By Joseph Santoliquito
Tampa, FL (CBS) — The perfect arc against the black and red dotted background seemed to scrape the heavens and landed gently in the waiting hands of DeSean Jackson—and that was it. Tampa Bay had no answers. Nick Foles’ third touchdown pass early in the fourth quarter sealed what had been a taut game into an Eagles’ 31-20 victory over the winless Buccaneers on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium.
It was the second-straight victory for the Eagles, whose 3-3 record keeps them atop the NFC East (despite the fact that the three victories have come over teams that have a combined record of 1-15) with a first-place showdown pending against visiting Dallas next Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field.
Foles, starting in a relief role for the injured Michael Vick out with a pulled left hamstring, was brilliant. He finished completing 22 of 31 passes for 296 yards, three touchdowns (one for 47 to Riley Cooper and the Jackson TD was 36 yards)—including moving his plodding feet for a four-yard score. He didn’t throw an interception. Foles’ performance certainly made an argument that he may be better suited for this Eagles offense than Vick.
Foles commanded the Eagles offense for 425 yards of total offense, while the defense held a dubious Tampa offense to 351 yards of total offense—but the Bucs picked up just 173 yards of offense and nine first downs in second half.
Under Foles, the Eagles are 4-for-7 for touchdowns in the red zone. He was sharp, he spread the ball around and was very poised.
And you knew the looming question would come when Chip Kelly addressed the media after the game—who’s the starter?
This time, however, Kelly hesitated.
“Was [Foles] 100-for-100?” joked Kelly. “We’ll evaluate everything. We’ll go back and watch films, see what we did good, see what we did bad and see where we are, and see where Mike is. I don’t give any hypotheticals and I don’t make any predictions. I don’t deal with hypotheticals, we’ll see where [Vick is]. We’ll go back and evaluate everything and see where we are as a team and make a decision where we’re going.”
LeSean McCoy finished with 25 carries for 116 yards, and Cooper led all receivers with four catches for a career-best 120 yards, his 47-yard touchdown catch putting the Eagles up for good. Jackson hauled in six passes for 64 yards and a career-best two touchdowns—one where he was covered by Darrelle Revis.
On the Eagles’ first drive of the game, Foles already looked in rhythm. He completed four of five passes for 70 yards, and drove the Eagles 85 yards in eight plays, averaging 10.6 yards a play. Foles capped the drive by surprising everyone, including the interior of the Tampa Bay defense, by taking a quarterback draw four yards for a 7-0 Philadelphia lead with 11:46 left in the first half.
It’s the first time the Eagles scored on their first drive.
“I think it was really important to get off to a fast start,” Kelly said. “I think that first play where we hit LeSean and he breaks one, and all of a sudden, our guys start to get into a rhythm and start to get a roll going. I think it was really big for us, especially playing a team like this. We wanted to get on them early and really start making them play from behind. That big drive was huge for us in the beginning of the game.
“We played the same offense we’ve played in the first six games of the year so far. We’ve been productive in our first six games. I think the difference in today’s game is we did a real good job in the turnover battle and our defense did a great job, which was huge for us. And we converted in the red zone. We made sure we spent a lot of time this week during practice making sure we execute down there and we did.”
After that first series, however, the Eagles offense lost some steam. The Bucs took advantage of a McCoy fumble for a Rian Lindell 38-yard field goal with 6:30 left in the opening quarter, then took the lead on Mike Glennon’s 24-yard TD strike to Vincent Jackson early in the second quarter.
Midway through the second quarter, Foles and Eagles answered back on an eight-play, 54-yard drive. Foles hit DeSean Jackson in the back of the end zone of a perfect 12-yard strike—a score where Jackson beat Revis, and all he did was look and complain to his teammates where the help was.
But the Eagles 14-10 edge was wiped away when Glennon connected with Jackson again, with just over a minute in the half, on a 1-yard TD strike for a 17-14 halftime lead—and third lead change of the half.
Cooper proved to be a great outlet for Foles, including a 47-yard touchdown in the third quarter and a 44-yard catch-and-run in the fourth quarter that led to the Jackson TD that nailed it for the Eagles.
Foles, whose two victories as a starter have come over Tampa Bay, is taking this as steady as anyone can. He hasn’t beat his chest screaming he deserves to be the starting quarterback, he’s upheld the role of ultimate team player.
“There were some good things out there and it was great to get a win,” Foles said. “Everybody stuck together and it was a great team win.”
Foles won’t have to say much. There will no doubt be plenty chiming in on his behalf after games like Sunday.
QB Nick Foles threw for 296 yards and accounted for four touchdowns (a career-high three passing and one rushing). His 133.3 rating was the best of his career and he has had back-to-back games with a rating over 100 … His 47-yard touchdown pass to WR Riley Cooper was the longest pass of his career … In two career games against Tampa Bay, Foles has amassed 677 passing yards and seven touchdowns (five passing, two rushing) with no interceptions … RB LeSean McCoy racked up 116 rushing yards, his third 100-yard game this season and the 15th of his career. The Eagles are 12-3 in those games … McCoy’s 630 rushing yards and 871 scrimmage yards are the most ever by an Eagle through the first six games of the season … With 4,496 career rushing yards, McCoy surpassed Randall Cunningham for fifth, and with 6,325 career yards from scrimmage, he passed Keith Byars for ninth on the team’s all-time lists … McCoy is the only player to exceed 100 rushing yards against the Buccaneers this season … The Eagles became just the second team in NFL history to accumulate at least 1,500 passing and 1,050 rushing yards through the first six games of the season (1954 Rams – 1,612 passing, 1,136 rushing) … Their 2,699 total net yards are the highest total in franchise history and the sixth-highest in NFL history through six games … They also became the third team in NFL history to pile up at least 400 yards of total offense in each of their first six games (the 2007 Patriots hold the league record, doing so in their first 8 contests and the 1983 Chargers did so in their first seven contests) … This year marks the first time the Eagles have ever had six straight games with at least 400 yards … WR DeSean Jackson had six receptions for 64 yards and a career-high two touchdowns … Jackson has a touchdown reception in four of six games this season … With 5,374 career receiving yards, Jackson moved past Bobby Walston and into sixth place in team history. He also tied Fred Barnett (308) for eighth on the team’s all-time receptions list … Jackson currently has 25 career touchdowns of 25-plus yards, passing Timmy Brown for third place in team annals … With 35 career touchdowns, Jackson eclipsed Calvin Williams for 12th in team history … The Eagles are 22-5 in regular season games that Jackson catches a touchdown … The Eagles scored a touchdown on their opening drive for the first time this season … WR Riley Cooper led the team with 120 receiving yards, marking his first-career 100-yard game, which included a career-long 47-yard touchdown reception … The Eagles converted two of three red zone opportunities into touchdowns against a Tampa Bay team that came into the game ranking second in the NFL by allowing touchdowns on just four of 14 previous trips … With 278 career receptions, WR Jason Avant supplanted Duce Staley for 13th in team history … CB Bradley Fletcher picked up his first interception with the team. Eagles cornerbacks have already accounted for five interceptions in 2013 … LB Connor Barwin registered his third sack of the season … DT Bennie Logan has a sack in back-to-back games … The Eagles have won their last three games against the Buccaneers dating back to 2009 and are the first team to score more than 23 points against them this season … The Eagles have scored at least 30 points in four of six games … The Eagles went 7-14 on third down and are 45.9% this year, placing them fifth in the NFL following their game today. It’s also the team’s highest percentage since 1970 when the statistic was tracked.