If the first game of a season sets a tone, the message the Eagles sent out on Sunday was this: They are back. Using a combination of an explosive offense, a shut-down defense and a special teams unit that pounced on opportunities to bury the Rams in bad field position, the Eagles rolled to an impressive 38-3 win at a sun-drenched Lincoln Financial Field.
It was beautiful to observe. The Eagles took the opening kickoff and moved 80 yards in six plays and one penalty, using a 47-yard pass down the right sideline to rookie DeSean Jackson to open things, working in a 10-yard gain to L.J. Smith and finally showing some red-zone efficiency with a 1-yard shovel pass to Brian Westbrook for a touchdown and a lead.
And it got better after that.
The second time Donovan McNabb settled under center, the Eagles used 11 plays to cover 82 yards. The final play, a McNabb dart to Smith that the tight end leaped to catch and then pitty-patted down his feet in the end zone, exhibited the success the offense had in the red zone, where they scored touchdowns on both trips.
Defensively, the Eagles overmatched the Rams. Steven Jackson gained a paltry 34 yards in the first half and quarterback Marc Bulger was harassed into a 6-of-15, 72-yard outing. Darren Howard (two tackles, ½ sack, one tackle for loss, one quarterback hurry) was a force at left end and at tackle in the nickel. Asante Samuel had three pass breakups and nearly two interceptions. Stewart Bradley (nine tackles, one sack, two tackles for loss, one quarterback hurry, one pass defensed) led the charge against Jackson and the power running game. Trent Cole gave left tackle Orlando Pace fits.
And just as the clock was winding down, and the fans were deciding on their halftime fare from the concession stands, Andy Reid made a masterful move. With the ball inside their own 10-yard line, the Eagles twice ran the football and appeared ready to run out the clock. On third and 8 from the 10-yard line with the clock ticking toward one minute remaining in the half, McNabb faked a handoff to Brian Westbrook and the Rams defense took the bait.
The cornerbacks stepped up. The safeties stepped in. And McNabb pulled the ball from Westbrook's belly and dropped back to pass. He saw a wide-open Hank Baskett along the left sideline and fired a strike to Baskett, who stepped away from safety Corey Chavous and raced into the end zone for a shocking and exhilarating 90-yard touchdown catch and run.
At halftime, it was 21-0 and the fun was, truly, just beginning.
It was one of those great days, along with openers like the Pickle Juice game in Dallas and the Terrell Owens Show that kicked off the 2004 season. McNabb was simply brilliant, completing 21 of 33 passes for 361 yards and three touchdowns. The receivers, minus starters Kevin Curtis and Reggie Brown, spread around the wealth and made big plays, all of them. Jackson, Baskett and Greg Lewis all went over 100 yards receiving.
Remember how we were wondering how long it would take Jackson to get up to the speed of the NFL regular season? Well, he caught a 47-yard pass on the first drive and finished with six catches for 106 yards and had punt returns of 18 yards – one that he nearly broke -- and 60 yards.
More to come.
The Eagles did just about everything right in the blowout win. They downed two Sav Rocca punts at the 2-yard line. The defense permitted 87 yards of offense through two quarters, 109 through three quarters (166 overall) and had three sacks and another half dozen pressures. Jackson was a non-factor on the ground for the Rams.
From a mental standpoint, the Eagles committed just two penalties, missed only one or two tackles and took advantage of just about every opening the porous Rams defense allowed.
What do you take from this game? Well, you know the Eagles have a lot of ability up and down this roster. There are going to be more difficult challenges ahead – Monday night in Dallas just can't get here fast enough to provide an early-season litmus test – and the Eagles are going to have to rise to the occasion.
The opener was more than satisfying. It was, really, perfect. We all needed this. The Eagles are trying to build something here. They are trying to get back that swagger that so permeated this locker room for years and seemed to dissipate after the Super Bowl loss.
It was one game, only one game. And the Eagles downplayed its importance afterward, as expected. But it sure beat talking about a loss to open the season. And for 60 minutes, the Eagles showed us all what they are capable of doing in all three phases of the game.
A big one is next. The week ahead is going to be fun. Dallas Week is here, and it's something we can all enjoy.
GAME NEWS AND NOTES
- I always say that going by the run/pass ratio can be misleading, and Sunday was an example. The Eagles had 32 rushing attempts and 39 passing attempts and you think, "Hey, Andy Reid is really balancing this offense." Not quite. In the first half, on the way to a 21-0 lead, the Eagles had 24 passes and 11 runs. Here is the motto: Throw the ball and get a lead and then run. That's what the Eagles did against the Rams.
- Combined, McNabb and Kolb were 26 for 39 for 414 yards, three TDs and a passer rating of 127.5. Wow.
- Sav Rocca averaged 42 yards on four punts and dropped three inside the 20-yard line. Quintin Demps downed two at the 2-yard line. The Eagles were outstanding in their kick coverage all around.
- A key stat: The Eagles averaged 10.6 yards per pass attempt. Teams want to be over seven yards per pass attempt, so you see how good this offense was on Sunday.
- Five hundred and twenty-two yards of offense? Seventy-one plays. An average of 7.4 yards per play. Amazing offense.
- Darren Howard needs some credit. He played both end positions and tackle up front and he played very well. Chris Clemons played only a bit, but he had good pressure and a batted down pass and showed a good burst.
- I loved the way Trevor Laws and Dan Klecko played. The depth at tackle is encouraging for this defense.
- The Eagles were 8 of 14 on third downs, while the Rams went 0 for 11. There is your ballgame, ladies and gentlemen.
- Tony Hunt seemed to do a good job at fullback. He held up well against a constant Rams blitz. Good debut at the position for Hunt.
- A total of eight players caught passes for the Eagles.