The numbers weren’t pretty.
Kyler Murray threw for 406 yards and three touchdowns against an Eagles secondary that was missing not one, not two, but three starters. It was the most passing yards the Eagles have given up to a quarterback since Aaron Rodgers put up 422 against them early last season.
DeAndre Hopkins was targeted 11 times and had 9 catches for 169 yards and what turned out to be the game-winning touchdown midway through the fourth quarter.
And yet, despite those terribly unflattering numbers, there was something noble about the defense’s gritty performance Sunday. With their starting corners, Darius Slay and Avonte Maddox both sidelined with injuries, with safety Rodney McLeod out for the remainder of the season with a torn ACL, they were going up against Murray and Hopkins and the rest of the Cardinals’ explosive offense with spare parts. Yet they battled them to the end and never backed down.
Michael Jacquet, an undrafted rookie who had played just 51 defensive snaps before Sunday, started at one corner. Kevon Seymour, who was out of football until the Eagles signed him to their practice squad three weeks ago, was the third corner behind Jacquet and Nickel Robey-Coleman.
“My hats off to those guys,” coach Doug Pederson said after a close-but-no-cigar 33-26 loss to the Cardinals that dropped the Eagles to 4-9-1 and dealt their playoff hopes a significant, though amazingly, still not quite fatal blow. “They were put in a tough situation against a really good football offense with great skill and ability.
“They battled their tails off. They were going up against guys that are solid NFL players. Guys like Hopkins and Murray and Christian Kirk. They all have really good skills. But I thought our guys battled and gave us some opportunities there. We created some turnovers, some takeaways.”
The Eagles forced three turnovers against Arizona, including two in the red zone that fended off potential scoring drives and kept the Eagles in the game. It was just the second time this season that the Eagles have had three takeaways in a game.
Jacquet was responsible for the first one at the Philadelphia nine-yard line, knocking the ball out of Hopkins’ hands following a three-yard reception
Jacquet and Nickell Robey-Coleman later collaborated on a second-quarter strip sack of Murray that set up an Eagles touchdown.
And safety Marcus Epps, who was filling in for McLeod, intercepted a pass in the end zone midway through the third quarter to spoil another potential Arizona scoring drive.
Jacquet also was covering Hopkins on his 20-yard touchdown catch midway through the fourth quarter that broke a 26-26 tie. But the fact of the matter is, the kid had excellent coverage on Hopkins on the play. The three-time All-Pro just made one of those acrobatic catches that only two or three receivers in the league, including him, are capable of making.
“The young rookie, I thought he played really well,” safety Jalen Mills said of Jacquet. “He competed. He wasn’t scared. Same thing with Kevon. And even Robey, who usually is our slot guy, but had to play some outside corner today.
“At the end of the day, we have to watch the film and make the corrections and move forward. We have a heavyweight fight (against the Cowboys) coming up this weekend.”
The Eagles made some mistakes, including one by Mills in the first quarter. They gave up a 42-yard catch-and-run to Cardinals tight end Maxx Williams that set up Arizona’s first touchdown on an 8-yard run by Murray.
Williams, who is primarily a blocking tight end, came into the game with just seven catches. But he took a short toss from Murray and lumbered down the sideline for a big gain. Mills, one of the Eagles’ more reliable tacklers, should have held him to a minimal gain, but failed to wrap up on his tackle, allowing Williams to break free.
“I just missed the tackle,” he said. “I’ve got to wrap up. That’s it. I’m a better player than that. Everybody has bad plays. At the end of the day, I was always told by veteran guys, don’t let one bad play determine the outcome of the game. It was early in the game. I made a lot better tackles later in the game.” Some of the other costly pass plays the Eagles gave up, included a 45-yard completion to Hopkins in the second quarter that set up an Arizona field goal, a 14-yard touchdown catch by Larry Fitzgerald and a 44-yard completion by Hopkins on the same drive as his 20-yard touchdown catch.
The Eagles had pretty good coverage on the 45-yarder down the middle to Hopkins. Seymour came over and appeared to have an excellent chance of breaking up the pass and maybe even intercepting it. But Hopkins somehow managed to come down with it.
Seymour was shaken up on the play and had to leave the game for a while, complicating things even more for defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz. He moved Mills to corner until Seymour returned.
Robey-Coleman had good coverage on Fitzgerald on his touchdown catch. If he had turned his head around, he probably would’ve been able to knock the pass away. But Fitzgerald, who will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer five years after he retires, managed to reach around Robey-Coleman and make an incredible catch as he was falling to the ground.
“We had a lot of opportunities in that game to go ahead and just didn’t do it,” defensive end Brandon Graham said. “We knew what they liked to do. They made some good plays. Made some nice catches on 50-50 balls, including that last one by Hopkins. I mean, the coverage was good. There’s not much else you can do.”
Slay didn’t make the trip to Arizona because he still was in concussion protocol. If he had been able to play, he likes would’ve traveled with Hopkins. Doesn’t mean he would’ve done any better than Jacquet or Seymour or Robey. Hopkins was the third wideout in the last four games to have 100-plus receiving yards against the Eagles.
“You know going in that Kyler is going to force-feed (Hopkins). Whether we had injuries at cornerback or not. He’s one of the top three receivers in this league right now.
“You know going in he’s going to make some catches, some crazy catches. He’s going to make some plays. You just move on. You get one clap for the bad guys and it’s on to the next snap.”
And on to the next week.