Eagles win defensive scrum over Bills

Nick Fierro
Contact ReporterOf The Morning Call
Eagles hold off Bills with late interception in defensive scrum.

PHILADELPHIA — The Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday proved that 53 angry men beat one angry man pretty much every time, although they did have to survive a tense finish.

In the end, an interception by Ed Reynolds sealed a 23-20 victory over the Buffalo Bills and former teammate LeSean McCoy, whose comments about Eagles coach and former boss Chip Kelly dominated news the entire week leading up to this game.

By refusing to take back his original angry comments about Kelly after being traded to the Bills in the offseason, McCoy came in with a great deal of emotion and had nothing left at the end. Though he led all rushers with 63 yards on 12 carries at halftime, he finished with just 74 yards on 20 attempts as the Eagles (6-7) made two touchdowns and three field goals stand up.

In pregame warmups, the Eagles came out in T-shirts that read "53 angry men," a tribute of sorts to owner Jeffrey Lurie's motivational words the week before.

Perhaps as a result, for just the second time this season they played a game in which they never trailed.

The Bills (6-7) had their moments but were mostly flustered by an Eagles defensive front led by end Fletcher Cox, who finished with a game-high eight tackles, including two for a loss, and a sack.

He was especially dominant in the closing minutes, dropping McCoy for a 10-yard loss immediately after the Bills had gained a first down by going from their 6- to their 20-yard line. That set up a punt that led to the game-winning field goal by Caleb Sturgis with 3:26 remaining.

"It was a big play for our team to get that big type of a loss right there," Cox said. "The momentum switched. You could see everybody went crazy in the stands."

Cox extended his hand to help McCoy up after the play, but McCoy knocked it away — a sign of things to come. After the game, McCoy sprinted to the locker room where he tossed his helmet before making reporters wait until he was dressed to tell them he would have no comment.

The Bills finished with 15 penalties for 101 yards. Most were committed by an offensive line that was not necessarily undisciplined but merely outclassed by the quality of athletes directly across the line of scrimmage.

"They're run-blockers," linebacker Connor Barwin said. "They're a bunch of big, kind of maulers. And we were moving around a little bit and they were having to grab and hold onto us, and that's not really what they want to go against or what they want to do."

On the other side, the Eagles received a boost from quarterback Sam Bradford playing, in offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur's opinion, his finest game of the season, even if the statistics (23-for-38, 247 yards, one TD, one interception) didn't show it.

Bradford's one interception was a ball that appeared to be caught first by tight end Brent Celek before being ripped away by cornerback Leodis McKelvin at the Eagles' 5 in a tie game early in the fourth quarter.

The one sack he took was a conscious choice he made over throwing it away with just over 2 minutes remaining, forgetting that the clock would be stopping anyway for the 2-minute warning following the play.

"Typically [inside of 4 minutes], instead of throwing the ball away, you take a sack to keep the clock running," Shurmur said. "Well, we were just butted up to the 2-minute warning. So no big deal."

Especially considering the poise and pocket presence Bradford had shown up to that point.

"I think each week is getting better and better," Shurmur said. "I think he's getting more and more comfortable with his lower body, and that's really where it starts when you throw the football. It starts in your toes and works all the way up to your fingertips."

A 61-yard touchdown drive set up by a solid first defensive series gave the Eagles an early advantage.

Darren Sproles finished it off by plunging in from the 1-yard line.

Inexplicably soft coverage that speedy wide receiver Sammy Watkins beat anyway on a third-and-9 play from the Eagles' 47 allowed the Bills to tie it. Watkins ran past Byron Maxwell down the right side and Reynolds was late arriving on the lofted pass by Tyrod Taylor that dropped into Watkins' hands for the TD.

In the second quarter, the Eagles scored under similar circumstances, when Bradford lofted a 53-yard scoring bomb to rookie Nelson Agholor, who had split the coverage down the middle of the field. The catch was redemption for Agholor, who had a drop on third down in the first quarter, forcing a punt.

Following a Buffalo field goal with 6:20 left in the second quarter, the first half featured a frantic finish in which the Eagles were able to add a field goal with 5 seconds remaining.

The play that set it up was a third-down conversion in which Riley Cooper was originally ruled to have not rolled out of bounds after making the catch. But it was correctly reversed on replay, allowing the Eagles to kick a field goal for a 17-10 halftime lead.

The teams traded field goals coming out of halftime, the Eagles first being forced to settle when Bradford was victimized by another drop, this time by Zach Ertz.

But right after the Bills responded with their field goal, a quick three-and-out was followed by a late hit by Jon Dorenbos and Cooper on the ensuing punt return, setting Buffalo up at the Eagles' 44.

The Bills cashed in, first converting a third-and-13 when Taylor scrambled for 14 yards, then scoring on a 19-yard run by Mike Gillislee to make it 20-all.

But thanks to a defense that would completely seal up everything in the fourth quarter, that was the last time Buffalo sniffed a score.

And much like Agholor redeemed himself with the touchdown catch, Reynolds did the same with the interception to seal it.

"I felt like I should have made more plays earlier on, like the [long TD] they scored on early in the game," Reynolds said. "I told those guys after that play that that one was on me and I'm going to make all the rest of them.

"The play came to me and I went up and got the ball."

By the time he came down, a stadium had exhaled and the Eagles had survived another close call.

"I'm just really happy with the guys, how they played," Kelly said. "I thought our defense did a really good job. Specifically, we talked about being really good tacklers today, and I thought they did a decent job, for the most part.

"We struggled a little bit on the quarterback [53 rushing yards on eight attempts] but we knew that with Tyrod, he's such a nifty guy, you've got to contain the quarterback. I think we can do a little bit better job of that, but I don't think we'll face [a quarterback] as dynamic as him in terms of running the ball like that in these last couple coming up."

nick.fierro@mcall.com

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