September is for banking wins. And the Eagles did just that on Thursday night, beating Atlanta 18-12. Now the players are off until Monday. This mini-bye week is just perfect. Being 1-0 and doing it the way the Eagles did it on a most unusual opener feels right. Deserved. The Eagles are going to enjoy this weekend.
"I like it. I like having Thursday games in general, because Thursday games almost give you another bye week, so now we have two of them this year," center Jason Kelce said a few days before the game against the Falcons. "After this Thursday against Atlanta, we're going to get three or four days off and then go into Week 2, so in my opinion those small, mini-byes end up making a big difference, so I'm happy that we have it."
The Eagles emerged from the opening-night win healthy. Oh, there are some players limping and bodies are sore after the first 60 full minutes of contact in the season, but the Eagles are fine. And from the perspective of The Day After a Huge Win, the view is even better.
"It's about winning and that's all that matters," head coach Doug Pederson told me on Friday. "And to do it against a great opponent who, quite honestly, we may see if we get a chance to be in the postseason. It's a good football team with a lot of talent. For the players, it's three days of rest and just spend time with their families. Since Training Camp started they haven't had a break and so this will be a significant break, kind of like a mini-bye for us. Coaches will work, coaches will be in the office getting prepared for Monday."
Here are some leftovers from a night to remember and a pivotal victory that could pay even more dividends later in the season – a conference win over a playoff-caliber team – as the Eagles exhale this weekend and enjoy the down time:
- The team speed on defense, along with the dominance up front, terrific communication and cohesion on the back end adds up to something potentially special for this Eagles defense. Against a good Falcons offense, the Eagles bent but did not break on Thursday night. And when the Eagles needed it most, in the red zone, the defense stiffened. Don't overlook the job the linebackers did, either. Jordan Hicks played a fine game and the combination of Kamu Grugier-Hill and Nathan Gerry at both WILL and SAM worked. Grugier-Hill made a touchdown-saving play on the fourth-and-goal play Atlanta ran in the first quarter. That said, the Eagles will be a lot better with Nigel Bradham on the field in Week 2.
- No doubt, the Eagles have to iron out some of the wrinkles on offense, but the fact that Pederson stuck with the rushing attack paid dividends late in the game. The Eagles ran the ball eight times for 57 yards in the fourth quarter, including a creative Nelson Agholor pitch left that gained 16 yards. "We can wear defenses down and impose our will on them," left guard Stefen Wisniewski said. "I love that Doug keeps dialing up the running game. It's going to pay off at some point."
- Quarterback Nick Foles averaged 3.2 yards per passing play, indicating the lack of explosiveness in the passing game and that's something the Eagles need to improve. Pederson knows it. This is something to work on in the next few days ahead of Sunday's game at Tampa Bay. "Just continue to work in practice and do that. We've got to put our players in position to make plays. We had some opportunities down the field and we just missed a little bit," Pederson said. "We'll come up with a good plan and execute it." DeAndre Carter had his first NFL experience and he played 53 snaps mostly from the slot receiver position. "It was great out there. I loved it. I have a lot I can improve on, but it was a great experience for me," Carter said. The Eagles used Carter inside and Nelson Agholor outside. Expect the team to mix in Shelton Gibson on the outside and use Agholor inside at times, maybe even this week at Tampa Bay. "We've got some options," Pederson said.
- Great work from punter Cameron Johnston, who averaged 52.2 gross yards and 47 net yards punting. Johnston helped flip field position a couple of times in what was a very positive first experience in the NFL. He has gotten better and better since an inconsistent early few days of camp. Johnston has a booming leg.
- The Eagles used eight defensive linemen against Atlanta, with Fletcher Cox leading the way with 65 snaps. He was dominating with a quarterback sack and four quarterback hurries. Chris Long had 1.5 quarterback sacks, four quarterback hurries, four total tackles, and a forced fumble in 39 snaps and Brandon Graham had two tackles for loss in his 46 snaps. As good as the defensive line was, it can be better. Two Derek Barnett offsides penalties negated drive-ending plays by the defense. So there is room for improvement.
- How about Darren Sproles as an X-factor? Sproles had five carries for 10 yards, four receptions for 22 yards, including a crucial 9-yard gain on a third-and-8 play on the final offensive series, and a 9.7-yard average on three punt returns in his first game back since suffering a season-ending knee and arm injury in Week 3 last year. "I think we have the best backfield in the National Football League," Pederson said. "We use all of our guys and they all can do the things we need. It's a great situation to be in." Jay Ajayi, still not 100 percent as he recovers from a foot injury, led the way with 62 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries.
- Finally, with Bradham and safety Deiondre' Hall returning to the active roster after their one-game suspensions, the Eagles will have to release one player from the roster (wide receiver Mack Hollins went on Injured Reserve earlier in the week, so the Eagles carried an 89-man roster into the opener). They will have a light practice and conditioning work to do on Monday to prepare for Tampa. According to Weather.com, the projected high in Tampa next Sunday will be 92 degrees, with 68 percent humidity. That's soupy stuff.