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Spadaro: What happened against the Cardinals? Here are 10 takeaways from the loss

Julio Jones
Julio Jones

The Arizona Cardinals will not make the playoffs, but that didn't stop them from relishing the role of spoiler as they came to Lincoln Financial Field to hand the Eagles their second home loss of the season in comeback fashion, 35-31, after trailing 21-6 at halftime. What happened? Here are my 10 takeaways as the Eagles, now 11-5, must finish ahead of Dallas following the Week 18 slate of games to win the NFC East as they lose out to the Cowboys based on tiebreakers.

1. Arizona had possession of the football eight times and scored four touchdowns – all in the second half – and a field goal, rolled up 449 total net yards, including 221 rushing yards (5.5 yards per carry), converted 5 of 10 third downs and both fourth downs, and had the football for 39 minutes, 39 seconds. Nothing fancy – running back James Conner ran north/south and gashed the Eagles for 128 yards on 28 carries. Michael Carter gained 61 yards on 7 carries. When the game was on the line, with the Eagles ahead 31-28 and 2 minutes, 28 seconds remaining in the game, the Cardinals drove 70 yards in 7 plays and took the lead for the first time since an opening-drive field goal pushed the Cardinals ahead, 3-0. The Cardinals didn't punt the entire afternoon.

2. It wasn't just the defense, of course. The Eagles had a chance late in the game to go up by seven points after recovering an Arizona onside kick and starting a drive at the Cardinals' 39-yard line with 5:25 to go. A Jalen Hurts completion to A.J. Brown gained 18 yards to the 20-yard line and it definitely looked like the Eagles were going to march. But then Jordan Mailata was penalized for holding, and the drive stalled – Hurts ran twice for 1 total yard and then completed a screen pass to Kenneth Gainwell for 4 yards. Jake Elliott's 43-yard field goal pushed the Eagles ahead, 31-28, but that final drive consumed just 2:37 off the clock and resulted in a missed touchdown opportunity.

3. Philadelphia gained 91 rushing yards on 23 attempts. Arizona entered the game ranked last in the league in run defense, allowing 147 yards per game.

4. D'Andre Swift continues to impress with his patience, vision, and ability to find some room to run. He gained 61 yards on 13 carries, pushing past the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the first time in his career. He now has 1,049 rushing yards on the season.

5. Sometimes, you just have to stop and appreciate how easy these players make the game look. Take, for instance, the touchdown catch tight end Dallas Goedert made with 9 minutes, 55 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter. It was third-and-4 from the 9-yard line and Hurts rolled right, threatening to run. Instead, he threw a bullet to Goedert from about the 11-yard line and Goedert, moving right, had to catch the football – a rocket, mind you – get both feet inbounds and retain control of the ball. Done, done, and done, with some toe-drag swag for Goedert. It looked easy, but it was not. The score put the Eagles ahead, after Jake Elliott's PAT, 28-21.

6. A late first-half offensive drive really illustrated the offense at its best. With 1 minute, 50 seconds remaining in the second quarter, the Eagles took possession of the ball leading 14-6 and Hurts went to work. The Eagles had two timeouts and plenty of time on the clock and Hurts handled things masterfully. Completions to DeVonta Smith and Brown gained 17 yards. Another completion to Brown and one to Goedert picked up a total of 19 yards and the Eagles were in Arizona territory. On a third-and-1 play, the Eagles lined up for a Brotherly Shove and Hurts pitched to Gainwell and the lefty pulled up and threw for Smith, who made a leaping catch for a gain of 19 yards to the Arizona 22-yard line. The Eagles called timeout and with 22 seconds remaining in the half, Hurts stepped up to buy some time and as he approached the line of scrimmage, threw a dart to wide receiver Julio Jones. Defensive back Andre Chachere tipped the pass, but Jones kept his concentration, made the catch, and powered his way into the end zone for his second touchdown of the game and, after Elliott's PAT, the Eagles led 21-6 at the half.

7. Complementary football is so important, so let's examine the first quarter for the Eagles, which ended with them leading 7-3. The offense opened with a drive that stalled on third down after two runs gained 8 yards, and then the defense gave up some yardage to a Cardinals offense that wanted to roll quarterback Kyler Murray away from pressure, get the ball out quickly, and run the football. Arizona moved into the red zone and the defense, with the help of a big Milton Williams tackle of Murray for minus-9 yards that pushed Arizona back to the 12-yard line, held the Cardinals to a field goal. Then the Eagles' offense answered with a very strong drive, starting with a 21-yard Hurts completion to Brown, followed by a 5-yard completion to Smith. Hurts converted a third down with a short completion to tight end Goedert on the edge that turned into 23 yards and then he ended the drive by floating a pass into the right corner of the end zone for Julio Jones, who ran away from coverage for his second touchdown catch as an Eagle. He loves his role here, as he explained late last week, but the score sure was nice. Hurts was 4-of-4 on the drive for 56 yards in a crisp early passing game.

8. The defense has been looking for takeaways and Sydney Brown delivered one in the most spectacular fashion early in the second quarter. On a third-and-7 play from the Philadelphia 24-yard line, Murray threw deep for wide receiver Michael Wilson, but the ball sailed over Wilson's head and Brown was there at the 1-yard line to make the interception and then to do something outstanding – and he did just that. Brown headed up the right sideline untouched until he reached Cardinals territory, cut into the middle of the field, and picked up some blocking and then roared into the end zone for the 99-yard interception return for a touchdown, tied for the fourth-longest pick-six in Eagles history (the longest was in 1996, James Willis interception and lateral to Troy Vincent for a 104-yard return in win at Dallas).

9. The "chunk" plays weren't there for the offense, as they had been last week. The completion to Goedert that gained 23 yards was the longest of the afternoon and the 22-yard touchdown pass to Jones was the only other passing play longer than 20 yards. The running game produced three plays longer than 10 yards.

10. Keeping an eye on the pass rush: There wasn't much pressure on Murray, who completed 25 of 31 passes for 231 yards and 3 touchdowns. Only Jalen Carter registered a quarterback sack when he was able to trip up Murray for a 4-yard loss as Murray tried to scramble up the middle. The Eagles have 41 quarterback sacks after registering a league-best 70 in 2022.

The Eagles host the Arizona Cardinals in the final regular-season home contest of the 2023 season. The Eagles need to win to remain atop the NFC East and keep their hopes alive for the No. 1 seed, while the Cardinals with former Eagles Defensive Coordinator Jonathan Gannon look to play spoiler.

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