By Kevin McGuire
The Philadelphia Eagles spoiled the homecoming for running back LeSean McCoy with a hard-earned 23-20 victory over the Buffalo Bills Sunday afternoon at Lincoln Financial Field. The Eagles, winners of two straight games, used a balanced running game and reliable special teams play to get by for the win to keep them on top of the NFC East despite having a 6-7 record. The Eagles improved their record at home to 3-3 this season as well as the defense hung in there with one of the top offense’s on the schedule.
Sam Bradford had some good moments and bad in completing 23 of 38 pass attempts for 247 yards and a touchdown with one interception. He took a bad sack late in the game for a loss of 15 yards, but was bailed out for it by a tremendous punt by Donnie Jones. Bradford was locked in on an early touchdown drive and showed how good of a fit he can potentially be in the offense. Darren Sproles was the leading rusher with 41 yards and a touchdown on seven carries and Ryan Mathews (38 yards) and DeMarco Murray (34) yards contributed to a balanced rushing attack.
Tight end Zach Ertz led the Eagles with 98 receiving yards, including a 41-yard gain at a key moment. He caught five of the seven passes in his direction. Rookie wide receiver Nelson Agholor scored his first career touchdown on a 53-yard touchdown strike down the middle of the field on a 2nd and 26.
The Eagles defense got burned at times with Tyrod Taylor throwing for 268 yards with Robert Woods on the receiving end of 106 yards on five receptions and Sammy Watkins hauling in 81 yards and a touchdown on five catches. Former Eagles running back LeSean McCoy managed to rush for just 74 yards on 20 rushing attempts, and he was kept out of the end zone in his return to the Linc. In all, the Eagles gave up 412 yards of offense to the Bills but the defense came up with a turnover in the game. That included a late interception on a poor overthrow by Taylor on the Bills’ final drive.
Fletcher Cox and Mychal Kendricks had big games with seven solo tackles each, and Cox recorded a sack and two tackles for a loss. Malcolm Jenkins was active as well in coverage with eight tackles. Linebacker Kiko Alonso, against his former team, got involved with five tackles. As a team, the Eagles defense deflected six passes and got a hit on Taylor four times.
Special Teams: A
There may not have been a special teams touchdown this week, but the special teams unit once again found ways to have an impact on the game. Early in the game the punt coverage teams came up with a fumbled punt by the Bills. Punter Donnie Jones once again proved to be one of the surest things in the NFL with his leg, punting seven times for an average of 50.4 yards per punt and knocking one punt inside the 20-yard line without sending one into the end zone. A 63-yard punt helped make up for a poor sack taken by Bradford late in the game with a three-point lead. Kicker Caleb Sturgis was three-for-three on field goal attempts, including a 45-yard try just before halftime and a game-winning 30-yard try with three and a half minutes to play.
We’ll go ahead and give Chip Kelly another positive grade this week. The Eagles have won back-to-back games now for the second time this season and find themselves in position to control the fate of the NFC East the rest of the way. The Eagles are now tied with Washington atop the division after Washington defeated Chicago. Both teams are 6-7 with one head-to-head game remaining in Philadelphia in two more weeks. One positive remark about Kelly this week is his continued effort to not let the contract for DeMarco Murray get in the way of finding the best way to run the football. A balanced attack with shared reps for Murray, Sproles and Mathews proved to be effective. Kelly also had the more disciplined team with five penalties for 55 yards to Buffalo’s 15 penalties for 101 free yards. That counts for something, and the Eagles are showing some scrappy fight in them with a division championship within reach.
The Eagles get their next two games at home, and the home field advantage may come in handy as they will be pivotal games. Next up is the 11-2 Arizona Cardinals, who are on cruise control in the NFC West with a three-game lead in the division. The Cardinals are coming off a 23-20 win against the Minnesota Vikings and the NFL’s top-ranked scoring offense and fourth-best scoring defense. This will not be easy.
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.