Eagles Wake-Up Call: Birds Become Special Again
FOXBOROUGH, MA — Chris Maragos lined up in his “right five” position as Caleb Sturgis prepared to kick the ball off. The special teams ace, who was the fifth man from the right sideline, sprinted down the field along the right hash mark after Sturgis booted the ball. Maragos then darted to the left hash mark, eluded a blocker and dove at the returner’s legs to make the tackle at the 13-yard line.
It was possibly Maragos’ best play of the season, but it also happened in early October when the Eagles beat the Saints in Week 5. Prior to Philadelphia’s shocking upset in New England, Chip Kelly showed Maragos and the rest of the team that play in a hotel conference room on Saturday night.
“He was reminding us of who we really are,” Maragos said, who noted that Kelly’s tactic helped give players confidence in a tumultuous time. “He always verbally tells us, but he actually showed us plays to reaffirm who we are as football players.”
The Eagles head coach showed highlight after highlight, including every player he could in an individual or group manner. The result, according to Maragos, was a reinforced belief among players that they have what it takes to be successful.
Maragos referenced the scene when asked how he made the play when he blocked the punt that Najee Goode returned 24 yards for the score. Prior to the game, the Patriots had gone 97 consecutive contests without allowing a blocked punt touchdown. As for the Eagles, it was their second-longest blocked punt touchdown in team history.
“It started with that blocked punt before the half,” Brandon Graham said. “That gave us motivation going into the second half.”
Although Maragos was the one who penetrated the Patriots’ backfield untouched, it was his teammates who put him in that position. Maragos lined up directly behind Bryan Braman, who was a down lineman. When Braman quickly shot through the gap between the left guard and center, he drew two blockers.
Meanwhile, Ed Reynolds stayed wide in his rush and the personal protector stepped across the formation to block an untouched Kenjon Barner. That sequence left a huge lane for Maragos to sprint through.
“When I saw the guard jump down on Braman, I knew that I would have to hit that gap really fast so he couldn’t come off on me,” Maragos said. “I dipped my shoulder underneath and I knew I came through free. It was right before the half, so I was expecting the punter to get the ball out quick, so I knew I was going to have to really rush to get there and not waste any steps.
“He’s a left-footed punter; he kind of angled right to me. I’ve been visualizing for weeks, months [and] years for those situations, just getting those mental reps. When you get in those positions to take the ball off the foot, you’ve kind of been there a lot of times.”
The Eagles continued to turn back the clock and executed on special teams as they did last year in the third quarter. Darren Sproles returned a punt 83 yards for the score, and became just the third Eagle to have multiple punt return touchdowns in the same season. His four punt return touchdowns are also tied for the most in franchise history, and his 115 punt return yards are the second-highest single-game total in team history.
Despite Sproles’ success, it was the Patriots’ punter who outkicked his coverage and caused the return unit to talk on the sideline about how they would score a touchdown. When the moment came and the Eagles extended their lead to 28-14, Seyi Ajirotutu gave Sproles a crucial block along the sideline.
“When they kicked that first one to us, our special teams coach [Dave Fipp] came to me and said, ‘They are going to give us one today,'” Sproles said. “And they gave us one. They gave us a line drive and they gave us space. It gave me time to see where my blockers were.”
Although Malcolm Jenkins returned an interception 99 yards for a touchdown, and the Eagles offense scored twice without turning the ball over, Philadelphia’s special teams seemed to spark the squad the most en route to the upset.
The Eagles flipped the script on the Patriots, who previously ranked 19 spots above the Birds atop the NFL in special teams, according to Football Outsiders.
“When you have a blocked kick for a touchdown, you have an interception returned for a touchdown, and a punt return for a touchdown,” Kelly said, “it takes those things to win in this stadium, against that coach and that quarterback.”
WHAT YOU MISSED
“I know we have a good football team. I think they showed it today.” Chip Kelly is proud of his team after a big win.
Four key takeaways from the Birds’ win over Tom Brady and Bill Belichick.
Tim delivers his instant observations from the Eagles’ wild, unexpected win over the Patriots.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
Jeffrey Lurie fired the Eagles’ locker room up before the team’s upset win over the Patriots, writes Marcus Hayes.
Before the game, Lurie went from player to player – as he always does – but this time with a fiercer, more urgent underlying message:
Do not embarrass me in my hometown.
He addressed them individually and in a group. But he addressed them with a rowdiness that belies his forgetful-professor demeanor.
“He was fired up today! I’d never seen him like that in front of everybody,” said left tackle Jason Peters, an Eagle for seven years: “‘Play with a fire! Play angry! Go out there and let it rip!'”
Reuben Frank has ten observations from the Birds’ win over New England, including the redemption of Billy Davis.
We have to start out with defensive coordinator Bill Davis, who has come under a tremendous amount of criticism these last two weeks in the wake of three straight losses, the last two of which came in horrifying fashion. Much of the criticism was valid. When you give up 83 points in five days, yeah, that’s awful.
But Davis didn’t instantly become a terrible coach overnight, and on Sunday he had his group mentally and physically prepared for the best quarterback in NFL history. I know Brady threw for over 300 yards, but the Eagles’ defense found a way to beat him at a stadium where he had won 51 of his last 55 games. They got tremendous pressure on Brady, mainly from Brandon Graham and Vinny Curry, and they picked him off twice, something that no team had done against Brady in this building in three years.
Davis not only had a terrific game plan but also got big plays from a unit that the last three weeks hadn’t made any. This defense is still a work in progress, but you come up here and find a way to make enough plays against Brady to get a win, you’ve done one heck of a job.
Chip Kelly will address the media at 1 p.m.