CHARLOTTE, N.C. –It was everything a prime-time matchup should be: Big plays, high tempo, a lot of physical play, and, in the end, a win for a team determined to make a national statement. And here's the statement made by the Eagles after a thrilling 28-23 win at Bank of America Stadium: The Eagles are for real with a 5-1 record, and they are in commanding position six games into the season.
"We were up for the challenge. We prepared well on a short week and we played lights out today," said safety Rodney McLeod. "I'm really proud of everyone. To come in here and do it against this kind of team, man, that says a lot about our team."
There was nothing easy about this win. The Eagles and Panthers went toe to toe - the Eagles putting points on the board by scoring touchdowns on two red zone takeaways - and the defense withstanding Carolina quarterback Cam Newton.
"We stood up and played our kind of football," said wide receiver Nelson Agholor, who scored the team's final touchdown of the night. "It was fun out there. Everybody stepped up."
Quarterback Carson Wentz tossed three touchdown passes, head coach Doug Pederson went for a gutsy two-point conversion that worked, and the defense made two crucial stops late in the fourth quarter. It all added up to the kind of win that defines a season. The Eagles beat a good team in Carolina, which held a 4-1 record coming into the game, and they did it on the road for their fourth consecutive victory.
They did it without right tackle Lane Johnson and they did it while losing middle linebacker Jordan Hicks to an ankle injury in the early stages of the second half, and playing without linebacker Nigel Bradham (shoulder) and defensive end Brandon Graham (shoulder) for periods of time in the game.
Through three quarters, the Eagles held a 21-16 advantage, thanks to pair a defensive takeaways that the offense turned into touchdowns – Carson Wentz scoring passes to tight end Zach Ertz of 1 yard and 17 yards – and the defense that held on despite a spate of injuries, a couple of long pass-interference penalties against cornerback Jalen Mills, and the multiple talents of Newton.
Then the Eagles came up with the big play to open the fourth quarter. On second-and-10 from the Carolina 24-yard line, the Eagles saw a matchup they loved: Agholor lined up against linebacker Shaq Thompson. Agholor ran away from Thompson on a slant move, the Eagles picked up the blitz, and Agholor made the catch and sprinted into the end zone. The Eagles led 28-16 after the PAT from kicker Jake Elliott.
Wentz went 5-for-5 on the 75-yard touchdown drive and culminated it with his third touchdown pass of the night.
But Carolina came right back with a 75-yard touchdown drive and the nail-biter was on in the final 8:05 of the fourth quarter. Holding a 28-23 advantage, the Eagles were in familiar 2017 territory: Situational football.
A three-and-out offensive series gave the ball back to the Panthers at their 23-yard line with 5:49 remaining. And the Panthers moved the football and quickly got into scoring position with the clock winding down.
But the defense stepped up. A Newton pass was errant down the right hash area and Mills made an easy interception and fell down at the Eagles' 16-yard line with 3:06 on the clock. Carolina had one timeout and the two-minute warning to stop the clock.
(14 carries, 67 yards, conversion on a two-point play) carry on first down gained 7 yards to the 23-yard line. Carolina used its final timeout. On second-and-3, the Panthers blitzed and decked Blount for a loss of 4 yards, setting up a crucial third-and-7 play. The Eagles missed, as Wentz threw a bit low intended for an open Ertz over the middle of the field.
Donnie Jones punted 50 yards and the ball was downed at the 31-yard line with 2:03 remaining. Carolina ball, down five points.
Newton completed a pass to wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin for a 12-yard gain to the 43-yard line. A couple of plays later another Newton completion moved the ball into Eagles territory. On third-and-1, Bradham tipped a pass that went incomplete. On fourth down, with the game on the line and 1 yard needed to keep his team alive, Newton threw low and incomplete to McCaffrey and the game was over.
Eagles win, Eagles win, Eagles win.
And what a win it was. It was a brutally physical game all the way through. The Eagles, on a short week and on the road, played back-and-forth football with Carolina until a Patrick Robinson interception (one of three for the Eagles on the night) ended Carolina's opening drive of the third quarter and gave the offense possession at the Carolina 17-yard line. Two plays later, Wentz found Ertz over the middle and Ertz -- who ran a corner/post route -- made a leaping grab for the score.
On the extra point, Carolina was penalized for an illegal formation, moving the ball to the Panthers' 1-yard line. Instead of playing it safe, Pederson went for two points. The decision paid off as Blount scored on a run up the gut and the Eagles led, 18-10.
"It's a tremendous testament to the players in that locker room," Pederson said of the win. "I told them tonight after the game that I haven't been a part of a team that has battled through so much injury and adversity in the first month, month and a half of the season to stay together.
"The resiliency of the football team started to show at the end of last year. They're learning from last year. They're learning how to finish games and the overall consistency from the leaders on this football team; they're learning how to sacrifice for each other, themselves, for the team. It's a fun thing to watch."
Add it all up and the Eagles had a signature kind of victory, even if the sentiment in the locker was more "We have a lot of season to go," rather than "This was a statement win."
The Eagles are growing up before our very eyes and now have registered three road victories, are 4-0 in the NFC, and are 2-0 in the NFC East, with Washington coming to town a week from Monday.
"Yeah, it feels good and you know we won as a team, but it's also going to be great to get a weekend off here," Ertz said. "We earned it. It's going to be nice to just sit back and relax and watch the rest of the league play."
The Philadelphia Eagles topped the Carolina Panthers, 28-23, at Bank of America Stadium on Thursday Night Football.