GREEN BAY – When a defense gives up 491 total net yards, it's kind of hard to talk about the "great job" the players did in a victory. But for the Eagles on Thursday night in a 34-27 win at Green Bay's Lambeau Field, the Eagles had three big moments that turned the game around.
First, it was Derek Barnett who made a strip-sack of Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers, forcing a fumble that Brandon Graham recovered and set up an Eagles touchdown.
Then it was a goal-line stand that the Eagles made early in the fourth quarter, stopping Green Bay on four plays from the 1-yard line.
Finally, it was cornerback Craig James (who??!!) who came in for an injured Avonte Maddox and on his second snap of the game got his hand on a Rodgers pass, tipped it high in the air, and gave linebacker Nigel Bradham a chance to make an interception in the end zone to clinch the win.
What a defensive performance!!!
"We came up big when we had to," Bradham said. "It was tough out there. Rodgers may be the best quarterback in the league. He's tough. He makes all kinds of plays. So we had to just hang in there and when the opportunity presented itself, we had to make the play."
They did just that, starting with Barnett. Whenever the Eagles have talked about Barnett and his pass-rushing attributes, they always mention his "bend." What they mean is that Bennett has an extraordinary ability to get around the edge and "bend" into the quarterback to escape pass blocking. Bennett showed his "bend" in prime-time on Thursday night and it helped him produce one of the biggest plays of the game.
Late in the first half, with Green Bay operating from the 29-yard line on a second-and-6 play and the Eagles leading 14-13, Barnett ran around tight end Marcedes Lewis, who had come across the formation to block him. Barnett bent in on Rodgers and used his right arm to rake down on Rodgers, coming across Rodgers' right wrist and forcing a fumble that Brandon Graham recovered and returned 4 yards to the Green Bay 17-yard line.
The takeaway led to a touchdown run from Jordan Howard to give the Eagles a 21-13 lead.
To that point, the Eagles' defense had little success against Rodgers and the Packers' offense. Rodgers completed all 10 of his passes in the first quarter for 129 yards and wide receiver Davante Adams had a career day. Philadelphia's cornerbacks were struggling, and an already-thin group became even more stressed when Sidney Jones left the game in the first quarter with a hamstring injury. This forced safety Malcolm Jenkins into a slot cornerback position as Avonte Maddox moved to the outside. Andrew Sendejo came in and teamed with Rodney McLeod at safety.
Barnett's big play came just two snaps after a Carson Wentz touchdown pass to tight end Dallas Goedert gave the Eagles a 21-13 lead. On the first play after the two-minute warning, Barnett got off at the snap of the ball from his right defensive end position and swooped in for the strip-sack.
It was a rare big play from a defense that had trouble all night getting off the field. A Green Bay offense that entered the game with middling numbers despite a 3-0 record racked up monstrous numbers, particularly from Rodgers. The superstar quarterback was almost unstoppable, completing 34 of 53 passes for 422 yards, two touchdowns, and the late-game interception.
The next time the Eagles' defense came up big was midway through the fourth quarter when the Packers failed on four attempts from the 1-yard line to put the ball in the end zone. Rodney McLeod broke up a first-down pass to tight end Jimmy Graham, Rodgers threw incomplete in the middle of the end zone for Danny Vitale on second down, and then was forced to throw the ball away on third down.
On fourth-and-goal, the defense blanketed coverage in the end zone and tackle Fletcher Cox stayed home in front of Rodgers, who threw high in the back of the end zone for Graham. He couldn't bring down the pass, and the Eagles had themselves a stop to preserve a 34-27 advantage.
At the end of the game, Rodgers put Green Bay in position to go in again. But on a second-and-goal play from the 3-yard line, his throw to the right side intended for wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling was tipped by James and into the hands of Bradham.
"I knew they were coming my way," said James, who had been promoted to the active roster late in the week after Ronald Darby suffered a hamstring injury against Detroit. "I had to be ready. I had to do my job. I was just in the right place and reacted."
So did Bradham, who earlier in the game dropped an interception that he would have scored on.
"I wasn't dropping another one," he said. "I had it all lined up and I made the catch. It felt so sweet."