Eagles get offense untracked in most important preseason game
PHILADELPHIA — They held an Arena Football League game at Lincoln Financial Field on Thursday night and an NFL preseason game broke out.
By the end, the Philadelphia Eagles had channeled their inner Philadelphia Soul on the way to a 38-31 victory over the Miami Dolphins.
Up and down the field each team went, unusual even for a regular-season contest and almost unheard of in the exhibition season.
The game-winning touchdown came when Matt McGloin, who has been the Eagles' backup quarterback for the preseason due to an elbow injury that's kept Nick Foles sidelined, tossed a 1-yard touchdown pass to Marcus Johnson.
The third-and-goal pass almost certainly was the best McGloin has made since joining the Eagles this offseason. He rolled to his right under heavy pressure and tossed a dart into a tight window with zero margin for error. Johnson snagged it just before tumbling out of bounds, and the Eagles had the lead for good.
More significant than the final score was the success of the Eagles' running game. They finished with 152 yards on the ground, with every running back enjoying success.
Donnel Pumphrey (12 carries for 37 yards, five receptions for another 37 yards) played his best game after struggling in the first two, although he did muff another punt return and doesn't appear likely to continue in that role much longer.
Corey Clement again led all Eagles backs with 42 yards and a touchdown on nine carries.
A strip sack by Vinny Curry was recovered by teammate Fletcher Cox, setting up the Eagles' first offensive series, and they needed just three plays to capitalize.
On third down, quarterback Carson Wentz stepped up in the pocket and delivered a bomb down the middle to Torrey Smith, who had broken free behind the defense, for a 50-yard touchdown.
That was the first time Smith was even targeted this preseason.
"It was quarters [coverage]," Smith said. "Great play call. The offensive line did a great job as well. And I knew I just had to beat my guy outside. I was able to do that and Carson made a great throw."
Smith wasn't surprised that he was able to get that far behind the defense despite the zone scheme on that play.
"That route combination is tough [on the defense]," Smith said, "because safety generally has to grab the second guy underneath and I'm one-on-one with the corner. So if I run by the corner, I know that it should be my ball."
First, Jay Cutler found DeVante Parker for a 72-yard gain down the right sideline to set up a 2-yard touchdown. Parker was matched stride for stride by cornerback Ronald Darby, but out-jumped him to make a sensational catch of a perfect throw.
Darby also was beaten on a big play that set up a go-ahead Miami touchdown in the second quarter when he was flagged for a 42-yard interference penalty in the end zone.
In between, an interception and 18-yard return by Dolphins defensive tackle Jordan Phillips helped Miami tie it. The Dolphins scored on a 2-yard run by Jay Ajayi on the next play.
Darby admitted he could have played Parker better on the 72-yard pass.
"I feel as though I could have squeezed him to the sideline more," he said. "I seen him break behind me, but when he broke behind me, I just got my eyes back on the quarterback. And from there, I was just playing the ball.
"… I could have kind of stemmed back towards him a little more just to throw him off his alignment a little more. He just ran straight and had a lot of room to work with."
No way will Darby allow that to bother him, however.
"I build tough skin," he said. "You've got to have that as a corner, because when you beat yourself down in the game, that's when you start to play hesitant, you start to play scared. I don't ever want to be like that.
"It probably ain't going to be the last time I get a deep pass caught on me or things don't go my way. But I'm going to come out and compete every week."
By the start of the second quarter, Eagles head coach Doug Pederson and his staff had seen enough of the starters and turned the game over to the backups, who promptly began misfiring all over the place.
McGloin struggled and faced a third-and-17 (thanks to back-to-back penalties) that he failed to convert on his first series.
On his second, he was intercepted by linebacker Lawrence Timmons in the right flat.
The Eagles were fortunate when Dolphins backup quarterback Matt Moore trumped McGloin's throw with an even more ghastly heave on the next play, the ill-advised pass landing in the hands of Eagles defensive back Jaylen Watkins, who returned it out of the end zone 50 yards before fumbling it out of bounds.
Watkins is one of many defensive backs on the roster bubble, and his ability to play corner and safety could help him.
Later in the series, McGloin appeared to overthrow Mack Hollins on a short route. But teammate Trey Burton, who was behind him, caught it and turned it into a 22-yard reception to the Dolphins' 3-yard line.
Clement took it in from there, and the Eagles finished the first half with encouraging rushing numbers: 60 yards on 13 attempts for an average of 4.6 yards per carry.
Wendell Smallwood (four carries, 28 yards) led the way.
Wentz left after completing six of 10 attempts for 129 yards ,a pair of touchdowns and the interception.
The Eagles added another TD barely a minute after Clement's run when Mychal Kendricks returned an interception 31 yards for a touchdown. It was his third interception of the preseason, tops in the NFL.
Cornerback C.J. Smith made it happen, though, by popping Julius Thomas as the football arrived, keeping it in the air long enough for Kendricks to swoop in.
The slop continued for both sides well into the second half.
Immediately after taking possession following a third-quarter punt, Miami scored another touchdown when Brandon Doughty hit Jakeem Grant on a short pass before Grant bounced off weak tackle attempts by rookie Rasul Douglas and Terrence Brooks and couldn't be caught after that. The play went for 69 yards.
That quarter had started with a 13-play drive by the Eagles that stalled after Chance Warmack was flagged for holding. They had to settle for a 30-yard Caleb Sturgis field goal.
Preseason? Who cares?
The Eagles hadn't even lined up to play their third preseason game when right tackle Lane Johnson hit the fast-forward button.
Johnson guaranteed in a story he wrote for The Players' Tribune that his team would win its regular-season opener in Washington.
"Let me tell you what's going to happen in a couple of weeks: This team is going to go down to D.C. and whup some ass against the Redskins," he wrote. "We're going to surprise some people.
"That's where the momentum is going to begin, and then the hype train is just going to get bigger as the league realizes that the Eagles are back. The NFC East is the toughest division in all of football and it's going to get even tougher this season because nobody is going to want to face us. I'm not saying this just to blow smoke, I'm telling you guys this is how it's going to go down.
"So Philly, here's what we're gonna need from you: Fly with us and just be you."
Those words were meant to fire up Eagles fans. But they also fired up at least one Washington player.
Linebacker Zach Brown fired back on Twitter.
Eagles tackle Lane Johnson reviews win over Dolphins and speaks highly of QB Carson Wentz.
"They are some new boys in town," he wrote, "and we don't need PEDs to win... but just for u, 53 will be seeing you!"