TAMPA, Fla. -- A 31-20 win over Tampa Bay on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium was validation in so many ways about the progress being made in the Chip Kelly Era, if anyone needed that validation. The offense was a rip-roaring success with 425 total yards. Quarterback Nick Foles was brilliant, completing 22-of-31 passes for 296 yards, 3 touchdowns, a passer rating of 133.3. He also ran for a touchdown to cap a first-drive score, the team's first of the season.
DeSean Jackson and Riley Cooper tore apart the Tampa Bay secondary, and LeSean McCoy was a beast in both the passing game and in the run game as the Eagles showed their explosiveness early and milked the clock brilliantly late.
The defense had some hiccups in the first half, and then came back by limiting Tampa Bay to a field goal over the final two quarters, taking the football away once and going after rookie quarterback Mike Glennon late.
Added up, it was a terrific win in front of thousands of Eagles fans who loved the warm weather and clear skies.
Now the Eagles are 3-3, and we have a pretty good sense of what this team is all about. For starters, the Eagles have two outstanding quarterbacks in Michael Vick and Foles, both of whom have run this offense very well. The scheme itself is tremendous, offering balance and explosiveness and great diversity.
The Eagles have a lot of offensive pieces, led by McCoy and Jackson, and supported by a strong group of tight ends and Cooper, Jason Avant, Damaris Johnson and Jeff Maehl at wide receiver.
The offensive line had a fine game against a fast and active Tampa Bay front, handling the blitz after some first-half mistakes and gradually dominating the line of scrimmage.
Defensively, there are some needs, but everyone knew that going in. The pass rush stiill isn't consistent enough, and the performance on third down must improve, and everyone has a realistiic handle there. Special teams are not quite there in the return phase, and a couple of big returns have marred the otherwise strong coverage units.
There were enough encouraging signs on Sunday, though, to head into this "Beat Dallas" week with all systems go.
Foles stated his case for playing time eloquently, although the expectation is that when Vick is healthy – when that hamstring injury is healthy behind any reasonable concern that he could tweak it again – No. 7 will be the starting quarterback. Whoever runs the show has a lot to work with – from a scheme that gets receivers open, to a running game that leads the NFL and can do it to any team with McCoy and Bryce Brown gaining yards, to a varied set of weapons that contribute on a weekly basis.
In Tampa, Foles accounted for four touchdowns and nailed the Bucs every which way possible. He found Jackson twice for scores as the Eagles relied on the speedster to create separation against one of the game's best cornerbacks, Darrelle Revis. Jackson went in motion on occasion, lined up in the slot from time to time and went out and did his thing.
Cooper, who had just eight catches through five games, contributed four catches for 120 yards and a score against Tampa Bay. Avant, one of nine players to catch a pass, had four receptions.
Tampa Bay blitzed early and had some success after the Eagles struck quickly, driving 85 yards in eight plays for a touchdown to open the game. A McCoy fumble gave Tampa Bay field position at the Eagles 40-yard-line, but the defense limited the Bucs to three points. Some Tampa Bay pressure got the offense off kilter just a bit before Foles jumped back into his rhythm.
A 17-14 deficit faded when cornerback Bradley Fletcher picked off a pass early in the third quarter that led to a Foles touchdown pass to Cooper down the left sideline and then the Eagles seized momentum for good on a a second scoring pass to Jackson and the Eagles led 28-20 in the fourth quarter.
The defense stepped up there with a three-and-out series ended on a Connor Barwin sack. McCoy and the offense churned out a final drive and cleverly punctuated things with a great Kelly call that surprised the stadium.
On fourth-and-1 at the Tampa Bay 17-yard line with 3 minutes, 4 seconds to play, the Eagles lined up to go for the first down. Foles' cadence drew nose tackle Akeem Spence into the neutral zone for an offsides penalty,and the Eagles were able to whittle down more clock to set up Alex Henery for the clinching, no-doubt-about-it points with a 24-yard field goal.
McCoy was brilliant all game with 116 rushing yards and 55 yards on a pair of receptions, and he gained 35 of his yards in the fourth quarter.
Game over. Eagles win. With a 3-3 record they have a chance to make some noise in the NFC East.
Isn't this a blast?
"I think we're rallying around each other and everyone is playing a part," said Foles. "It was a team win. Everybody contributed. It was tough out there, but we hung in and played for each other and get the win."
The Eagles have something going here, heading in a very positive direction. The fast tempo clearly agrees with the offense -- and wasn't the offensive line great on Sunday, blasting holes through a talented Tampa Bay front, using some unbalanced looks (with tackles Jason Peters and Lane Johnson lined up next to each other) to create favorable matchups -- that converted 2 of 3 chances in the red zone (the final one coming on the Henery field goal drive) against a defense that was ranked seoncd in the NFL in red-zone efficiency.
It was a tremendous day, a big win. The Eagles went in and took care of business in Tampa and return home in first place in the division after the gauntlet of three straight games on the road.
"I think we're building some confidence," said McCoy. "Nick was great. He made great decisions and the guys stepped up and got it done. Nick got us in the right formations and audibled when he saw he needed it, so I loved how we played.
"We know we can be pretty good. We have to put it all together every week. We're growing here. We're coming together."
After six games, the Eagles are moving in the right direction with Dallas coming into town for an NFC East showdown. The energy is bursting out of the locker room, through the walls at the NovaCare Complex. A job well done in Tampa puts the Eagles in a good spot six games into a season that holds so much promise ahead.