We all felt it happening right in front of our eyes. Like a slow death, when it was clear the clock would not provide the relief for the Eagles, the Redskins marched down the field poised to complete the near-impossible. The Eagles once comfortable 24-point lead had fizzled down to a single possession (8 points), and their defense seemed all out of the type of plays that kept the vaunted Redskins offense off the scoreboard through three quarters. Yet while the entire Lincoln Financial Field crowd and millions of Eagles’ fans readied themselves for more devastation, the defensive unit, which was supposed to keep the Eagles from achieving any sort of success during Chip Kelly’s first season, approached the situation with a calm, steady demeanor. After forcing the Redskins to use their final timeout, the Philadelphia defense dug in with their own endzone behind them, with a chance to lift the hearts of a city for the first time in over a year.
The Redskins prodigious quarterback Robert Griffin III, who had rebounded from a miserable first half to give his team a chance, took the shotgun snap and started his most important progressions of the contest. Unfortunately for the Washington signal caller, he would not be afforded any sort of luxury, as the Eagles defense would force the young Griffin III to make a quick play. Led by Fletcher Cox, who played as dominant a game as I’ve seen since he was drafted, the Eagles defensive line collapsed the pocket and moved Griffin III off of his mark. The mercurial quarterback, who had dazzled in the process of bringing his team back, fluttered a pop-up into the endzone with no apparent intention. The smallest, albeit possibly most important, Eagles defender settled under the ball and Brandon Boykin lifted the ‘Stink at the Linc’ off his home field and launched the Birds to the top of the NFC East.
The interception was on the heels of a furious comeback that nearly mirrored the Redskins week 1 efforts in Washington. After storming out to a 24-0 deficit and seemingly having an answer for everything Washington had brought to the table, an alarming sequence of events tilted momentum toward the Redskins sideline. After an unsuccessful 4th and short attempt by Bryce Brown (the 2nd such occurrence of the game), Griffin III connected with his fullback Darrel Young, of all people, for a 62 yard touchdown followed by a successful 2-point conversion.
Another stalled drive for the Eagles gave Washington the ball back, and once again they would burn the Eagles with a big play. After moving into Eagles territory, Griffin III unleashed another deep ball, this time in the direction of speedy Aldrick Robinson. Robinson made a wonderful adjustment on the ball and Roc Carmichael, who was filling in for an injured Bradley Fletcher, failed to make a play and the 41-yard touchdown would be another body blow by Washington. After Griffin III completed the 2-point try, he had his team down by one more touchdown and conversion with plenty of time.
On their following drive, it appeared that the Eagles might have picked up a first down that would have bled down the clock even more, but a Washington challenge indicated that Nick Foles had come up a yard shy of the marker, and the Eagles would give the ball back to Washington with a chance to tie. Punter Donnie Jones, whose 2nd half was substantially more busy than the 1st, boomed his kick toward Nick Williams, who was activated for his first game in Philadelphia. Williams looked all the part of a rookie, allowing the ball to bounce past him and out-of-bounds at the Redskins 4 yard line. If nothing else, the Redskins would need a 96 yard drive to complete their biggest comeback in franchise history.
Leading up to the final sequence, all of the fluky, inexplicable things that usually contribute to 96-yard game-tying drives were happening. The Redskins converted on a 3rd and 24 when Griffin III hit Santana Moss deep over the middle. It looked as if the Eagles had forced a 4th down on a brilliant play by Fletcher Cox, but Najee Goode was called for a holding penalty that gave Washington an automatic first down. On multiple occasions, Philadelphia defensive backs missed interceptions by inches and nobody could make the play that the Fox broadcast kept insisting upon from the Eagles defense. After giving up a 17-yard completion to Pierre Garçon on 3rd and 5, the Eagles found themselves with one series to seal the win, or face the prospect of heading into overtime against a team with all of the momentum. Griffin III missed a potential touchdown when he overthrew Robinson on first down. He hit Garçon for a gain of 9, but Cary Williams made a solid tackle in bounds and forced Washington to use their final timeout.
The biggest issue with the Eagles over the past few seasons has been their penchant for folding in situations like this. They always looked so strong building up big leads or playing with no resistance, but when they had to make a play to win the game, they often came up empty. For Billy Davis’ defense, the unit he stood behind after giving up 52 points to the Broncos, to make the game-sealing play gives you an idea of where this Eagles team is compared to years past.
As far as the rest of the game, for three quarters it was business-as-usual for the Eagles. LeSean McCoy, while he did not have as strong a game as last week, was a dynamic threat in the passing and running game. There was a scary moment toward the end of he 1st half, when McCoy pulled up on what appeared to be a run destined for the endzone. He reached for his leg in anguish and it was hard not to fear the worst for the Eagles’ best player. However, it would only be a tightening of his hamstring and McCoy would obviously return to the contest. The offensive line kept a Redskins front seven at bay and created huge holes on multiple occasions. Finally, Nick Foles was everything the Eagles needed him to be, as he hit almost every open receiver and once again did not turn the ball over. Foles actually outgained Griffin III as far as rushing yard between the two quarterbacks 47-44. On several instances, Foles made excellent decisions on read-option plays to pick up decent chunks of yardage and 1st downs. For Foles to continue to demonstrate the sort of functional mobility that he has since taking over the starting job allows Chip Kelly to implement a huge part of his offense. Even if Foles isn’t going to pick up 40 yards on a run, if he is able to pick up first downs when he runs, it adds another option to every single offensive play. We’ve seen Kelly put an emphasis on running several of these ‘multiple option plays’ over the weeks, and it is important for the Eagles to be able to take advantage of the defense in as many ways as possible.
Mostly due to the fact that the Redskins ran the ball so effectively in the 1st half, the Eagles were unable to put up the staggering points numbers they had in week 1 in Washington, but the 17-point halftime lead felt just as big as the 19-point lead in week 1. The Eagles ended the day with three rushing touchdowns, including one by Foles.
Despite allowing 16 4th quarter points, the defense was the story in this one. They held Robert Griffin III, taking into account sacks, to -4 1st half pass yards and sacked him four times. On Washington’s best drive in the first half, Connor Barwin popped Griffin III and forced a fumble into Fletcher Cox’s arms. The Redskins looked poised to score at least a field goal, and the sack-fumble was crucial as far as keeping the Redskins morale low. Trent Cole had his best game since the opener, totaling two sacks despite being lined up against Washington’s best lineman, Trent Williams. Najee Goode, who filled in for Mychael Kendricks, tallied a sack and was essential to keeping Griffin III bottled up as a runner. Vinny Curry made another impact stop on an Alfred Morris run for a three-yard loss. For all the knocks on Curry and his inability to play the run, he took down Morris, one of the strongest runners in the league, with no help for a loss of yards. Judging by the Redskins’ gameplan going into the game, the front seven was going to have to put together a dominant performance and for the most part, they were able to do so.
So heading into the bye, the Eagles are 6-5 and have sole possession of 1st place in the division. Chip Kelly’s offense is operating as well as any in the league, for the most part, and the defense has allowed less than 21 points in seven straight games now. The Eagles have only one remaining division game, in Dallas for week 17. While the nerves toward the end of the win vs. Washington took some of the sheen off what was otherwise a flawless performance, it is tough not to get a little excited about the Eagles’ long term prospects. They enter their week off relatively healthy with more players to return afterward. It has been very difficult to feel confident about the Eagles entering games this season, mostly due to their inconsistent performances. If there were ever a game that could fortify that confidence one has in a team, this win against a desperate Redskins team was it. Philadelphia has five games remaining with a chance to make the playoffs in the first year under a new head coach. A loss in this game probably would have been as devastating as any suffered over the last three seasons. Instead, Chip Kelly is the talk of the town in the City of Brotherly Love for at least the next 2 weeks, and the clouds that have been hanging over Lincoln Financial Field since the days of Andy Reid are starting to clear, even if for just one Sunday.