The Eagles were a play away in the loss at Detroit. Same story in Washington, Dallas and New York. That all changed on Sunday when the team finally broke through and won a close game. It was far from a perfect showing, but the Eagles made some clutch plays that proved to be the difference in the game.
There was Leodis McKelvin's interception that sealed the win for good. There was the 48-yard field goal that Jake Elliott nailed to stretch the lead to 24-15 and seemingly put the game away. There was great coverage by Malcolm Jenkins on the fourth down stop the Eagles got when they were only leading by six points late in the game. There was the perfect blocking by the offensive line that cleared the way for Ryan Mathews touchdown that gave the Eagles the lead late in the game.
The beauty of this win is that it wasn't all about one guy making some crazy, heroic play. The Eagles got contributions all over the place. There wasn't one player at fault in the close losses and there isn't one player to credit for the close win. This was another case of the Eagles offense, defense and special teams working in conjunction to help the team win a game. The offense moved the ball methodically and limited the possessions for the Falcons. The defense covered well, pressured well and tackled well. The special teams helped the Eagles to have an advantage in field position throughout the game.
Atlanta came to town averaging almost 34 points a game, tops in the league. They had scored at least 23 points in every game. The Eagles held them to six points in the first half. The TV announcers kept waiting for an offensive explosion. To be honest, so did I. When a team is playing so consistently well, you just expect there will be a time in the game when they come alive. That never really happened. The Falcons did get a long touchdown pass in the second half, but that was about it for offensive fireworks. Even that highlight for them was more of a lowlight for the Eagles. Leodis McKelvin got greedy and tried to jump a route. It was a double move and the receiver ran right by him. Matt Ryan was having an off day, but he's not going to miss a player that wide open. Ryan hit him for the 76-yard score and the Falcons had their only lead of the game.
Bennie Logan returned to the starting lineup and helped the defensive line to shut down the run game and make Atlanta one dimensional. They ran for just 48 yards, their lowest total of the season. That put the game on the shoulders of Ryan and Julio Jones. As good as they normally are, it is tough for a quarterback and receiver to carry a whole offense. The Eagles only had two sacks in the game, but got regular pressure on Ryan, mainly doing so with the defensive line. That let the other seven players focus on coverage. Brandon Graham had a sack and created one for Connor Barwin. Graham got good pressure on a regular basis. Fletcher Cox didn't have a sack, but re-watch the game and see how often the right guard is being driven back into Ryan's lap. There is no simple stat to quantify the effect that Cox had on the game, but there is a simple conclusion. Ryan had his worst game of the season. That doesn't happen if Cox isn't collapsing the pocket over and over.
The Eagles did a great job of getting the Falcons into second-and-long and third-and-long situations. That allowed them to keep receivers in front of them and then attack the ball. One of the real highlights in this game was the tackling. Atlanta got very few yards after the catch. A receiver would catch the ball and a swarm of green-clad defenders would be on him almost instantly. The Eagles don't have elite corners, but they covered really well in this game. Every time you looked up, there would be a corner back running right beside the receiver. That made things more challenging for Jones and Ryan. It felt like just about every throw was contested.
Malcolm Jenkins had a great game. He led the team in tackles, added a tackle for loss and was very good in coverage. He came down and handled the slot at times. Jenkins has the size and experience to handle a big guy like Jones when he's in the slot. Jenkins had tight coverage and forced an errant throw on the fourth down play late in the game. That gave the ball back to the Eagles in good field position and set them up in field goal range. The stat sheet won't show anything about Jenkins on that play, but he was right there on the hip of Jones, running the route just as well as the elite receiver. Ryan had no choice but to throw to the backside and hope for a miracle. The ball fell harmlessly to the ground.
A lot of the credit for the game has to go to the Eagles offensive line. They were simply terrific. The Eagles ran for 208 yards and averaged 5.5 yards per carry. The long run was 21 yards so this wasn't a few fluke plays filling the stat sheet. The Eagles ran the ball over and over. Atlanta simply did not have an answer for them. The Eagles ran up the middle. They ran right and left. Ryan Mathews, Wendell Smallwood and Darren Sproles all contributed. This was really about the offensive line dominating the line of scrimmage. It really was beautiful to see the team run the ball like that. Doug Pederson kept feeding his runners and they kept the chains moving. It was good to see Mathews have his best game in a while. He ran for 109 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Mathews ran hard and with confidence. He saw the field well and always seemed to find the right hole. He had good gains to both sides. We'll have to wait and see if he can sustain that level of play, but it was very encouraging. That might have been his best game as an Eagle.
Carson Wentz had a strong performance. He was 25 for 36 for 231 yards and didn't throw a pick. He did have a couple of sloppy moments, both late in the first half. Pass rusher Vic Beasley was able to knock the ball out of Wentz's hands. Ideally you would like Wentz to have better pocket presence there and feel the rusher was close to him. Once the ball hit the ground, Wentz didn't secure it, despite the fact the ball was right there by him. He got flustered and couldn't get control of it. The Eagles got the ball back a few plays later and eventually were faced with fourth down. Pederson didn't want to punt since the Eagles were near midfield and there were just eight seconds left. You either want to hit someone on the sideline to try for field goal range or throw a deep ball that will eat up the clock. Wentz got some pressure and threw the ball away, but too quickly. Atlanta could not turn that into point. As good as Wentz is, he still has some rookie moments.
Wentz did a great job of moving the chains by feeding the ball to Ronald Darby and Sproles. They combined for 14 catches, several of them on third downs. There were some really accurate throws in critical situations. Wentz also got the ball to Zach Ertz regularly in this game. Those two are starting to get a better chemistry and that certainly bodes well for the future.
This was the first time Wentz led a fourth quarter comeback. The go-ahead score was a run, but most of the drive came on passes by Wentz. Pederson had enough trust in his rookie to let him take control of the game with the Eagles trailing in the fourth quarter. That says a lot.
The Eagles now sit at 5-4. They have shown that they can play with just about anyone. It was good to see the team be in a tight game and finally make the key plays to win. That will boost their confidence and will certainly help them in close games over the final seven weeks.