It's a special edition of the Weekend Water Break, presented by Crown Royal, as Eagles fans can truly relax following Thursday night's thrilling win over the Giants. Here are five incredible stories that will get you through a weekend without Eagles football.
1. High Motor: Brandon Graham continues to thrive
He's 32 years old, but has the stamina of a child. He's the longest-tenured player on defense, but he's as hungry as a rookie free agent.
Brandon Graham is on fire to open the 2020 season. One of the captains on defense, the 2010 first-round pick is showing no signs of slowing down.
The defensive end is a bouncing ball of energy filled with an infectious personality. It's hard to take him seriously when he's trash-talking because the opponent can't tell if Graham is laughing at him or with him. His positivity and optimism reign in difficult times.
When the Eagles were 5-7 last season after a humbling loss in Miami, Graham's faith in the team never wavered. The defense responded by allowing 17 or fewer points in three of the final four games of the season, including holding the Cowboys to a season-low-tying nine points in the Week 16 clash that ultimately won the NFC East for the Eagles. Graham delivered on his end of the bargain in 2019. He led the Eagles with 8.5 sacks and 18 tackles for loss, and tied for the team lead with 34 combined QB pressures and hits.
The Eagles are off to a slow start in 2020, but Graham's outlook isn't any different.
"I just know that it's not how you start, it's how you finish. Our goal right now is to just to win the NFC East and get healthy and make sure that we take care of what we need to take care of this week," Graham said after a tough 30-28 loss to the Ravens on Sunday. "We got a short (week) with the Giants. We got to move on. We got 10 games left. We can turn this thing around and we're not far off at all. We still believe in each other despite others. But at the end of the day, that's all I really care about is everybody still believing and knowing that we're one play away from being where we want to be and one turnover away from being where we want to be. We just got to do it."
If you haven't realized by now, with Graham in his 11th season in Philadelphia, the positive outlook isn't an act.
2. Heart and Desire: The Duke Riley Story
Duke Riley believes he could write a book with all he has experienced in his life. But he doesn't need hundreds of pages to tell his story. He wears it on his back every single day.
From his neck to his tailbone lies a tattoo that tells Duke's story in great detail. It shows the eye of Hurricane Katrina, which ravaged his community and many others in the Gulf region in 2005. It features a toppled water tower in his native Buras, Louisiana. It even features a recreation of a childhood photo he took in front of the wreckage the devastating storm left behind.
But Duke does not merely wear his story for others to see. He carries it around with him on a daily basis as if he is Atlas holding up the planet. In some ways, it has helped him build up his physical and mental strength. In others, it has weighed him down to the point of despair.
Regardless, it is a showcase of Duke's heart and desire. The former he picked up from his mother Waukesha Riley, who has a heart as big as the Gulf Coast, as she is persistent in her caring for others despite sometimes less-than-ideal circumstances.
The latter Duke picked up from his father, Duke Berghman, whose tireless work ethic rubbed off on his son, which helped him overcome a bout with spinal meningitis to become a captain on the 2020 Philadelphia Eagles.
He is truly a perfect amalgamation of his parents and a quintessential product of his environment. If you want Southern Hospitality mixed with a blue-collar work ethic, look no further than Duke Riley: A man who has gone from living in poverty in an unincorporated community in Southern Louisiana to the bright lights of the NFL.
But like the rest of his life, nothing comes easy.
3. Who are the 2020 Philadelphia Eagles?
For the next couple of days, Head Coach Doug Pederson and his staff will have the chance to parse through the first seven games of this uneven 2020 season – the good, the bad, and the injured. Let's do the same right here as the players enjoy a mini-bye weekend with the Eagles at 2-4-1 after Thursday night's 22-21 win over New York that, no matter how ugly it was, landed the Eagles in first place in the NFC East …
• Travis Fulgham is the real deal, I think we would all agree, and his upside is significant.
The way he uses his body, the way he snatches the football, runs his routes, and plays with confidence is encouraging. He has gotten better and better as teams have paid more attention to him. He runs well. Fulgham has saved this offense and it's no surprise that the last three weeks have been the offense's most productive games as Fulgham has settled in. Fulgham has 23 receptions for 357 yards and three touchdowns in only four games.
In fact, the Eagles are building a nice, young group of receivers here. Greg Ward continues to produce out of the slot and his touchdown catch on Thursday night, coming through the formation and catching Carson Wentz's pass running a flat route, and sticking the ball over the goal line was a thing of beauty. John Hightower has had some rough moments, but he's bounced back with receptions of 50 yards and 59 yards the last two weeks. He has legitimate deep speed. Jalen Reagor will be back on the field soon and we've seen that he is a big-play maker. The Eagles think they have something with Quez Watkins, who also brings vertical speed to the table. J.J. Arcega-Whiteside is perking up as well.
Losing DeSean Jackson for “significant time,” said Pederson on Friday is a bummer, but the Eagles now have to turn to the kids and hope that Alshon Jeffery can contribute in the very near future as well.
• Not once in his career has defensive end Brandon Graham reached double digits in quarterback sacks, but he is on the way in 2020.
Graham is third in the NFL with six sacks in seven games and his 21 total tackles and 10 quarterback hits are among the best in the league. Any reasons for the great play this season?
"I think just really taking on my nutrition this year more serious than I ever have. Feeling good. Body is feeling really good right now. I feel fast," Graham said. "Then with our rotation, that is helping a lot. I don't feel like I am taking on a lot of beating from these games because you know, got chipped a lot of times today and that could wear on your body a little bit, but it's cool when you have a good rotation of guys that you can count on. Because in that fourth quarter, when you need a play, I feel like I felt in the first quarter. So, I felt hungry and ready to go make a play. And I'm thankful that they, in the back end, took away his reads and I was able to get there."
• Wentz has been best this season in the fourth quarter, tossing six touchdown passes and only two interceptions with a passer rating of 86.7. The Eagles have scored a total of 34 points the last two weeks in the fourth quarter and, for sure, Wentz looks so good in these hurry-up situations. How can he incorporate this approach in the first three quarters of games to come?
• The offensive line is nowhere near where it needs to be, but given all of the injuries the Eagles have had there, Offensive Line Coach/Run Game Coordinator Jeff Stoutland has done an admirable job getting his group ready to play each week with six new starting combinations in seven games. Players like Jordan Mailata, Nate Herbig, Matt Pryor, Sua Opeta, and Jack Driscoll have had opportunities to earn the trust of the coaching staff and they've done that.
• Richard Rodgers is a playmaker at tight end. Richard Rodgers! He was a blocking tight end in 2018 and 2019 – one reception in eight total games – and now he's got 15 catches for 184 yards and eight first downs. Rodgers, if you look up his numbers, caught 58 passes for Green Bay in 2015. So, he's done it in his past. And he's doing it again now.
• Cameron Johnston is second in the NFL in gross punting average, 50.9 yards, and is third in net average at 45.9 yards. The Eagles have needed him to change field position, and he has done that.
4. Inside another Giant comeback
It wasn't always pretty – and no one will remember that part of it in December – but the Eagles came away with a huge win over the rival New York Giants on Thursday Night Football. For now, the Eagles are in first place in the division as they prepare for a pivotal matchup against the Dallas Cowboys next Sunday night. How did the biggest plays from the game come to life? I went to the film to find out.
Let's start with the end in mind this week, as we begin our breakdown with Boston Scott's game-winning touchdown catch.
Scott was the first Eagle to speak with reporters after the game. He said that he was running short routes to the flat all game long. When he saw the safety, Jabrill Peppers, come down to defend him close to the line of scrimmage, he converted the route downfield. Wentz did a great job of working through his progressions, and he delivered an absolute DIME to Scott for six points to seal the win.
This play actually reminded me of a couple of huge touchdown catches by Corey Clement back in 2017. The first one came in prime time against a division rival, just like this Scott play. Wentz hit Corey Clement in the same corner of the end zone against Washington on Monday Night Football.
5. Carson Wentz shows why he's the leader of the Eagles
The Eagles could have easily folded up shop and called it a night after the Giants took a 21-10 lead on Sterling Shepard's 2-yard touchdown reception with just 6:17 left in the game. The score capped a 97-yard drive that came off the heels of a failed fourth-and-goal attempt by the Eagles at the Giants' 3-yard line.
Before the stalled drive, the Eagles' previous six possessions ended like this: interception, punt, missed field goal, punt, punt, punt.
On national television, the Eagles were on the verge of losing to the Giants for the first time since 2016.
That is, until Carson Wentz refused. He refused to give up. He refused to give in. He refused to go down without a fight. He, quite simply, refused to lose.
Wentz engineered a pair of touchdown drives, the latter ending with a game-winning 18-yard dime to running back Boston Scott with just 40 seconds remaining to give the Eagles a 22-21 victory on Thursday night at Lincoln Financial Field.
"He's the leader of our team for a reason and you saw that tonight, leading our team down there to get the two scores late in the game," Head Coach Doug Pederson said. "Quarterbacks sometimes get measured by fourth-quarter comebacks. I know that's part of a stat that gets recorded, and he's done that. The last couple of weeks, we've put ourselves in position to really either tie the game a week ago, and of course this week win the game.
"That's what it takes. Especially the situation that we are in health-wise as a team, we know these games are going to be probably closer than we would like. But it is good to see your quarterback standing there, go toe-to-toe, take some shots, and still lead your team down the field for the win."
In the two fourth-quarter scoring drives, Wentz was 5-of-7 for 121 yards with two touchdowns for a 153.3 passer rating. On the night, he completed 25 of 43 attempts for a season-high 359 yards, the most he's ever thrown in a win, with three total touchdowns (one rushing) and an interception for a 91.1 QB rating, also a season high.
"He's a tough dude. Real tough dude. He battles day in and day out. It's not just in the game – all throughout the week. He's a true professional, a true leader. He does what he is supposed to do. His toughness is wild and I have a lot of respect for him," said running back Boston Scott, who scored his fifth career touchdown against the Giants.
"He trusts the guys around him and he trusts himself. We've been playing tight games. He's our leader, and he's going to keep doing his thing. We never faltered. Our mindset, we were never like panicking or frustrated or whatever. We just always knew that we were going to find a way to win this game. And Carson led us and like I said, it was a great team effort."
Check out the best photos from the comeback win over the Giants featuring the offense.