By Kevin McGuire
See? Football can still be fun. The Philadelphia eagles came out of nowhere to snap a three-game losing streak in the most improbable fashion Sunday afternoon.
On the road against a New England Patriots team that looked to bounce back from their first loss of the season, the Eagles pulled multiple big plays on defense and special teams to stun the AFC East leaders. The Eagles improved to 5-7 with a wild 35-28 victory nobody could have honestly seen coming, especially since they dug a 14-0 hole in the second quarter.
The Eagles may have put 35 points on the scoreboard, but it was not because of the strength of the Eagles offense. The Eagles had just 248 yards of total offense. DeMarco Murray had just 24 rushing yards on eight attempts, but Darren Sproles led all players with 66 yards on 15 carries. Young Kenjon Barner picked up 39 yards on nine carries, although he did lose a late fumble to give the Patriots one last chance to tie the game.
Quarterback Sam Bradford returned to the starting lineup and completed 14 of 24 attempts for 120 yards and two touchdowns. He was sacked just once in his return. Tight end Zach Ertz had two catches for nine yards and a touchdown, but he also lost a fumble to account for the other Eagles turnover in the game. Jordan Matthews was Philadelphia’s leading receiver with just three catches for 36 yards. Matthews also fumbled but the Eagles recovered.
The New England Patriots may have racked up 427 yards of offense, but the Eagles picked off Tom Brady twice in the game, including a 99-yard pick-six by Malcolm Jenkins to give the Eagles a 21-14 lead midway through the third quarter. The big defensive plays continued in the third quarter when Brady was picked off again, this time by Byron Maxwell in the end zone on a deep pass. The Patriots moved the ball against the Eagles defense, but the fact that they managed to come up with some big plays proved the ability to make a game-changing play may be on this roster. The Eagles also got to Brady for four sacks and held him to completing just 29 of 56 pass attempts. The good news is not many offenses the rest of the way will be of the caliber of New England.
Special Teams: A+
The Eagles won this game because of the effort by the special teams. Najee Goode tied the game at 14-14 just before halftime with a 24-yard blocked punt return for a touchdown in the closing seconds of the first half. Darren Sproles ripped off an 83-yard punt return in the third quarter to push the Eagles ahead 28-14. Sproles ended the game with 115 punt return yards. Punter Donnie Jones was once again in good form with an average of 46.9 yards per punt and two punts landing inside the 20-yard line, although two others reached the endzone for a touchback. Kicker Caleb Sturgis was never called on for a field goal, but he did convert all five of his extra-point attempts.
Any time you can come out of New England with a win against Bill Belichick, you are guaranteed an “A” grade by default without hesitation. Were there some things the Eagles fell short on and got away with? Absolutely, but Chip Kelly deserves a one-week reprieve from criticism on this weekly report card. And he should be given a couple of days to live without criticism. But this being Philadelphia, there’s the question of why the Eagles didn’t do this against Miami, Tampa Bay and Detroit when they could do it on the road against the Patriots, Belichick and Brady.
Because the NFC East Division is an absolute mess, the Eagles are now once again right back in the thick of the division race, even with a 5-7 record. With the New York Giants taking a loss against the Jets, the Eagles could be sitting in first place Tuesday morning if the Dallas Cowboys get by Washington on Monday night. The Eagles now must try winning back-to-back games for the first time since beating the New Orleans Saints and Giants in Weeks 5 and 6. The Eagles return home to Lincoln Financial Field next week to take on LeSean McCoy and the Buffalo Bills, who are coming in with a 6-6 record following a home win against the Houston Texans.
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.