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A Huge Win With Heart, And More, For Eagles

Did you see Andy Reid dancing -- his version of dancing, anyway -- in the Eagles' locker room? Did you see how much it meant for this football team to hang on and beat Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts, 26-24, on Sunday evening at rockin' Lincoln Financial Field? In a show of 60 minutes of toughness, of heart, of togetherness, the Eagles moved to 5-3 at the midway point of the year with one of their most important wins in the last couple of seasons.

Why? Because, well, the Eagles needed to win a game like this. They needed to have a lead, lose it, and then come back to seize momentum and beat the Colts and Manning, the most dominating quarterback of the last 15 years.

It wasn't pretty. At times, in fact, it was downright ugly, as the Eagles committed 14 penalties for 125 yards -- some of them questionable calls, to be generous -- and failed to score enough in the red zone. The defense gave up a lot of acreage to tight end Jacob Tamme (11 catches, 108 yards, 1 touchdown) and wide receiver Reggie Wayne (11 catches, 83 yards). But, boy, Dimitri Patterson battled against Wayne and the defense shut down the run and came out in the second half and shut out the Colts on four straight possessions, by which time the Eagles turned a deficit into a lead.

Oh, it was exhausting ...

And it was great.

The first half was a vivid example of what happens when a team doesn't take advantage of opportunities to put Manning and the Colts away. The Eagles scored a touchdown on their first possession, set up by a dazzling 62-yard run by LeSean McCoy, when Vick threw on the left side for DeSean Jackson. It was exactly the kind of start the Eagles wanted.

And it got better when Asante Samuel intercepted Manning and returned the ball to the Colts 9-yard line, a 33-yard return. But the Eagles failed to take advantage, and instead of scoring a touchdown, they settled for the first of three David Akers red-zone field goals.

Those failures in the red zone, an area Vick dominated prior to his injury with 8 touchdown conversions in 9 attempts, allowed the Colts to stay within reach, and eventually Manning heated up and the defense was on the retreat for the remainder of the half. The Colts trailed 13-0 after one quarter and then turned it all around, outscoring the Eagles 17-3 in the second quarter to lead 17-16 at the half.

Sean McDermott tried everything. He played rookie linebacker Keenan Clayton deep in coverage. He stood up defensive ends Trent Cole and Daryl Tapp. Brandon Graham played inside at tackle. Manning, though, was just too good. He compiled a 43.3 passer rating in the first quarter, and then turned that around with a 117.9 rating in the second quarter.

The offense's inability to score touchdowns in the red zone is what caused the most damage to the Eagles' efforts. After Samuel's interception, the Eagles had a first and goal at the 8-yard line and couldn't punch it in. A drive that began on the Eagles' 1-yard line reached the Colts 8-yard line for another first-and-goal situation, but two passes and a run netted only 5 yards.

Then, after the Colts scored a touchdown to whittle the Eagles' lead to 13-7, Vick completed a 34-yard pass to Jason Avant to set up a first and goal at the 6-yard line. It was the perfect chance to regain the momentum. Instead, McCoy was stopped for no gain, a bubble screen to Jackson lost 8 yards and then Vick couldn't find anybody open and Akers came on for his third field goal of the half.

It all changed in the second half, though. The Eagles hung in there. They showed so much toughness and heart and they managed the game perfectly down the stretch. Had it not been for a very, very, very, very questionable roughing-the-quarterback penalty against Trent Cole when his hand brushed Manning's helmet and kept a fourth-quarter touchdown drive going, the Eagles would have won easily.

Instead, the Eagles needed to eat clock in the fourth quarter, and they did it, converting three third downs and milking 6 minutes off the fouth-quarter time. They needed to get a first down after a Colts touchdown narrowed the Eagles' lead to 26-24 and they did it.

And then Samuel had to come up big, which is what he did when he picked off Manning to seal the deal. The Eagles limited Manning to a passer rating of 65.7, remarkable given Manning's career 3-0 record against Andy Reid and the unstoppable force he has been against the Eagles.

Offensively, Vick had another turnover-free game, completing 19 of 27 passes for 218 yards and a passer rating of 93.8. He also ran 10 times for 74 yards, part of a ground game that churned out 195 yards on 31 attempts.

It was exactly the kind of game you hoped the Eagles would have after the bye. Reid is now 12-0 after the bye week in his career here, and the Eagles now head into the meat of the schedule -- 5 of the next 8 games are against NFC East teams -- with a stadium-full of confidence.


 Thumbs up to offensive tackles Winston Justice and Jason Peters, who limited Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis to one sack. The Eagles did an excellent job of protecting Vick and keeping the very fast Colts defense off balance.**

* Jerome Harrison had a couple of carries for 6 yards and looked like he would help the running game this season. McCoy is the main man here, but Harrison should be a capable second man at halfback.

  • Great game plan by Sean McDermott. The Eagles registered 3 sacks -- they had only one against Manning ever (Mike Mamula) -- and pressured him into check downs and bubble screens.
  • Patterson deserves so much credit for battling Wayne all game. Wayne had 11 catches for 83 yards but he did not hurt the Eagles down the field.
  • Wondering about tight end Brent Celek, who was a target just once. He helped in the blocking game, but the Eagles really need to get him going in the passing game catching the football.
  • Red zone ... 2 of 5 won't get it done. The Eagles need to go back to the drawing board here.
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