HOUSTON – It was every bit of a tense Thursday night for the Eagles against the Houston Texans. Short week, long road trip, and a very tough 60 minutes against a Texans team that came out Texas-tough with an offense that featured a physical running game and a screen-heavy passing game. And so when it was over, and when the Eagles exited NRG Stadium with a 29-17 victory and headed into a cherished mini-bye weekend, they did so understanding that they had been taken nearly to the limit.
"Tough game, tough game. We know we're going to get every team's best shot and tonight was no exception," said running back Miles Sanders, who ran for 93 yards and a touchdown as the Eagles reached 8-0 for the first time in franchise history. "We're a tough team. We have some things to clean up and we know it, but we battled out there. It was a physical game on a short week. It was not easy, but we didn't expect it to be easy.
"It feels great to be 8-0, but we know we have a long, long way to go to get to where we want to be. The big thing is, everybody contributed here. It's a team effort every week."
The game turned midway through the third quarter thanks to a pressure-induced takeaway by the Eagles' defense and a two-play touchdown drive by the offense that ended with wide receiver A.J. Brown and his teammates flapping their arms in the end zone in celebration.
First, the defense: With the score knotted at 14 and Houston facing a third-and-6 play from its 24-yard line, defensive end Brandon Graham came clean on a pass rush from the left end position and forced quarterback Davis Mills to step up to avoid the pressure. Mills, off balance and hurried, threw a pass intended for wide receiver Chris Moore that was, to put it mildly, wild. Safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson, ballhawking, dived, and came up with an interception at the 42-yard line and got up and returned it to the Houston 17-yard line.
"I just came free," Graham said. "I missed the sack but, shoot, I'm glad we got the takeaway. C.J. made a great play. To take the ball away, that was huge. I feel like that turned the game around."
Two plays later, quarterback Jalen Hurts threw to an open Brown, who started on the right side of the formation and tracked across the field, working himself wide open in the end zone for a touchdown grab, his fourth in as many career games in NRG Stadium and the Eagles went ahead, 21-14.
That touchdown plus Jake Elliott's PAT gave the Eagles 60 points off of turnovers for the season, a key statistic that helped turn Thursday night's game in Philadelphia's favor.
"It's always huge," said tight end Dallas Goedert, who had another monster game with eight receptions, 100 yards, and a touchdown on nine targets. "Shoot, to score after the defense takes the ball away, it's what we always talk about. To do it, you know what that does to a team? It demoralizes them. It changes games and I think that happened tonight."
The picture brightened after a Texans' 63-yard drive ended with a field goal to make it 21-17 and the Eagles answered with a 10-play, 75-yard touchdown drive on which Hurts went to Dallas Goedert three times for 37 yards before the two connected on a 4-yard throw and catch. A Hurts 1-yard run on the two-point conversion – aided by a strong Goedert push from behind – put the Eagles ahead 29-17 in the fourth quarter.
The final dagger happened late in the fourth quarter when the Eagles' defense again took the football away, this time cornerback James Bradberry intercepting a Mills pass in the red zone to end, realistically, any Texans' thoughts of winning the game.
"We needed to make a play there and the ball came my way," Bradberry said. "We couldn't let them score. We had to have a stop. Glad to be in the right place at the right time to end it."
Takeaways again ruled the day for the Eagles – two more of them gave Philadelphia 18 for the season as the visitors finished +1 in the turnover ratio department and are now a league-best +15 for the season.
"It's the stat that matters, man," Graham said. "We been winning it all year."
In his homecoming, Hurts was outstanding. He completed 21 of 27 passes for 243 yards and the two touchdowns, compiling a passer rating of 128.9. He had family and friends in the stands at NRG Stadium and, yeah, this night meant something for No. 1.
"Anytime I get to come back to the City of Houston is special," Hurts said. "This is the first time I've ever played back home at the professional level, collegiate level, never got the opportunity to do it at the collegiate level. So, coming back, playing in a place where I've built a lot of memories with my mom and my dad coming to watch ball in this same stadium, of all things, it's a great team win. You know it's rare for me to reflect or have emotion towards it, but I'm proud my family got to see that today."
The Eagles look to extend their perfect start to the season while maintaining an undefeated all-time record against the Houston Texans on Thursday Night Football.
As Sanders said, this was a team effort. Defensive tackle Javon Hargrave was dominating with three quarterbacks sacks – "They say sacks come in bunches, so there you go," he said, laughing. "I love the bunches." Gardner-Johnson had his fifth interception in the last four games. The punt team was brilliant as Arryn Siposs averaged 49.7 yards on three punts, with a net of 50.3 yards as the coverage was outstanding. The running game gashed Houston for 143 yards, averaging 4.6 yards per attempt. The defense allowed only three points in the second half and had the two gigantic takeaways, along with holding Houston to two conversions on nine third downs.
Offensively, the Eagles, for the second straight game, scored a touchdown in each quarter, moving the ball up and down the field, gained 360 yards, and converted 5 of 10 third downs and both of its fourth-down opportunities. Philadelphia scored touchdowns on all four trips inside the Houston 20-yard line.
That's how winners win – with contributions from every corner of the roster.
"We've been doing that all season, and it sure feels good to be 8-0," Goedert said. "Now we move on and enjoy the weekend and get ready for Washington. Another prime-time game that we have to find a way to win. Find a way to win and move on. That's what we're all about."