By Kevin McGuire
The Philadelphia Eagles took care of business on Sunday afternoon in Lincoln Financial Field, picking up their first win on their home field since last November. The Eagles’ 39-17 victory over the New Orleans Saints assured Philadelphia will stay within reach of first place in the NFC East instead of dropping to an unfathomable 1-4 start that would be nearly impossible to dig out of. Things finally looked good for the Eagles in all areas, as the offense, defense and special teams all contributed to the win. It really was a full team effort for the Eagles, who are now 2-3 heading into the middle of October.
For the first time all season, the Eagles seemed to put together a moderately consistent performance on offense, even if things did get off to a slow start. After going scoreless in the first quarter, the Eagles put up double-digit points in each of the final three quarters of play. They got yards running the football and through the air for 519 yards on 79 snaps, yet still had some drops and off-target passes. There is room for improvement, but it was refreshing to see the Eagles put away an inferior opponent.
Sam Bradford ended his day completing 32 of 45 pass attempts for 333 yards and two touchdowns. He was picked off twice as well, but this was clearly Bradford’s best performance thus far with his new team, and provided a glimpse of the potential Chip Kelly may have seen in the injury-riddled quarterback. Running back DeMarco Murray may not have gone off for a big day running the football, but he did carry the football 20 times for 83 yards and a score. Ryan Matthews also got involved with 73 rushing yards and a touchdown, and Darren Sproles picked up 27 yards on five carries.
Receiver Josh Huff had the big day catching the football for the Eagles, with four catches for 78 yards and a touchdown. Veteran tight end Brent Celek also caught a touchdown pass that came shortly after the Saints lost the football deep in their own zone.
The Eagles forced four New Orleans turnovers and held Drew Brees and the Saints offense to just 17 points. Anytime a defense can do that, you should have an excellent chance at winning. Fletcher Cox had a huge game for the Eagles, with six tackles and three hits on Brees and a fumble recovery. Malcolm Jenkins had six tackles as well and Jordan Hicks filled in nicely at linebacker with a solid effort.
The Eagles did struggle at times to get off the field on defense, with the Saints converting half of their 16 third down situations for a first down, but New Orleans had to leave points on the board as well by coming up empty on two red zone trips. The Saints managed to pick up 19 first downs, bu the Eagles offense had 34 of their own. The offense helped give this Eagles defense time to breath and the effect was noticeable in the freshness displayed by the defense later in the game.
If the Eagles are going to continue playing at this level more frequently on offense, then the defense will be able to make plays happen later in the game and start to slam the door shut on their opponents a bit more frequently. That has not been the case for much of Chip Kelly’s career, but perhaps Sunday was a sign of changes to come.
Special Teams: A
New Eagles kicker Caleb Sturgis missed an extra point attempt, but he made three others and went a perfect four-for-four on field goal tries. That was encouraging to see a week after Sturgis came up small in a couple of opportunities to help the Eagles hold off Washington. Sturgis made sure he was not the difference on Sunday, picking up 15 of a possible 16 points kicking the football through the uprights. Sturgis missing an extra point is not too alarming, given the new distance for extra point tries and the downward trend in Pat success rate around the league.
Punter Donnie Jones was only called on for a punt once on Sunday, but he made it count. Jones punted a football 50 yards to flip the field position. The Eagles only returned on kick from the Saints, with Josh Huff returning one for 40 yards. All in all, it was a solid and reliable afternoon from the Eagles special teams, as the Saints only had one punt return yard and New Orleans did not turn any great returns on kickoffs.
Chip Kelly has earned the right to pump his chest out this week. After weeks of criticisms about the team’s performance, Kelly finally saw the Eagles put together a well-rounded performance and took care of business against a team they should have beaten without much hesitation. In the week leading up to the game, Kelly had his name attached to multiple coaching rumors at the college level from Texas to USC to Maryland (yes, Maryland). Now he has the Eagles still within striking distance of first place in the NFC East, and that should be enough to silence some of the rhetoric and silly rumors and hypothetical conversations for at least another week.
Next up for the Eagles is a primetime showdown with the division rival New York Giants next Monday night. The Eagles have already lost to two other division opponents and cannot afford to lose a third before reaching the midway point of the season. If the Eagles can play a well-rounded game as they did against New Orleans, they should be capable of sending New York home with a loss next week.
Kevin McGuire is a Philadelphia area sports writer covering the Philadelphia Eagles and college football. McGuire is a member of the FWAA and National Football Foundation. Follow McGuire on Twitter @KevinOnCFB. His work can be found on Examiner.com.