LANDOVER, Md. - It came down to, as always seems to be the case against Washington at FedEx Field, the last drive after a game of drama and crazy moments. This final drive was won by the Eagles' defense, appropriately on a sun-drenched day to begin the 2017 NFL season. Pressure from Brandon Graham, who hit quarterback Kirk Cousins, along with inside pressure from Fletcher Cox forced a fumble recovered and returned 20 yards for a touchdown as the Eagles beat Washington, 30-17, ending a five-game losing streak against the Redskins.
"It was just one of those games, back and forth, anything can happen," said middle linebacker Jordan Hicks, part of a defense that mixed in some timely blitzes, won the battle at the line of scrimmage, limited Washington to 64 rushing yards, sacked Cousins four times, and took the ball away three times – a first-half strip-sack by Cox that Hicks recovered, once on a goal-line interception by cornerback Jalen Mills, and once on the Cox fumble recovery and return.
The defense battled all day despite losing cornerback Ronald Darby to an ankle injury in the second quarter. Patrick Robinson stepped in and teamed with Jalen Mills and an entire secondary to slow down Washington's passing game.
"We have a lot of versatility in our secondary and it showed," safety Malcolm Jenkins said. "We've had that all along. It's important that we have guys who can play multiple positions."
In the game-deciding takeaway – the Eagles had a fourth on special teams - Washington had the football with 1:59 to go trailing 22-17. Cousins beat the Eagles two seasons ago with a 90-yard touchdown drive, a memory fresh in the minds of the defense.
"Oh, yeah, it was on my mind, because he's a guy that's tricky," Graham said. "He missed a couple today, but we made the plays, more plays than they did and I'm just happy that we came up with the win."
A first-down completion from Cousins to tight end Jordan Reed gained 7 yards. On second down, the Eagles brought the heat from the inside, with Graham and Cox collapsing Cousins' pocket. As Cousins stepped up to throw the football, it came free and Cox was there to make the recovery and the rumble into the end zone from 20 yards out.
"Honestly, I was looking to see if the play would be overturned," said Graham. "I don't know, man. I just know that the call went our way."
The Eagles got off to the fast start they wanted, as quarterback Carson Wentz tossed touchdown passes to Nelson Agholor and LeGarrette Blount to take a 13-0 lead. But then Darby was injured and a Wentz pass intended on the right sideline for running back Darren Sproles was tipped at the line of scrimmage by Stacy McGee and intercepted by linebacker Ryan Kerrigan, who returned the ball 24 yards untouched for a touchdown that closed the Eagles' advantage to 13-7.
Washington then drove 69 yards in eight plays and scored on a Cousins touchdown pass to running back Chris Thompson and, suddenly, the Redskins led 14-13.
Another Eagles team might have said, "Oh, no, here we go again." Not this team.
The Eagles drove 43 yards on 10 plays and ended the first half with a Caleb Sturgis 50-yard field goal to lead 16-14 at the half, and then the teams traded field goals heading into the fourth quarter.
Holding a slim 19-17 advantage, the Eagles' defense had the first of its three game-closing series. On a third-and-4 play from the Philadelphia 14-yard line, the Eagles pressured Cousins and he overthrew wide receiver Jamison Crowder and the ball sailed right into the hands of Mills at the goal line to kill the drive.
dropped a perfect punt that Jaylen Watkins downed at the Washington 1-yard line. Then the Eagles' defense rose to the occasion again, forcing a three-and-out punt. The Eagles took possession of the football and drove 33 yards on six plays to set up Sturgis for a 37-yard field goal with 2:02 remaining on the clock.
The Eagles led by five points. Washington had the ball, with the five-game winning streak and some Cousins magic still at his disposal.
Graham, who lined up at tackle in the nickel, dominated off the snap along with Cox and the two of them made the biggest play of the day to seal the win.
"It takes all three phases," said Cox, who finished with a quarterback sack, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery for a touchdown. "Today, all three phases won the game for us. We just kept our guys fresh, kept pushing, and it paid off with the big plays at the end of the game."
A team that won only once last season on the road and that had trouble finishing in the fourth quarter of games reversed the script to open the 2017 season. The Eagles won on the road. The Eagles dominated the fourth quarter.
And they won a huge NFC East game to set the tone for the season.
"There's a lot of fight here," said wide receiver Nelson Agholor, who had six receptions for 86 yards, including a spectacular jump-ball catch of a Wentz heave on the team's first possession that Agholor turned into a 58-yard touchdown play. "We all have each other's back. That's the way we are. We have something special going on in this locker room."