Postgame Perspective: Eagles forced mistakes on Brady, Patriots

The Eagles first mistakes of the second half couldn't have come at a worse time. Back-to-back touchdown drives following an onside-kick recovery and a fumble lost while running the clock down gave the Patriots a chance to tie a game the Eagles led by 21.

It was how the Eagles built the 21-point lead that was more impressive.

Let's be honest. While the Eagles still have a chance to win the lowly NFC East, and could have restored some confidence with the most unlikely win of the season, this was their Super Bowl. This was the game that they didn't have a chance to win, but did anyway, after giving the entire football world no reason to believe they were good enough to come close to doing so.

The 35-28 final will indicate a close game, and it certainly was, but for a time, the Eagles were the more confident team putting the beating on the Patriots, which says a lot about the resilience the Eagles showed on Sunday.

Nobody gave the Eagles a chance to win this game in April or in August, let alone after being dismantled by the Lions and Buccaneers in the past two weeks.

Facing a battered Patriots team which clearly missed the presence of Rob Gronkowski, they still faced the shootout style that was going to make this a high-scoring affair that went right to the end. It was the game everyone expected from the start that no one gave the Eagles a chance to win then or now.

For once, this looked like the team that could content with the Patriots, and as the quarters passed and the game drew closer to a close, you could sense the Eagles putting the nail in the coffin. They never fully finished things off until the final 20 seconds, but the effort was there, the energy was there and the Eagles had the makeup of a playoff team.

You almost tend to forget that after a scoreless first quarter, the Patriots opened up a 14-0 lead in the second half. And it felt like deja vu all over again.

If the Eagles couldn't overcome the struggles against Tampa Bay or Detroit, how would they recover against a Tom Brady led offense? It didn't seem possible.

A touchdown drive by Sam Bradford made things interesting, but the offense stalled late in the quarter with a chance to put together a game-tying drive going into the half.

Then came the play that changed it all. Chris Maragos got a direct path to the punter and laid out to block the kick. He did and it took a fortuitous bounce to Najee Goode. 38 yards to the endzone and the game was tied. The Eagles were right back in it.

When the Eagles offense again stalled on the opening possession of the second half, the defense responded again.

Brady was working on his third touchdown drive of the game when the Eagles had forced two stops inside the 10. One more stop would hold the Patriots to a field goal instead of what could have been a back-breaking touchdown. Instead, Brady's pass along the goal line was tipped by Walter Thurmond, intercepted by Malcolm Jenkins and returned 100 yards for the go-ahead score.

The play that could have opened the floodgates for the Patriots offense in the second half. It left them on the other end, looking up at the team that had allowed 90 points in a matter of five days two weeks ago.

Then, Darren Sproles returned a punt for 83 yards and another score after another solid defensive drive for the Eagles.

Three scores, 21 points, all without the offense on the field.

What will pass under the radar is the performance of several other players on defense. In his first start, Eric Rowe handled his assignments well and looked like a veteran. Jenkins was having a good game already, interception aside. He took his game to another level with the scoring play that helped keep the tide turning in the Eagles favor.

Plays like that were only possible because of the Eagles ability to get to Brady. He was sacked four times — two each for Connor Barwin and Brandon Graham – and hit 13 times. Vinny Curry and Fletcher Cox also helped supply pressure. It brings another realization about the win to the forefront: Rob Gronkowski's absence made a huge difference in this game.

While Brady connected for three touchdown passes and threw for 312 yards — one touchdown and 126 yards coming in the final 7:45 of the game — he struggled finding a go-to receiver. At the conclusion of the game, the Patriots leading receiver was running back James White, who had 10 catches for 115 yards. 

By being forced to analyze the field, and without the reliable hands of Gronkowski waiting, he had to survey the field more and that allowed the Eagles to keep the pressure on throughout the game.

The second half was also one of the most disciplined parts of any game this season for the Eagles. At the close of the first half, the Eagles had 92 penalty yards, more than half of their total yardage on offense in the same 30 minute stretch. They committed one five-yard penalty in the second half. They were notably penalty free blocking on Jenkins' 100-yard interception return and Sproles' 83-yard punt return that helped keep crucial scores on the board.

Lastly, while the numbers indicate a game of struggle from the offense, the Eagles showed some poise there as well. It was pretty evident how the offense runs with Sam Bradford on the field. In his first game back from injury, Bradford made his passes count. He was 14-for-24 in the passing game, but came up with three clutch throws, all on third down. Both of his touchdown passes were third-down conversions and his last, a 14-yard connection to Riley Cooper, appeared to seal the game.

And while the Eagles did everything in their power to give Brady and the Patriots a chance to complete the rally, they stood tall in the final minute. The Eagles were worn on defense and struggled to keep up with Brady's frenetic approach to the late fourth-quarter rally as two quick touchdowns changed the mood of the game. A fumble by Barner late took the so-called sealed game and handed the Patriots new life, the Eagles finished the job.

But what the Eagles really need to remember are the moments at the close of the second quarter and during the third quarter, when they had the fans in Gillette Stadium running for the exits as the 4-7 Eagles put a beating on the 10-1 Patriots. That was a team that had all the confidence in the world at that moment.

That is the team that can still take 4-7, now 5-7 and turn it into a playoff berth in a weak division. The task will not be easy, but with four games to go, and two coming against the two teams they need to pass in the NFC East, they will have the opportunity.

That is what they earned in Foxborough on Sunday, a chance to keep things going, to put the negativity of the last three weeks behind them by overcoming it while it was building for the fourth straight game.

They did it the right way. The slayed the Goliath of the National Football League by forcing mistakes and capitalizing on them. And it saved their season for at least another week.

Kevin Durso is managing editor for Eagledelphia. Follow him on Twitter @Kevin_Durso.