CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Maybe it was one of the two Darius Slay interceptions that started to turn the tide. Maybe it was just a halftime break that the Eagles needed after a tough first 30 minutes to come out refreshed and dominate Carolina in the second two quarters of Sunday's game at Bank of America Stadium. Or maybe it was Jake Elliott stepping up and booming a 58-yard field goal just before the first half ended to give the Eagles some much-needed life in a game they kinda, sorta needed to win.
Whatever, the Eagles roared back after falling behind by 12 points to Carolina in an ugly first half and captured a thrilling 21-18 win to move to 2-3 and demonstrate the importance of all three phases contributing to a victory.
"It felt good. We had a lot of confidence going out there. Rick (Lovato, long snapper) threw a perfect ball back, Arryn (Siposs, holder) got it down and just little momentum change going into halftime," Elliott said as he walked off the field in front of a huge outpouring of love from the tens of thousands of Eagles fans supporting their team. "It was one of those wins where everyone contributed. It's huge for us. We just kept fighting."
Indeed they did.
The Eagles (2-3) struggled through an ugly first half in which the offense just couldn't things going, but the defense kept the team in the game until Jalen Hurts and Co. found some rhythm in the third and fourth quarters. To win this game the Eagles overcame two giveaways – a Hurts interception and a DeVonta Smith fumble – and a snap that sailed past Hurts into the end zone for a safety. They had a touchdown called back on a pass interference penalty in the end zone and they just kept pushing and fighting and believing in each other.
"What that felt like was a complete team win and that's what it was," Head Coach Nick Sirianni said. "When one unit's down, the others have to bring it up. The defense felt like it was up the whole game. They played an unbelievable game.
"It was the definition of what we talk about with dawg mentality because it wasn't going good for the offense for a long time of that game. But when they needed to make plays at the end and it was still tight, they made the plays they needed to make so I'm really happy for the guys, every guy should be happy for themselves."
The game turned around in the Eagles' favor when Hurts went up top to big-play receiver Quez Watkins for 53 yards to convert a third-and-10 play, moving the ball to Carolina's 10-yard line. On the very next snap, Hurts threw for Smith in the end zone and Carolina cornerback Donte Jackson was penalized for pass interference. The Eagles had the ball at the 1-yard line, and the Eagles went right at Carolina as Hurts lined up under center and took the snap and scored on the quarterback sneak. After Elliott's PAT, the Eagles trailed 15-13 with a full quarter of football to go.
"We just kept fighting and we stuck together," said Watkins, who had three catches for 48 yards. "It was big for us. Things weren't going too well early but we hung in there. I had man coverage on that play and got open and Jalen got me the ball. I thought I could score, but we put it in the end zone a few plays later. It was important for us. A big play. I feel like it kind of got us over the hump."
Those final 15 minutes were enthralling and, hopefully, a sign of things to come for a young Eagles team that surged to a win at the end. Carolina increased its lead to 18-13 on a 50-yard field goal from Zane Gonzalez with 8:29 remaining in the game, and it was all Eagles after that. Philadelphia's next offensive drive stalled, but the defense stopped Carolina on a three-and-out series and the special teams came up huuuuuuuugggge when T.J. Edwards burst up the middle and blocked Joseph Charlton's punt. Spiked it, in fact. Shaun Bradley recovered at Carolina's 27-yard line with 3:53 remaining.
It didn't take long to convert the takeaway into seven points. On second-and-9 from the 26, Hurts went to tight end Dallas Goedert for 20 yards. Two plays later, Hurts faked a handoff to running back Miles Sanders and kept it himself and rolled left untouched into the end zone for the score. Hurts threw to Smith for the two-point conversion and that made it 21-18 and the crowd was going wild. The Eagles crowd, that is. It was real and it was loud.
Then the defense did its part. Again. After Carolina converted a third-and-10 situation to move to its 45-yard line, cornerback Steven Nelson picked off a Sam Darnold pass intended for wide receiver Robby Anderson and the stadium went crazy. The Eagles had the ball and the lead with 1:57 remaining and the offense did the rest, picking up a pair of first downs running the football. The Victory Formation never felt better for a team needing a win after three straight losses.
"I think that we proved that we're a tough team that can fight back through anything," cornerback Steven Nelson said. "It's still early. We're still ironing out some kinks. We came and got the victory today."
With a short week ahead – Tampa Bay comes to Lincoln Financial Field for a Thursday night game – the Eagles needed something good to happen and they got it. Hurts shrugged off a poor first half to rush for two touchdowns and make some big throws when it counted most. Perhaps most important, the second-year quarterback kept his composure with the team down and the offense unable to get untracked.
"He's such an old soul," said tackle Jordan Mailata, who started at right tackle after missing two games with a knee injury, of Hurts. "He's got an old head on his young shoulders and it shows very late in games. He's still there talking us up, the grit, the perseverance. Those are qualities that he himself possesses. He's all bite, no bark. He talks it and he walks it. It's very encouraging to see from your QB and you want to have his back."
The defense took the football away three times and sacked Darnold three times (Fletcher Cox, Javon Hargrave, Josh Sweat), limiting Carolina to 267 total net yards, 5 of 15 third-down conversions, and just 17 first downs. And the special teams were great. Elliott had two field goals, including the 58-yarder. Siposs again won field position. Jalen Reagor had a 22-yard punt return. And Edwards blocked a punt when the Eagles absolutely had to have a big play.
Maybe this is something to build on. For a young team looking for something good to happen, Sunday's comeback was just what the doctor ordered – a complete team win on the road.
"Everyone feels great," Watkins said. "We're all happy. We made a lot of mistakes, but we got out of here with a win and that's all that matters."