It was gut check time.
After surrendering the lead and allowing the Houston Texans offense to run roughshod in the third quarter to the tune of 14 points on two possessions and 12 minutes and 34 seconds of time of possession, the Eagles defense was handed a scant 27-24 lead with just over 13 minutes left in the game.
This time, like they have done several times this season, the defense stepped up when they were needed most. After the Texans notched a first down, the Eagles forced a punt, allowing the offense to go back down the field and score another touchdown and give the Eagles their final 34-24 margin. It was the beginning of an impressive fourth quarter for the defense that saw the Texans grab only a solitary first down on three consecutive possessions, two of which ended in turnovers.
"We just rallied together," said free safety Nate Allen, who forced a fumble on a sack of Texans quarterback Matt Schaub with just over two minutes left. "The game wasn't over obviously. We just knew we had a job to do and went out and made plays when we needed it."
"We knew that if we could get off (the field) and get the offense back on the field, which we did, our guys would go down and score," said Pro Bowl defensive end Trent Cole.
It wasn't always pretty for the Eagles defense going up against the third-ranked offense in the league. Especially troublesome was the continued revolving door in the red zone. The Texans scored touchdowns on all three of their red zone possessions. After 12 games, the Eagles have allowed touchdowns on 26 of 33 trips into the red zone for the opposition, a stunning 78.8 percent of the time, worst in the league.
"The red zone's tough because everything is multiplied down there," said defensive tackle Trevor Laws, who notched the first interception of his career late in the second quarter when he picked off a Schaub screen pass. "Every single thing that you do is kind of enhanced. Every mistake you make is enhanced. It's tough. People just have to play their assignments. It's tough for me to sit here and say what's wrong with the red-zone defense."
There's no question that the propensity of giving up touchdowns is a concern for Sean McDermott's defense moving forward. But at the same time, it's certainly encouraging that the team continues to get the job done in spite of that weakness.
"There's always room for improvement," said Cole. "But as long as we got this win, that's what's more important."
And there was a lot for the defense to be proud of, notably their stifling of Arian Foster, the league's leading rusher. Despite an essentially meaningless 29-yard scamper to close out the first half, Foster was held to 83 yards on 22 carries (8.3 yards per carry). It was the fewest yards that Foster has rushed for this season in a game in which he had at least 20 carries and it was a statement by a defense that only four days earlier allowed their first 100-yard rusher of the season.
"It was a tough game, a tough battle," said defensive tackle Mike Patterson, who had a sack for the second straight game, a feat he had never accomplished before in the NFL. "We did a good job of getting what we needed."
And now, the defensive crew, along with the rest of the Eagles, gets the reward of some much needed extra time off in advance of their trip to Dallas in 10 days.
"I can tell you everyone in this locker room is beat up," said Laws. "They're hurting. Their bodies aren't working the way they usually do. We're going to take this next week off, get in the cold tub, get our cardio up a little bit and get ready to finish this season out."
Another test awaits in a Cowboys offense that ranks sixth in the league in red-zone efficiency. For this Eagles defense though, only one thing will matter in Dallas - the thing they've now done eight times this season.
-- Posted by Bo Wulf, 1:46 a.m., December 3