These are the kinds of games that define a team and point a franchise decisively in the right direction. Led by three Nick Foles touchdown passes -- two to Zach Ertz and one to Brent Celek -- and a defense that had five quarterback sacks, three takeaways and a huge fourth-quarter stop on fourth down, the Eagles delighted the frenzied crowd at Lincoln Financial Field to keep pace with Dallas on top of the NFC East standings.
There was so much happening on an exciting day that opened December the right way. Chip Kelly's Eagles had two weeks to prepare for the surging Cardinals and it was clear the coaching staff did its homework and that the players, with fresh legs and an almost-whole roster, were up for the challenge against perhaps the best team the Eagles have played in the last five or six weeks.
Philadelphia jumped out early when Trent Cole sacked quarterback Carson Palmer and forced a fumble that Bennie Logan recovered, and Foles and the offense quickly went to work and defined their offensive intentions in the process.
Three completions to tight ends produced a touchdown -- Foles to Ertz -- and showed that the Eagles were intent on getting the football to the tight ends against Arizona's defense. That 7-0 lead grew to 17-7 on a Foles touchdown pass to Celek late in the first half and then extended to 24-7 when Foles capped the opening drive of the second half with a touchdown pass to Ertz from 24 yards out.
For the rest of the way, the Eagles held on. It wasn't exactly picture perfect and it wasn't particularly pretty football. The offense didn't keep its rhythm. The defense gave up a pair of touchdown passes.
And then, suddenly, it was 24-21 and Arizona had the football and, well, it was one of those here-we-go-again endings for the Cardiac Eagles. Scary stuff.
But as it did two weeks earlier against Washington, the defense rose to the occasion. This time, cornerback Bradley Fletcher broke up a pass intended for wide receiver Michael Floyd on fourth and 5 with 1 minute, 55 seconds remaining in the game, and the Eagles were on the verge of closing out the win.
They did so officially a few plays later when Arizona was penalized for holding tight end James Casey on a fourth-and-4 play from the Arizona 9-yard line, keeping the drive alive and allowing the Eagles to kneel the rest of the way to earn the well-deserved victory.
The heroes? Everyone. The coaching? Outstanding. The Eagles are jelling at precisely the right time and are 7-5 and have a tremendous amount of confidence in what's' going on in Kelly's first season here.
Some observations ...
- Having so much depth at tight end paid off for the Eagles in this one. Ertz and Celek were targeted 12 times and combined for 9 receptions, 97 yards and 3 touchdowns. Who did the Eagles throw to on that huge third-and-4 play late? Casey, a tight end, as Foles rolled out to his right. The Eagles had good matchups against defenders who just couldn't run with the Eagles' tight ends.
- Foles was wonderful against a fantastic Arizona defense. He completed 21 of 34 passes for 237 yards and the three scores, compiling a passer rating of 112.0. Foles took five sacks, many of them when he opted to hold on to the football rather than throw it in to danger. A late-game apparent interception was wiped out by a defensive holding penalty. It was a bad decision, but it didn't cost the Eagles. Great job by Foles against tough coverage. Foles on the season: 19 touchdown passes and zero interceptions. If the Eagles can keep their giveaways to a minimum, they can keep this winning streak going.
- Trent Cole has been revitalized as a pass-rushing outside linebacker. He had a pair of quarterback sacks and played well against the run. Cole now has five sacks in his last three games and is clearly getting comfortable in his new position. He's worked hard, has gotten outstanding and the results are extremely positive.
- How about Brandon Graham? He played like his hair was on fire, contributing a pair of quarterback sacks and good pressure. If this defense can get consistent pass-rush pressure, watch out.
- Want an unsung hero? How about punter Donnie Jones, who had a net average of 44.4 yards on eight punts and dumped seven of those kicks inside the 20-yard line. Jones has been great all season. The coverage was again tremendous on kicks on Sunday and the Eagles won the battle of field position (average drive start, 36-yard line while Arizona's average drive start was the 19-yard line). A holding penalty negated a DeSean Jackson punt return for a touchdown, a mistake that was one from which to learn.
- The Eagles battled for every one of the 307 total net yards they gained, and the offensive line giving Foles time to set up and throw the football. Center Jason Kelce did a magnificent job recognizing the pressure packages from Arizona and making sure everyone was on the same page in protection.
- Larry Fitzgerald managed just 5 catches, 73 yards and a score as Fletcher and Cary Williams used their size effectively against Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd. Palmer had 3 touchdown passes, but the defense hung in there.
- LeSean McCoy is so good. He had a physical day, carrying 19 times for 79 yards and catching 5 passes for 36 yards, and he also did a good job in pass protection. Fantastic.
The upshot is this: The Eagles are growing every day, believing in each other and in what the coaching staff is doing. This is the stretch run, and what is happening is very real. The Eagles need to keep focused, keep winning and, as Kelly says, see where they are on December 29 when the regular season concludes in Dallas.
It's been a remarkable turnaround, but this much is the truth: The Eagles are for real, and it is incredibly enjoyable. A team that has grown up in a very short period of time has its best football ahead.