Nothing was pretty about the Philadelphia Eagles’ latest game, yet they were able to survive against the Indianapolis Colts, which is all that matters to them, considering all they were up against on Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field.
Here’s what jumped out most during their 20-16 victory, which improved their record to 2-1.
The first offensive and defensive series for the Eagles couldn’t have been better. They started the game by forcing a three-and-out, then drove 79 yards on 12 plays — none of them classified as explosive (20 yards or more) — to take a 7-0 lead in quarterback Carson Wentz’s season debut.
The continuing inability by the Eagles to get explosive plays kept the game competitive and kept a fan base mostly quiet and nervous throughout.
Not until they fell behind by a field goal in the third quarter could they produce their second “X-play” of the game — a 28-yard pass to Zach Ertz. Alas, they still couldn’t turn that into a touchdown and wound up having to settle for a 24-yard field goal by Jake Elliott.
But a second methodical drive in the fourth quarter proved to be the difference as Wendell Smallwood finished off a 17-play, 75-yard drive with a 4-yard burst for a TD.
Wentz is a mere mortal
Maybe the expectations should have been tempered because Wentz on Sunday looked like a quarterback who hadn’t played a game in … something like nine months.
Not only did the Eagles’ defense allow only field goals after two turnovers inside its 20-yard line, but it did the job the whole game.
In the end, the Colts had just 209 yards and 14 first downs. They were 2 for 12 on third down.
Perhaps the biggest stop was provided by defensive end Derek Barnett, who was able to trip Andrew Luck for a sack on fourth down from the Eagles’ 4-yard line with 1:13 remaining.
“Just everybody playing together up front, guys that are doing their job and the guys in the back end locking things up,” Barnett said. “Tough game. Came down to the wire, but we just stayed calm and executed when we needed to.”
Dating to the NFC Divisional playoffs, four of the Eagles’ last five victories, including both this season, have ended with the opponent throwing the ball into the end zone with a chance to pull it out in the closing seconds.
That's too much stress, even for the coolest of cats. Linebacker Nigel Bradham was asked if he’s getting used to it.
“Heck, no, I’m not getting used to it,” he said. “I’m trying to end that. We don’t even want to see that no more. But a win is a win. And at the end of the day, that’s all that matters.”
Here’s a disturbing trend Eagles coach Doug Pederson and his analytics staff might want to consider: Whenever the team gives it up to the opponent at midfield with foolish decisions like going for it on fourth-and-four (last week at Tampa) or attempting a 55-yard FG in the rain while leading 7-0, like it did Sunday, it’s seven points for the opponent.
It’s automatic, and it needs to be eliminated. The Eagles have an emerging weapon in punter Cameron Johnston. It’s time they started using him as such.
Many NFL games are won or lost in the closing minutes of the first half and opening minutes of the second half. The Eagles didn’t do much to help themselves in that area on this day.
First, after forcing a Colts punt with just under 2 minutes remaining, they couldn’t gain more than 6 yards on any one play.
On top of that, a second false-start penalty on left tackle Jason Peters set them back, along with an inexplicable decision by Wentz to dump a pass to Corey Clement in the middle of the field with no timeouts left.
Clement didn’t come close to getting out of bounds, and the half ended before the Eagles could even set up to spike the ball.