Coaches say it all the time, emphasize in team meetings and make sure that every player understands: To win the NFL requires all three phases to excel and none is favored more than the other two. With that in mind, the Eagles beat St. Louis on Sunday 34-28 in an all-phases kind of victory that was really hard to enjoy at times.
The special teams started on Sunday by blocking a Johnny Hekker punt (James Casey) and returning it 10 yards for a touchdown (Chris Maragos) and the fun was just beginning on a day that ended with far more angst than required.
It should have been a blowout as the Eagles led St. Louis 34-7 in the third quarter but ended up making a last-minute defensive stand to hold on to the win.
It all added up to a bit of a blowout first three quarters and then a hang-on-to-your lunch fourth quarter against the Rams, moving the Eagles to 4-1 with a critical NFC East battle on Sunday night against the visiting New York Giants. It was not 60 Minutes of Perfection, not even close, but what matters is that the Eagles accumulate wins, correct their mistakes and get better week to week.
On Sunday, the special teams were just about perfect, the defense had two key takeaways and a touchdown and the offense put together some drives that served notice that a return to the offense of 2013 may not be that far away.
First things first, though. The Eagles kicked off to St. Louis on Sunday and the defense held on three downs as the Lincoln Financial Field crowd warmed up. Hekker got into punt position and the Eagles came roaring up the gut and blocked the punt. The football bounced into the open field and Maragos picked it up cleanly and returned it for his first career touchdown and the Eagles were off.
For most of the first three quarters, the Eagles led ugly, and they led big. Brandon Graham stripped running back Zac Stacy of the football, and Cedric Thornton recovered and returned the it 40 yards to the St. Louis 24-yard line, and two snaps later Nick Foles found a wide-open Jeremy Maclin in the end zone for a touchdown and a 34-7 lead with 2 minutes, 15 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
And then the Eagles held on to their hats the rest of the game as the Rams reeled off three way-too-easy touchdown drives.
- The first drive covered 79 yards on 5 plays and ended with a Bennie Cunningham 14-yard touchdown run up the gut. Nobody really seemed all that concerned right then.
- A 10-play, 62-yard drive that ended when quarterback Austin Davis rolled left and threw for wide receiver Kenny Britt in the end zone made the score 34-21 and raised some murmurs among the fans at Lincoln Financial Field with 9:02 to go in the fourth quarter.
- But after Davis drove the Rams 75 yards on 6 plays to put the ball in the end zone again on a touchdown pass to Brian Quick from 5 yards out with 4:41 left in the game, the murmurs grew into a full-out feeling of nausea.
"We have to make stops and not let it get close to that situation," said defensive coordinator Bill Davis. "I'm happy that our defense scored and had some takeaways early in the game, but we have to play 60 minutes and we didn't do that."
Unbelievably, it came down to the closing minutes of the fourth quarter. The Eagles were able to gain one first down – Darren Sproles burst over the right side for 25 yards on a third-and-2 play – but St. Louis had the football at the end, in Eagles territory, and Lincoln Financial Field was roaring.
But four Davis passes gained 2 yards and the Eagles held on won their fourth game in five weeks.
"I know it wasn't the best game, but we came out on top and that's what matters," said linebacker Trent Cole, who registered a quarterback sack and a forced fumble. "We'll take it and move on to the next game and prepare for the Giants. As long as we win, hey, there's no problem."
Words to live by on a day when the Eagles surged, sagged and then hung on for the win over St. Louis.
- Lane Johnson played well at right tackle, handling Robert Hayes with no problems. Hayes had just one assisted tackle and the Eagles gained 145 yards on the ground and Foles was not sacked. "It was a good game for us to get the win, and for me it was good to get some of the rust off," said Johnson. "They were testing me some with the blitz and some looks, but we hung in there as a team. I am just glad to be out there helping the team win."
- Rookie wide receiver Josh Huff caught a screen pass and gained 4 yards and also gained a pass-interference penalty. "This was a game of baby steps for me," said Huff, who replaced Jeff Maehl on the active roster. "I feel great and it was fun being out there. I think I can do a lot of things, anything they want from me." Chris Polk left the game with a hamstring injury and Huff could be a part of special teams in the return game if Polk is unable to go Sunday night against the Giants.
- Inside linebacker DeMeco Ryans left the game with a groin injury and did not finish, so there are some questions about his health beginning the week of preparation for the Giants. It's something to watch. Casey Matthews had one of his most productive games as an Eagle, with 6 tackles, including 5 solo hits.
- The Eagles had three more turnovers, including two fumbles – one from LeSean McCoy and one from Foles when he dived head first and the ground jarred loose the football – and an interception when Foles threw deep down the right sideline for Maclin. Too many turnovers.
- Another key stat: The Eagles were just 1 of 3 in the red zone. That touchdown percentage needs to improve, big time.
- Maclin had another big game, with 5 catches for 76 yards and a touchdown. His great start continues. Riley Cooper added 4 catches and a leaping 9-yard touchdown grab at the end of the second quarter to give the Eagles a 20-7 lead heading into halftime.
The Eagles host the St. Louis Rams in an NFC showdown at Lincoln Financial Field ...