CHARLOTTE, N.C. — It was an ugly, back-and-forth slugfest, but in the end, the Eagles came away with a much-needed victory over the Carolina Panthers.
The Eagles trailed for a majority of Sunday’s game, but quarterback Jalen Hurts dug deep and directed a fourth-quarter comeback that was supported by a strong outing from the defense. The Eagles won 21-18 and improved their record to 2-3.
Hurts battled early adversity — including two turnovers — and turned it up when it mattered most. He performed much better in the second half and finished 22-for-37 passing for 198 yards, with one interception. Hurts also had two rushing touchdowns on nine carries for 30 yards.
“We didn’t play to our standard today offensively,” Hurts said. “But it was enough. We’re going back to Philly with this win.”
The Hurts-Nick Sirianni relationship is clearly a work in progress. The offense was abysmal in the first half. Over eight drives, the Eagles sniffed Carolina’s side of the field just once. Here’s a recap:
Punt from Eagles’ 21
Punt from Eagles’ 31
Field goal from Panthers’ 12
Punt from Eagles’ 46
Punt from Eagles’ 22
Punt from Eagles’ 24
Field goal from Panthers’ 40
As a first-year coach and play-caller, this was somewhat expected from Sirianni. But the lack of trust in Hurts is telling, especially considering how the coaching staff praises the receivers for their speed. The second-year quarterback didn’t have a pass attempt longer than 10 yards until the final minute of the first half, when the offense was in two-minute mode. The Eagles eventually dialed up a few deep shots in the second half. Hurts was intercepted on a long throw intended for tight end Zach Ertz. But two possessions later, Hurts hit Quez Watkins in stride for a 56-yard reception.
Another Smith touchdown nullified
For the second consecutive week, rookie wide receiver DeVonta Smith had a touchdown reception called back due to a penalty. This time, it was wide receiver Greg Ward who was flagged for offensive pass interference while setting a pick on Smith’s defender in the end zone.
Although the route was different, Smith found success with a similar call in Week 1, when Ertz freed up Smith on a go-route. By now, though, Sirianni should realize that type of contact will more than likely be called by the officials. Sirianni would be wise to dial up more simple play calls for Smith, who has proved he’s talented enough to consistently beat his defender at the line of scrimmage. Any extra gimmicks are unnecessary. Smith finished with a team-high seven catches and 77 yards with one fumble.
“It feels good to be back on the winning side,” Smith said. “We’ve got to keep pushing. We knew they were going to play a lot of zero coverage, so we had to answer with the quick game. We needed an answer for it. The whole message was we had to stop killing ourselves.”
‘Big play Slay’ shows up
Cornerback Darius Slay missed practice Thursday so he could witness the birth of his son. He put on a show for his newborn Sunday with two interceptions off Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold. It’s worth noting defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon mixed up his scheme against Carolina, allowing the Eagles to play more man coverage. The entire game, Slay shadowed Panthers receiver DJ Moore, who finished with five catches for 42 yards on seven targets.
“[Playing man-to-man], it’s not just beneficial for me, it’s beneficial for the whole team,” Slay said. “Coach knows I love to compete. Coaches told me they were going to let me do what I do. I just go out and compete. We drew up a great game plan.
“We had a great disguise. Our first thing was to confuse the quarterback.”
Slay recorded a career-high eight interceptions with the Lions in 2017. His two picks from Sunday already double his 2020 season total.
Defense stuffs Darnold
Slay wasn’t the only difference-maker. After allowing 83 combined points over the past two weeks, the defense rebounded in a loud way. Defensive linemen Derek Barnett, Josh Sweat, Javon Hargrave, and Fletcher Cox along with cornerback Avonte Maddox combined for eight quarterback hits, including three sacks.
Defensive back Steven Nelson also recorded the team’s third interception, which guaranteed victory for the visitors in a make-or-break, fourth-quarter drive. The Panthers were 4½-point favorites, but the Eagles limited them to just 18 points.
In the middle of being asked about his performance, Hurts stopped the reporter in midsentence and said: “I don’t want to talk about that. I want to talk about how the defense played. One thing I’ve always been preaching is we control the outcome of everything. We truly have to have each other’s back through everything. It was a complete team win.”