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Spadaro: Eagles shine under the bright lights of Monday Night Football

Dave Spadaro On the Inside 1920

The stars were out as the Eagles opened the 2022 home season on Monday night against the Minnesota Vikings. They peppered the stands – stars from the world of sports (James Harden, Bryce Harper) and movie stars (Bradley Cooper) and television actors (Quinta Brunson) and musicians (Questlove) – and they came out in full throat and with great energy – a prime-time crowd for a Monday Night Football game.

In their second game of the year, the Eagles gave them all exactly what they wanted: A wire-to-wire win in a national-spotlight moment, 24-7 over the Vikings that felt every bit as good as the final score. The Eagles served notice of what happens when the offense puts on a video-game kind of performance and the defense clamps down on one of the best attacks in the NFL.

It was football poetry as the Eagles upped their record to 2-0, and while the team will quickly wash the win and focus on a road trip to Washington on a short week, it was something to behold.

"It felt great out there, it really did," said defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, who had three total tackles, a quarterback sack, and a forced fumble. "It was electric. The crowd was awesome. You could feel the electricity and, man, we just came out flying around on offense and on defense."

The list of standouts starts with quarterback Jalen Hurts because he was magnificent in every way from the very start of the game. On the Eagles' first possession to open the game, Hurts completed all five of his passes to four different receivers for 63 yards on an 11-play, 82-yard touchdown drive that he ended with a 3-yard touchdown run on which Hurts dragged three defenders into the end zone.

Overall, Hurts was just about perfect: He completed 26 of 31 passes for 333 yards, one touchdown, and an interception (a pass that went off the hands of running back Kenneth Gainwell) and ran for 57 yards and two touchdowns on 11 carries. Hurts escaped pressure when there was some, he threw to his receivers on time, he read everything the Vikings threw at him from a scheme standpoint, and he delivered in the clutch. On a 75-yard drive that ended the first half with a Jake Elliott field goal to boost the lead to 24-7, Hurts started with a first down at the Philadelphia 5-yard line and gave the offense some breathing room with a 9-yard run. Instead of killing the clock and preserving a two-touchdown lead, Head Coach Nick Sirianni had Hurts drop back and wing it.

"We ran for a first down there just to get some room and then it was on Jalen and he stepped up and delivered," tight end Dallas Goedert said. "Coach showed a lot of confidence in the offense, in Jalen in particular. Jalen was just outstanding."

Hurts certainly was as he rushed the Eagles into scoring position, completing passes to DeVonta Smith (16 yards) and two to Goedert (19 yards and 24 yards) to set Elliott up for the 38-yard field goal going into the half.

That drive was just an example of Hurts' brilliance. He threw a perfect 53-yard scoring strike to wide receiver Quez Watkins, who ran a great combo route with Goedert – Goedert lined up inside Watkins and ran a route toward the sideline, drawing two Vikings defenders, and Watkins ran his route straight down the field into a wide-open zone and Hurts found him for the easy pitch-and-catch score.

Hurts also accounted for the team's third touchdown when he had a sensational 26-yard touchdown run, a designed run on which he carried to the right side, followed a Goedert block on safety Harrison Smith and then again broke multiple tackles before lunging into the end zone.

"Great run," Goedert said. "I had a chance to make a block and I was able to get my body on the guy (Smith) but then it was all Jalen. He showed his power. He played a great game in every way. He led the offense once again."

There was a lot more on this night, though. Some of the macro-level storylines to appreciate ...

1. A lot of the beauty of this offensive night on which the Eagles racked up 486 yards was the balance of the offense. The running game accounted for 163 yards on 34 attempts. Eight different receivers caught passes, with Smith catching seven passes for 80 yards on seven targets and A.J. Brown contributing five catches and 69 yards. Goedert was a beast with five catches, a game-high 82 yards, and a stellar job blocking. The offense opened with some no-huddle tempo that center Jason Kelce said "got them (the Vikings) tired up front." The Eagles used Smith out of the slot, moved Brown around, and really had success with their formation variation. Sirianni and Offensive Coordinator Shane Steichen have the offense cooking and they are utilizing every weapon on that side of the ball.

2. Minnesota's defense stymied Green Bay in Week 1 and got after Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers with a strong pass rush that produced four sacks and an interception. The Eagles' offensive line responded to the challenge against strong edge rushers Danielle Hunter and Za'Darius Smith and the offense followed suit. It all starts up front and the Eagles again dominated in the offensive trenches.

"We knew how good they were and we were up for the challenge," left tackle Jordan Mailata said. "We have a lot to clean up, in my opinion. Our goal is to be the best as a unit and we knew that to win this game tonight we had to win against a good front. We had some mistakes, but overall I think as a unit we got the job done."

3. Cornerback Darius Slay was in coverage against star wide receiver Justin Jefferson much of the night and, wow, did he have a ballgame. Slay recorded two interceptions – one at the goal line and one in the end zone – and had five passes defensed. Jefferson opened the season with nine receptions, an NFL-best 184 yards, and a pair of scores against Green Bay. On Monday night, he had six catches for 48 yards on 12 targets. The Eagles came out and rallied to the football and limited Jefferson, muzzled Adam Thielen (4 catches, 52 yards), and shut down running back Dalvin Cook (17 yards on 6 carries, and 4 catches for 19 yards).

"We had our minds set to go out here and dominate and play this game with a lot of effort and with a lot of talent," said Slay, who ran over to Philadelphia 76ers star James Harden and handed him the football after the first interception. "Guys were out there executing their job. That is what we do. Coach (Defensive Coordinator Jonathan Gannon) put us in a great position to win."

4. Miles Sanders was again very productive, rushing for 80 yards on 17 carries as he broke tackles and ran hard and showed terrific vision and power. The Eagles had those 163 yards on the ground after the Week 1 total of 216 yards and, if you had any doubts, don't. The running game is very real once again.

"I'm telling you, when we get this offense rolling, with the weapons that we have, it's a lot of fun," Sanders said. "That first half (when the Eagles scored 24 points and gained 347 total net yards), we were moving the ball up and down the field. The thing is, we didn't sustain that. We didn't score in the second half. I think that's going to be our focus this week, what we didn't do right. What won the game for us tonight was the defense. Those guys did a great job."

5. OK, the defense. The coverage was obviously outstanding. Slay was dominating. Avonte Maddox had an interception and controlled Thielen. Linebacker T.J. Edwards had 10 tackles, a tackle for loss, a quarterback hit, and a pass defensed. He loved the execution of the defense and he loved the mindset.

"We knew we had to rally to the football on every play and we had to be sound in our assignments," he said. "I think that's what we did. We were solid. It's something to build on."

6. Cox and end Josh Sweat had quarterback sacks and the Eagles controlled the line of scrimmage. They allowed just 62 rushing yards on 11 carries, with a long of 17 yards. Very impressive. In all, the defense gave up a paltry 264 total net yards and the Vikings converted just 4 of 12 third downs. The longest pass completion for Minnesota was 19 yards. That's going to make the coaching staff very happy.

With it all, the Eagles felt great as they left Lincoln Financial Field on Monday night. But they know what's ahead: It's a short week. The NFC East schedule opens Sunday in Washington. Nothing is going to come easily for this football team.

"Let's get right back to business," center Jason Kelce said. "A win is great and it feels good, but we know it's a long season and this is just one week. It's good to leave here with a win and now it's on to Washington and that's what matters next."

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