By: Tucker Bagley, Sports Talk Philly staff
What a night! The Eagles traveled to Carolina last night, defeated the Panthers and placed themselves at the top of the NFC playoff picture.
Things certainly didn't come easy for Cam Newton on Thursday night. The Eagles defense intercepted the former MVP three times, sacked him twice and hit him nine times during the Birds 28-23 victory over the Carolina Panthers.
Newton completed just 28 of his career-high 52 pass attempts and registered a quarterback rating of just 48.5. Yikes.
This isn't to say Newton isn't a good quarterback. He is. He led the Panthers to road victories in New England and Detroit these past two weeks and looked pretty damn good doing so. But this Eagles defense is different and proved to be up to the challenge.
“It’s hard to focus on [Newton] because they do so many things with the football,” Fletcher Cox said. “But I think we did a pretty good job on a short week preparing for a very creative running game. We were physical up front.”
With Cox returning from injury, the Eagles front seven wreaked havoc and forced Newton to hit his check-downs, early and often. Christian McCaffrey led the Panthers with 10 catches, but totaled just 56 yards. The Eagles followed the same formula they have used these past few weeks: Get to the quarterback, allow short completion, rally to the ball and make good tackles.
"We were up for the challenge," safety Rodney McLeod said. "We prepared well on a short week and we played lights out today"
With a 5-1 start, the Philadelphia Eagles have positioned themselves at the top of the NFC. Their remaining opponents have a combined record of just 18-30 and the NFC East seems to be falling further and further back into the rear view mirror.
"The resiliency of the football team started to show at the end of last year," Doug Pederson said after the game. "They're learning from last year. They're learning how to finish games and the overall consistency from the leaders on this football team; they're learning how to sacrifice for each other, themselves, for the team. It's a fun thing to watch."
In a city that has been burned by close calls and false alarms too many times, it's hard to anoint any team as a legitimate contender. But maybe, just maybe, these Eagles are for real.
Did Not Play: Lane Johnson (concussion), Ronald Darby (ankle), Wendell Smallwood (knee)
Jordan Hicks: Hicks left the game in the second half with an ankle injury and never returned. The young linebacker hurt his ankle a few weeks ago, so it is possible that he just aggravated a previous condition. With a long layoff until the Eagles next game, it seems safe to say Hicks won't be missing any additional time.
Nigel Bradham: Bradham played really well last night, but missed some time in the third quarter after making a big hit on Ed Dickson. Luckily, Bradham was able to come back and continue his strong performance.
Chris Maragos: Maragos hurt his knee covering a punt, and he may be out for an extended period of time. This is a situation worth watching over the next few days.
Mack Hollins: The rookie wide receiver went down, clutching his hamstring late in the fourth quarter and never returned. Hollins had a few nice catches in last night's contest and his role within the Eagles' offense seems to be growing on a weekly basis. Hopefully this injury is nothing more than a strain.
3: The Eagles became the third team in NFL history last night to accumulate over 100 penalty yards and win while their opponent had one, or less, penalty yards. The other two teams? The 1942 Bears, who lost the NFL Championship Game, and the 2015 Denver Broncos, who went on to win the Super Bowl. So, I guess we should start booking tickets for Minnesota in February. I hear it's beautiful that time of year.
.833: Road teams are 5-1 on Thursday Night Football this year, good for a .833 winning percentage. Maybe the myth of it being impossible to win on the road during a short week will finally be put to rest soon.
10: Carson Wentz has thrown 10 more touchdowns than interceptions this year. For a young QB, who showed questionable decision-making tendencies, this is tremendous. Wentz is growing up right in front of our eyes.
Midway through the second quarter, the Eagles trailed the Panthers by 7 and it seemed like the home team had all the momentum. But then, this happened:
Fletcher Cox put his blocker on ice skates and hit Newton's arm, forcing the ball in the air and safely into the waiting arms of Rasul Douglas. The Eagles would score on the ensuing drive and never looked back, carrying a lead throughout the rest of the game.
Cox may have missed these past few weeks due to an injury, but he was back to his old, game-wrecking, self on Thursday night.
Up: Carson Wentz
Wentz experienced a bit of an up-and-down night, but he never shied away from the constant pressure he was under and continued to deliver big-time throws all over the field. The second-year QB is up to 13 TD passes on the season, the most by an Eagles quarterback through six games since Donovan McNabb had 13 in 2006. Not enough can be said about the maturity of the young quarterback. He has been handed the reigns of the Eagles offense and seems to improve with every passing week.
Down: Kenjon Barner and Corey Clement
The Panthers boast a pretty good run defense, but the Eagles back up running backs really struggled last night. Barner and Clement combined for 9 yards on 7 carries. After last week, I thought both Clement and Barner were playing well enough to warrant more snaps, but both guys took a huge step backward last night. Luckily, LeGarrette Blount was able to carry the offense once again.
Up: Fletcher Cox
What more can be said about Cox? He returned from injury, had a huge play that swung momentum decidedly into the Eagles favor and finished with half a sack. Cox seems to be living up to the huge contract he received, and it could not be coming at a better time.
Down: Pete Morelli
I hate harping on referees, but Morelli and his crew were downright terrible last night. Not only did the Eagles have 125 more penalty yards than the Panthers, but the home team also got screwed on a challenge in the fourth quarter, when Newton dove into the end zone, but was ruled out of bounds. Carolina ended up losing a time out in the ordeal and I bet Ron Rivera wished he still had it in the closing seconds of the game.
With all the high definition cameras we have, referees often come under unfair criticism, but last night was ridiculous. There are going to be a lot of plays that need reviewing this morning at the League office.
1. The Panthers blitzed a lot last night, and it seemed like the Eagles really struggled keeping Wentz upright. Part of that was the absence of Smallwood, who has become the best pass-blocking running back on the Eagles roster. Blount, Barner and Clement are certainly willing blockers, but they often found themselves over-matched and Wentz suffered as a result. Hopefully Smallwood can get healthy soon, because Wentz deserves all the protection in the world.
2. The Eagles' linebackers played a tremendous game, despite Hicks going down with an injury. Mychal Kendricks finished with a game-high 15 tackles and Bradham added 10 of his own. For the first time all year, it seemed like all three of the top linebackers were clicking and on the same page with each other. There were some mistakes, sure, but outside of Cox, these guys were the top players on the Eagles' defense last night.
3. The Eagles had at least five different players suffer an injury last night, which is way too many. Thursday Night Football is certainly here to stay, and there are no obvious answers, but it clearly isn't safe to be playing two football games over the span of five days. However, the Eagles do have 11 days before their next game, which should give them plenty of time to get some key players fully healed.
The Eagles will take the weekend off and host the Washington Redskins on Monday Night Football next week. Since losing to the Birds in Week 1, the Redskins have gone 2-1, beating the Los Angeles Rams and Oakland Raiders before losing to the Kansas City Chiefs and heading on their bye week.
As of right now, the Redskins are the closest competition the Eagles have in the NFC East, so sweeping the season series would go a long way for the Birds. Washington will play the 49ers this Sunday.