By Joseph Santoliquito
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — There were large segments of vacant seats at Lincoln Financial Field early in the fourth quarter Sunday night, as there were the last time the Eagles played at home. This time, it was for a different reason.
About two hours earlier the Eagles’ frothing fanbase had its senses jolted when over the public address system blared with added relish: Philadelphia Eagles 28, New York Jets nuuttthhhhiiiiinnnng. That was still with 9:57 left in the first half.
It had to be followed with a frustrating query: Where has this Eagles team been all year? This was the winning template the Eagles had envisioned. Get an early lead, force the opponent into passing situations, and unleash the pass rush, which the Eagles have done using more exotic blitz packages.
It was that dominating. It was that emphatic. It was that mind-boggling. It featured an attacking defense. It featured a balanced offense. It featured many of the elements the Eagles have not done very consistently this year.
The Eagles were all over Tigerbeat coverboy Mark Sanchez, sacking him four times, and they survived a mild second-quarter breakdown to beat the Jets, 45-19, and improve to 6-8 this season — still keeping their faint playoff hopes alive in the NFC.
The Eagles received some help earlier Sunday thanks to the Washington Redskins’ 23-10 stunner over the New York Giants, pulling the Eagles within a game of New York and still two games behind the Dallas Cowboys, who the Eagles will visit on Saturday.
If the Eagles can beat Dallas, then Washington at home, coupled with a Giants loss to these same Jets on Saturday, and then a Giants win over Dallas in the final week of the regular season — miraculously — the Eagles would become NFC East Division champions and make the playoffs. If — again another big if — that scenario plays out to fruition, the Eagles would own the NFC tiebreaker over the Cowboys and Giants with a better record against NFC East opponents.
The Eagles are now 9-0 lifetime against the Jets, who are still alive in the AFC playoff picture and were playing for their lives. Dropping to 8-6 won’t help their chances. Neither will turning the ball over four times and playing the way they did.
Defense was the cornerstone for this victory. The Eagles caused two turnovers in the first half—the first leading to the first score of the game. It’s when you sensed everything may go right for the Eagles, for a change, when defensive end Juqua Parker scooped up a Santonio Holmes’ fumble and ran 47 yards for a touchdown.
“Our preparation is different defensively, we have a different attitude and things are starting to click,” Eagles’ safety Kurt Coleman said. “We’re playing together as a group. I think the biggest difference is we’re picking up run gaps, and that allows us to convert and do the things we do best, and that’s get after the quarterback. We are blitzing a lot more, and giving offenses different looks. The plan is simple. Take care of the run early in games, get a lead and force them to pass. That plays right into our strength.”
Asante Samuels’ interception off a Sanchez pass that Holmes couldn’t hold led to the Eagles’ second score, a Michael Vick 26-yard touchdown pass to Brent Celek. Just like that, the Eagles were beating a team with playoff aspirations, 14-0.
The Eagles added to that lead with second-quarter touchdown runs by Vick and LeSean McCoy, giving them a commanding 28-0 lead with 9:57 left in the half.
But it would not be the Eagles without a little drama added, right?
It came all right.
The Jets answered the Eagles with a pair of Nick Folk field goals and a 25-yard touchdown connection from Sanchez to Holmes.
Eagles’ tight end Brent Celek had a career day catching five passes for a career-best 156 yards, which also included a career-best 73-yard reception that set up a McCoy’s second touchdown.
“We knew there would be some man-to-man opportunities and we were ready to take advantage of them,” Celek said. “It feels good we’re alive [in the playoff picture], but there is no way we wanted to be in this position in the beginning of the season. We know that there are some things that need to happen.”
Jets’ coach Rex Ryan couldn’t do anything to stop the Eagles’ offense — especially Celek exploiting the middle of the field and the Eagles staying from the Jets’ ballhawking combo cornerbacks of Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie.
“Obviously a horrendous performance by us, that goes without saying,” Ryan said. “I think part of the receiving deal is cause our corners are so darn good. That was a great scheme on their part. They ran what we call a yogi-go and obviously they hit for that 70-some yarder. That wasn’t our best, that’s for sure. Gotta give them credit, they did a great job protecting the quarterback. Looked like we were scared to death to go after him. And then Vick made some great throws.
“I think Michael Vick showed us something. I’ve gone against Vick a few times, but he’s never had that kind of day, not even close against our kind of defense. But he had it today. Running, he threw it well. I think they’ve done a great job, obviously, with Vick. He’s a complete quarterback now, but that was the guy that showed me something. Andy Reid, I’ve got a great deal of respect for him. Obviously, he’s been doing this a long time — 13 years — he’s a perennial winner. It’s something I hope I can have that kind of success.”
With 13:24 left to play, Reid pulled Vick in favor of Vince Young with the Eagles very comfortably ahead. Vick left completing 15 for 22 for 274 yards, rushing for his first touchdown this season and passing for a score. Vick took a nasty hit early in the fourth quarter from Jets’ linebacker Jamaal Westerman that took him some time to get up from.
“He did take a shot but he’s okay, his ribs are fine, and it’s not why I took him out,” Reid said. “I took a lot of guys out there at the end.”
Defensive end Jason Babin had three sacks for the second-straight game, a first in Eagles’ history, and Parker’s fumble return for a touchdown was his second this season—one more touchdown, believe it or not—than Vick has scored rushing this season.
Aside from the brief second-quarter lapse, it couldn’t have been a more thorough, towering performance by the Eagles.
Questions, however, continue to loom in the waning weeks of this roller coaster season: Are these the real Eagles? If so, where have they been?
“Our confidence level has always been high,” Eagles’ offensive tackle Jason Peters said. “Our problem this year was turning the ball over. once we stopped that, we’ve been a hard team to beat. We knew what was wrong — that was turning the ball over. We corrected what we were doing wrong. I’ll tell you this, this is a way better feeling that we’re winning. We want to soak this up and enjoy it.”
This crazy topsy-turvy ride of an Eagles’ season continues.
The Eagles own a perfect 9-0 record against the Jets all time, which is the best undefeated mark between two teams in NFL history … The Eagles’ 45 points were the most against the Jets since they allowed 45 at New England on December 6, 2010 … The Jets came into the game with the league’s top red-zone offense, scoring touchdowns on 71.4% of their trips inside the 20-yard line, but were held to just two touchdowns on five red zone trips on the afternoon … RB LeSean McCoy tied a career-high with three rushing touchdowns, surpassing Steve Van Buren for the franchise record for most touchdowns in a season (20) and most rushing scores (17). His 20 touchdowns this season lead the league and are tied for the 20th-best single-season total in NFL history, according to Stats Inc. … He became the third player in team history to have three straight multi-TD outings, joining Brian Westbrook (2004) and Ricky Watters (1995) … McCoy also posted his sixth 100-yard effort of the season, which is tied for the third-most in team history … His 1,274 rushing yards on the season ranks 5th all time in Eagles history and his 3,001 career rushing yards is the most ever by an Eagle in his first three seasons … McCoy has scored a touchdown in 13 of 14 games in 2011 … McCoy snapped a streak of 490 regular-season touches without a fumble. His last fumble came on 10/10/10 at San Francisco, and the last fumble he lost was on 10/3/10 vs. Washington … DE Jason Babin recorded three sacks for the second straight game, becoming the 10th player in NFL history to do so, and the first Eagle … He now has a career-high 18 sacks on the season, which is tied for the third-highest total in team history and the most since Clyde Simmons’ 19 in 1992. He is the 15th player in NFL history to reach 18 sacks in a season … Babin has had three-straight multi-sack games, and a trio of three-sack games in 2011 … TE Brent Celek had the second-highest yardage total ever by an Eagles tight end behind Pete Retzlaff’s 204 yards on 11/14/65 vs. Washington … His 156-yard effort included a career-long 73-yard catch, while also contributing his third touchdown of the season. It was his fifth-career 100-yard game … The Eagles own a 13-4 record when Celek scores a touchdown … DE Juqua Parker scored his third-career touchdown and his second fumble return for a touchdown this season. The only other defensive player in team history with two fumble return scores in the same season was Seth Joyner in 1991 … Parker is ranked 2nd to Clyde Simmons (4) for most touchdowns by a defensive lineman in team history … All three of Parker’s touchdowns have covered 47-plus yards (56-yard fumble return, 55-yard interception return, 47-yard fumble return) … LB Jamar Chaney has three interceptions this season, which is the most by an Eagles linebacker since William Thomas had three in 1996 … DE Phillip Hunt has had a sack in two-straight games … In their last two games (both wins), the defense has held opponents to 6-28 (21.4%) on third down and 0-4 on fourth down … The Eagles defense forced four Jets turnovers, including CB Asante Samuel’s 23rd interception as an Eagle, tying him for the 10th-highest total in team history. Samuel’s teams are 36-7 overall when he intercepts a pass and 26-1 at home (including playoffs) … Over the last two games, the Eagles have scored 38 points off of their seven takeaways … WR DeSean Jackson’s 3,909 career receiving yards are the most ever by an Eagle in his first four seasons … WR Jeremy Maclin’s 176 career receptions are the second-most ever by an Eagle in his first three seasons (Keith Jackson – 194) … QB Michael Vick threw for 274 yards and a touchdown for a 107.0 passer rating, his second-highest of the season. Vick also scored his 34th-career rushing touchdown (including postseason) and his 13th as an Eagle. The Eagles are 10-2 when he scores on the ground … The Eagles four rushing touchdowns tied for the fifth-most in franchise annals and the most since matching that total on 9/23/07 vs. Detroit … The Eagles offense features four players with 600-plus receiving yards this season, becoming the third Eagles team ever to do so (2006, 1990) … Andy Reid won his 134th career game, tying former Jets head coach Weeb Ewbank for the 23rd on the NFL’s all-time list (including playoffs). He improved his career December record to 37-15 (.712) … K Alex Henery has connected on 12 consecutive field goal attempts, which is tied for the 7th-longest streak in team history … The Eagles tallied their 300th home victory in franchise history.