The numbers at halftime were eye-popping. A team that supposedly had no passing-game punch threw the football for 257 yards with touchdown plays of 48 and 69 yards. Quarterback Case Keenum was 16-of-22 passing with a passer rating of 141.7. What in the world was going on with an Eagles defense that spent a lot of its week preparing to stop Washington's north-south running game?
"I think we were just too excited, too hyped, and we lost some focus," defensive end Vinny Curry said after the Eagles erased a 13-point halftime deficit to beat Washington 32-27 on Sunday at a sun-spanked Lincoln Financial Field. "We got into the locker room and it was pretty intense. We got our focus back real fast."
It certainly helped that the Eagles' offense, which struggled in the first half, came right out of the gates in the third quarter and put together touchdown drives of 75 yards and 53 yards to take the lead, and from there the Eagles' defense did its job. Washington had three successive offensive series without a first down in the second half and didn't pick up its first first down until the Eagles had a 32-20 lead in the fourth quarter and relaxed its defensive posture just a bit.
It was, no doubt about it, a tale of two halves for a defense that played as a unit for the first time on Sunday after several key players worked their way back from injuries through the summer.
"We just made some uncharacteristic mistakes. We didn't tackle on their first touchdown and then had a breakdown on the second one, and we needed to eliminate those mistakes and we did," safety Rodney McLeod said. "We got it together and we got the win and that's what's important. Now we have to look at the game and correct the mistakes we made and put it all together for 60 minutes."
The run defense did its job, squashing Washington's ground game to the tune of 28 yards on 12 carries. But there is no doubt that coordinator Jim Schwartz will have some critical spots to address as the team prepares for an Atlanta team next Sunday night that is licking its wounds after losing 28-12 to the Vikings. There were just too many receivers running open in the first half and too little pressure on Keenum, who completed 30 of 45 passes for 380 yards, a good chunk coming on a late drive in the fourth quarter with the Eagles ahead by 12 points.
"It wasn't to our standard, so we have a lot to clean up," defensive tackle Fletcher Cox said. "The win is great and that's what matters, but we can be a lot better. We know that. We need to play with more intensity from the start of games and then go from there. I think that nobody panicked. Nobody got out of character and everybody knows what this defense is capable of doing and we just went out and proved it. No matter what happened, we know that things happen in football games and (we had to) come out in the second half and settle down and play our style of ball."
The game of football takes 60 minutes to finish. The Eagles turned a dreary first 30 minutes 180 degrees around in the second half, and they're 1-0 and thinking about the Atlanta Falcons and the huge challenge that awaits on Sunday night.
"The biggest thing was just stopping the bleeding, especially defensively, keeping the game there until the offense had the ability to claw back into the game. On defense, we couldn't really generate the negative plays that we wanted. In the second half, we started out with those and then all of a sudden, the momentum changes. For us, it's just about limiting those big mistakes, starting faster, and allowing our offense some time to get in the game," safety Malcolm Jenkins said. "I think we're all happy with the way we responded, but we recognize we have the ability to strike quick, especially when everybody's kind of contributing. The biggest thing for us is looking at figuring out how we start faster, how we eliminate the things that we did against ourselves and continue to improve."
Take a look at the best photos from the Eagles' Week 1 matchup against Washington.