As the Eagles resumed their season on a sun-drenched day at Lincoln Financial Field, they did so hoping to provide some gasoline to an engine that has too often hiccupped this year. In the course of a 27-14 win against Atlanta, the Eagles revealed some old, some new and in the end a satisfying dose of what matters most: A two-game winning streak for the first time in 2008 …
- The offense took a full quarter to warm up. Donovan McNabb came out throwing the football – seven of the first nine snaps were called passes – and he was high and wild and just throwing the ball 100 mph. Once McNabb and Co. got going, though, a lot of good things happened. McNabb used DeSean Jackson (3 catches, 72 yards), and Kevin Curtis (3 catches, 45 yards) and put the ball in the hands of tight end L.J. Smith enough to keep the Atlanta secondary out of sorts. Philadelphia clearly wanted to go after a so-so set of cover men for the Falcons, and while there were plenty of blown opportunities, the Eagles still rolled up 432 total yards and controlled the football for 32 minutes, 21 seconds. Smith had a fine game catching the football, blocking and playing down the field until he was taken out by a late Lawyer Milloy hit in the fourth quarter. Smith suffered a concussion and is likely to be a question mark for next week in Seattle.
- Having Brian Westbrook on the field means so much to this team. He gained 205 total yards, including a career-best 167 rushing yards and was a go-to player in the running game and in the screen game. Westbrook looked good, especially on his 16-yard touchdown run when he started over right guard, cut out to the right edge and got into the right corner of the end zone. It was a beautiful run, one of several in the game for Westbrook. He ran with power, he cut sharply and he had good timing setting up his block. The total for Westbrook: 28 touches, 205 yards, two touchdowns and a good post-game report that he felt good.
- It was also good to see that the Eagles didn't forget about Correll Buckhalter, who frequently lined up in the backfield with Westbrook. Buckhalter had 6 touches for 29 yards from scrimmage.
- The red zone offense was a tad better, with two touchdowns in four visits, but a late-game effort failed and that was bothersome. McNabb scored his first rushing touchdown since the 2006 season. He lined up in the shotgun on second and goal and danced his way through traffic for a score. Actually, McNabb was as active running the football as he has been for quite a while. McNabb ran four times for 26 yards on the day. Westbrook scored from 16 yards out, which was another red-zone success. Late in the game, though, the running game failed to salt the game away with a touchdown, and instead the Eagles settled for a David Akers field goal and a 20-7 lead with 7:57 to go in the game.
- Good design by the offense all day. There was probably too much throwing early, but the numbers evened out as the Eagles realized more and more success on the ground. The Eagles have to run the ball and stick with it. It makes everything better. The line came off the ball, the backs got into the second level and the passing game opened up down the field.
- Great, great play by Lito Sheppard in the end zone as he read a fade pass to Roddy White and made an interception to really turn away a Falcons rally in the third quarter. Here is an example of short-term memory for a cornerback. Sheppard had been penalized for pass interference a few plays earlier, but came right back with the huge stop. Then Sheppard had a series to remember late: He had coverage on Brian Finneran on an end-zone pass and was there to help make sure the throw was incomplete, then he had a pass defensed on another throw to Finneran and was in coverage again on a third-down pass.
- Unheralded play of the game: Greg Lewis prevented a Sav Rocca punt from going into the end zone and flipped the ball back to Sean Considine at the 2-yard line. The Eagles defense held on three snaps and got the ball back at their 40-yard line and then went down the field and scored the touchdown that tied the game.
- Other than a touchdown pass to Roddy White, the Eagles defense did an outstanding job. The effort against Atlanta's running game was terrific. Chris Gocong had one of his best games – playing the run, blitzing for a sack and playing on special teams. The front four controlled the line of scrimmage and never allowed Michael Turner to get untracked. Turner had one 22-yard run, but otherwise he was stopped in his tracks.
- I liked the way the coverage units played, for the most part. Rocca had several ugly punts and averaged only 40.9 yards per kick with two inside the 20-yard line. The kickoff coverage team was very good. The return game didn't have much success, but I would guess the Eagles won the hidden-yardage battle.
There are clearly things to improve upon. The Eagles have yet to play a perfect game. They shouldn't have let the Falcons hang around, and it took a fortunate officiating call that saved some last-minute nerves. Rocca's final punt was another wobbler that return man Adam Jennings started to reach for before he pulled away. Akeem Jordan caught the ball on the bounce and the officials ruled that Jennings muffed the punt. The Falcons had no timeouts remaining, so the call couldn't go to the replay booth. And because the play happened with 2:28 to go, the officials couldn't review the play.
So the Eagles caught a break. Bravo. Maybe the breaks will start to go the way of the Eagles, who are still trying to play that great game that gives them some indispensible confidence. It has yet to happen.
On this day, the Eagles won the game they absolutely needed to win. There was some beauty to the game, and some ugliness and some of the sloppiness that this team has to eliminate if it wants to be a serious contender.
We all know this: Westbrook has to be on the field. He gives the Eagles a chance and he opens up everything else offensively. The Eagles would have won this game in a blowout had McNabb been a tad sharper early. He missed Smith on a seam "go" route that would have been a touchdown. He missed a couple of other open receivers and fumbled away a chance to score some points.
But McNabb got it together. And the defense, other than two Falcons scoring drives, played pretty well and stepped up against the run. Not bad.
A win is a win is a win, and I'll take it. Any way the Eagles need to win, hey, that's good for me. The season is back, in its routine, and the Eagles are alive, with a smidgen of momentum and hoping for more.