CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Up until late in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s contest between the Eagles and Panthers, the visiting team had compiled a bunch of “almost” moments on special teams.
Many times this season, several Eagles players tasked with blocking punts had come within inches, but their fingertips hadn’t actually found the football.
The unit’s frustration created the feel of a jack-in-the-box waiting to unwind, but never fully busting open.
That lid finally came off Sunday afternoon by the way of linebacker T.J. Edwards.
With four minutes left and Carolina holding a slim five-point lead, the Panthers trotted out their punt unit on fourth down. On the play, Edwards took advantage of a straight rush to punter Joseph Charlton. The Panthers used two players to block fellow linebacker Shaun Bradley, which created the open lane for Edwards. Following several bounces, Bradley pounced on the ball and the Eagles took over at Carolina’s 27-yard line.
“Execution was unbelievable,” coach Nick Sirianni said of Edwards’ block.
Just four plays later, quarterback Jalen Hurts scampered 6 yards into the end zone for the game-winning rushing touchdown. Hurts then found DeVonta Smith in the back of the end zone as the Eagles cashed in on the two-point conversion to take a 21-18 lead.
“It was something we worked on all week,” Edwards said. “We knew if we got a certain look, we could take advantage, switch it, and go to a different kind of rush. It worked out perfectly. Just like how we drew it up.”
Edwards continued: “We need everybody at all times to be at our best. When one side is down, the other side has to pick them up. There was no quit. No panic. Our guys hunkered down and outplayed them.”
According to Edwards, the third-year linebacker had never blocked a punt at any point in his career.
“Hopefully more to come,” he said while flashing a smirk.
Sirianni emphasized the importance of walk-through practices, which are abbreviated sessions that create a setting in which these types of plays can be magnified at a slower pace.
“It’s emotional in the locker room,” Sirianni said. “When one unit is down, the other units have to bring them up. Special teams was down early, but then they come up and make a play. It was the definition of a team win.
“Well-schemed up by [special teams coordinator] Michael Clay. I’ve seen them working on that this week in practice and walk-throughs. The players did a great job of executing it. That’s why you walk through. Because everything that comes up [in walk-throughs] comes up in a game.”
Edwards’ block marked the team’s first blocked punt since former Eagles linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill blocked Giants punter Brad Wing on Dec. 17, 2017.
Out of 14 total drives, the Panthers punted seven times. It wasn’t until their final punt attempt that the Eagles (2-3) came through in the most clutch of circumstances.
Sirianni concluded: “I just saw the fight all game. Sometimes you win ugly like that. It’s a matter of keep fighting, keep going. It was emotional, a great win to get.”