The Eagles offense may have produced like it did in 2013 in Sunday's season opener, at least in the second half, but there's one area where things are most certainly not the same as last year. In 2013, the Eagles' starting five offensive linemen played all 16 games together. On Sunday, already without right tackle Lane Johnson, two more linemen went down in the second quarter.
Pro Bowl left guard Evan Mathis left the game in the second quarter with a left knee injury, the extent of which is not yet known. Mathis was replaced by Andrew Gardner, only for right tackle Allen Barbre to leave the game with an ankle injury a few plays later. Barbre too would not return, which brought backup center David Molk into the game at Mathis' guard spot, while Gardner slid to right tackle. With only seven offensive linemen active for the game, tight end Brent Celek would have been one more injury away from lining up as an offensive lineman.
Through it all, though, the Eagles persevered.
"I think our backups along the offensive line are tremendous," said center Jason Kelce. "I think if you look at the preseason, they did a great job for us then. Against the Steelers, they were playing against the No. 1 Steelers defense and our No. 2 offense was going up and down the field. So they've played well since they've been here, both Molk and Gardner, and they did a good job today."
"They prepare just like we do, the sixth and seventh man, and that's why they're dressing, because they can play," said left tackle Jason Peters. "When a guy goes down, they're going to go in and fill that void. They might not be the same caliber of player, but they can play. We have confidence in those guys and that's how we pulled it off today."
In the first half, the Eagles scored zero points and managed only 129 yards of offense. A 34-point second half later and the offense racked up 420 yards of offense en route to the 17-point margin of victory.
"I hope Al and Evan are doing well, but I really enjoyed getting a chance to get out there and play and to be a big part of a win like that, make a contribution," said Gardner, who added that he practiced at every offensive line position but center during the week leading up to Sunday's game. "I had a few rough plays out there in the beginning, but when that happens you can't let one bad play become two bad plays, so I just kind of had to put it behind me and keep playing."
While Gardner is accustomed to being a swing offensive tackle as a backup, the transition to guard wasn't quite as seamless for Molk, a career center.
"Initially it was terrifying," Molk said. "It was something I had never done, never played in my entire life. In high school I was a left tackle, which means nothing in high school, and then I was a center forever. So you just kind of have to figure out how everything works, all the angles, all the leverages, then once you get it, you can just go."
With the severity of the injuries to Mathis and Barbre still unknown, Molk and Gardner will remain in the spotlight. Matt Tobin was expected to be the primary backup offensive lineman heading into the season and spent the majority of the preseason playing Mathis' left guard spot, but the second-year lineman out of Iowa did not dress Sunday because of an ankle injury. He and Dennis Kelly, a healthy inactive on Sunday who also has guard experience, will both likely be in the picture this week as well as the Eagles move forward.
On Sunday, though, Molk and Gardner were the ones to help the Eagles bounce back from an ugly first half and eventually notch an important victory.
"Hey, man, it's the NFL," said LeSean McCoy. "Your number could be called any time … You never know who's the next starter, who's the next star. You never know. That's why you go out there and play the game and why guys prepare. I think preparation, that's football, you have to be prepared."
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