Four Downs: Eagles Extra Special In Upset Win
FOXBOROUGH, MA — The Eagles pulled off a shocker in Foxborough, beating the Patriots 35-28. Here’s what we saw.
MOST TELLING STAT: 2
That’s how many special teams touchdowns the Eagles scored today. To pull off an upset of this magnitude, the underdog typically has to win all three phases of the game, and the Eagles certainly did so.
After having one of the best special teams units in the NFL last season, Dave Fipp’s group hasn’t been anything special this season. Darren Sproles returned a punt for a touchdown in Week 3 against the Jets, but Caleb Sturgis has been unreliable and the punt team has allowed multiple kicks to be blocked.
However, the Eagles benefited from a huge blown assignment in the second quarter as Chris Maragos ran up the middle untouched and blocked a punt, which Najee Goode returned 24 yards for a touchdown. Then, in the third quarter, Sproles returned a punt for 83 yards to give the Eagles a 14-point lead, keyed by Seyi Ajirotutu’s and Maragos’ blocking.
Prior to this game, New England had the best special teams unit in the NFL, according to Football Outsiders. Philadelphia, meanwhile, ranked 20th. At least on this night, the roles were clearly switched.
DID YOU NOTICE?
I don’t have to tell you how clutch Malcolm Jenkins was, because you probably saw the highlight of his interception returned 99 yards for a touchdown. I don’t have to tell you how his leadership and energy seemed to fuel his teammates, because that was pretty evident on the field early on. But what I do have to tell you about is his performance against the Patriots’ rushing attack.
Jenkins was second among Eagles in tackles with seven, including two for negative yardage. But perhaps the most underrated play of the game was his tackle-for-loss in the third quarter when the Patriots faced first-and-goal from the 1-yard line. Jenkins pushed New England back four yards, and partially forced them to throw the ball on the next two downs. Two plays later, Jenkins gave the Eagles a lead they never relinquished.
He also played well as the slot corner in nickel, after lining up at safety in similar situations in the previous two games. Jenkins and the other defensive backs’ job was made easier, however, because of the pass rush the front seven generated.
Tom Brady entered the game getting sacked about twice per game, but the Eagles did so four times. Philadelphia also recorded 13 quarterback hits and moved Brady off of his mark by making him move around — and out of — the pocket. There were several plays where Brady had open receivers, but he didn’t have time to deliver the throw.
Sam Bradford wasn’t spectacular, but he looked more like he did in his last two games before his concussion rather than his poor performances to start the season. He attempted just 24 passes — completing 14 of them — for 120 yards, two touchdowns and a 99.3 passer rating.
Bradford’s receivers dropped a couple of passes, but he made potential catches much more difficult than they needed to be. He also overthrew Zach Ertz across the middle, which was probably his worst throw of the game, but he took care of the ball and was efficient in the red zone.
Bradford also benefitted early on from a good rushing attack, but the Eagles’ production on the ground declined in the second half. Darren Sproles and Kenjon Barner lead the Eagles in carries and rushed for more than four yards per carry, but Murray gained just three yards per rush.
Tim repeats the same phrase to me every other week it seems like, but it especially applies now: anything can happen in the NFL. We openly joked about how the Eagles had little chance to win in New England, but you know how that turned out.
What does this mean going forward? Well, the Eagles are only half of a game out of the NFC East lead, and they’ll be tied for first if Dallas beats Washington tomorrow night. Although it was a weakened Patriots team the Eagles beat, their defense and special teams showed it can play at a high level.
Washington still has the easiest schedule remaining of any NFC East team, but Philadelphia closes the season with two division games, meaning they could realistically close any gap created in the next two weeks.
Although this isn’t the biggest win of Chip Kelly’s career — his 2013 victory over Dallas that clinched the division comes to mind — it certainly seems like it’s up there. This is the type of win that could rejuvenate a team after two humiliating losses, giving them a chance to sneak into the playoffs. But before we put too much stock into this victory, remember that consistency hasn’t been the Eagles’ strong suit this season.