parkey continued to be a revelation as Alex Henery’s replacement, kicking three second-half field goals and consistently recording touchbacks on kickoffs. But even his 51-yard boot that gave the Eagles a 10-point lead with six minutes remaining did not seal this marathon game, which lasted well over 3 ½ hours.
The Redskins quickly drove down and scored an answering touchdown to cut the Eagles’ lead to three points with four minutes remaining. The Eagles offense stalled, and the Redskins got the ball back with a chance to win with a touchdown or tie with a field goal.
Despite having been unable to stop the Redskins offense all game, surrendering 511 yards of offense, the Eagles defense stiffened in the nick of time, and Kirk Cousins’ fourth-down pass from the Eagles 41-yard-line sailed wide of its intended target.
Even then, the Eagles needed another first down to run out the clock and preserve the win. As he had all day, Foles stood tall in the pocket and delivered a first-down pass to tight end James Casey that dropped the Redskins to 1-2.
The game gave Eagles fans a lot to consider going forward, good and bad. The Eagles are one of the few undefeated teams left in the NFL, but they continue to suffer injuries to key players. Kelce’s apparent sports hernia is likely to cost him significant playing time.
The makeshift line around Foles has protected him well the last two games, allowing zero sacks, but it does not seem to be nearly as adept at run-blocking, as evidenced by the least-productive start of Lesean McCoy’s career.
Although in the last two games, the Eagles have not allowed a sack, their defense has not recorded one, either–a statistic unseen for Gang Green since 1958. Unless the team finds a way to take down the opposing quarterback, it seems dangerous to put that much pressure on a suspect secondary and expect to keep winning at their current pace.
It does seem as though the Eagles hired the right head coach eighteen months ago. Chip Kelly has proven that his offensive genius translates to the NFL. He is a strong leader, a master technician, and exudes confidence.
One of the other important positives evidenced by this game is that the Eagles are learning how to win and showing a great deal of intestinal fortitude in doing so. They can win games when they do not play their best, which is very important in a league where things often do not go as planned.
Next up is a difficult cross-country trip to San Francisco. Stay tuned to see if the Eagles can remain undefeated through four weeks for the first time since 2004.