The Eagles got the ball back Sunday with 8 minutes, 39 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, and they desperately needed to stay on the field, to close the game out on offense, or something very close to that.
Many kitchen implements, beverage containers, and wadded-up napkins thrown at TV screens all over the Philadelphia area might attest to the fact that this should not have been the case. They were playing a Chicago Bears team that hadn’t been able to generate so much as a first down until the final minute of the first half. The Eagles built a 277-9 third-quarter lead in net yards, a 20-2 lead in first downs, and then somehow, they very nearly lost.
“We kind of got a little stagnant and stuff” in the third quarter, Carson Wentz allowed.
When Wentz convened the offense at the Eagles’ 11, the path they’d taken to get there didn’t matter. It might matter much later, when we assess this season and the flaws of a maddeningly limited team that was supposed to be a top contender. Hey, it’ll matter all this week, as we discuss what sort of contender the 5-4 Eagles are, heading into their bye, with the Patriots and Seahawks on tap when they come back.
But with 8:39 remaining, all that mattered was keeping the ball, and the Eagles did that, four clutch third-down conversions leading to a 38-yard Jake Elliott field goal to set the final 22-14 score, with 25 seconds remaining.
Then, as a little insurance against an improbable Hail Mary and a two-point conversion that might have forced overtime, special-teams linebacker Duke Riley fell on a muffed pooch kickoff, and the victory was in the books. The 3-5 Bears dropped their fourth game in a row.
“The defense was fighting and battling and doing their part. The offense needed to go, and it was time for them to go,” Eagles coach Doug Pederson said.
“We’re getting after them, and then they get those third-down conversions,” said Bears coach Matt Nagy, whose defense had held the Eagles to 4-for-13 on third-down conversions before that fatal drive. “It will be interesting to see how it goes for them, but credit to them for making those plays.”
Total time of possession was 40 minutes, 18 seconds for the Eagles, 19:42 for the Bears.
After losing to Minnesota and Dallas by a combined score of 75-30, the Eagles have defeated Buffalo and Chicago by a combined score of 53-27. They aren’t a juggernaut, but they are back among the living.
Among the most relieved Eagles on Sunday was wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, a former Bear whose three drops helped close the gap after the home team built a 19-0 lead. That margin came when another former Bear, Jordan Howard, strutted through a huge hole for a 13-yard touchdown on the first series of the second half.
Jeffery’s 13-yard catch on a third-and-3 sideline route provided the first of those four late third-down conversions.
“We human and everything. We’re going to drop balls,” Jeffery said, after acknowledging that he should have caught the pass that ended the previous drive, a third-and-11 shot over the middle on which he said he turned to run before securing the catch. “We’re not going to make every throw, we’re not going to make every tackle.”
Jeffery said he told Wentz: “I’m going to make that play. … I’ve got confidence in myself.”
On the final drive, the Eagles survived a 1-yard sack, triggered by Khalil Mack’s overwhelming tight end Dallas Goedert. The next snap, right tackle Lane Johnson false-started, so Wentz had to convert third-and-12. He did, finding rookie running back Miles Sanders on a flare route for 15 yards.
The Eagles subsequently got a 4-yard catch from Zach Ertz on third-and-3, and the clincher, a middle screen to Goedert that gained 16 yards on third-and-9 and put the Eagles within field goal range.
A similar drive had closed out the Buffalo game a week earlier.
“At the end of the day, being able to sustain that drive, that’s what we have to do,” said Wentz (26-for-39, a touchdown, no turnovers, but four sacks). “That’s what good football teams, good offenses, have to do. Stay on the field, convert, grind the clock out like we did.”
Wentz’s comment about “good offenses” might be a stretch right now. The Eagles, as advertised, got DeSean Jackson back – for exactly four snaps, on their first drive. Jackson’s inability to continue, after resting his abdominal injury from Week 2 to Week 9, might ultimately have more to do with the outcome of the Eagles’ season than beating the Bears will.
“He was only out there a little bit, but it was a spark when he was, regardless of what he was doing,” Wentz said of Jackson, who ran a pair of short out patterns, drawing pass interference on the first and catching a 5-yard pass on the second.
The Eagles defense played its best first half of the season. Then it muddied the waters by giving up two huge receptions that led to Chicago touchdowns, 53 yards to Taylor Gabriel and 30 yards to David Montgomery.
Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, chased and harassed into ineffectiveness in a 6-for-13, 24-yard first half that included three sacks for 23 yards, was 4-for-8 for 101 yards and no sacks in the second half.
Trubisky and the Bears had the only offense in the NFL that lacked a 40-yard completion this season, coming into the game. Lax coverage between Jalen Mills and Malcolm Jenkins allowed them to check that box, at least.
“The second half, we got to clean up some things,” said defensive end Brandon Graham, who notched his sixth sack of the season, all in the last five games. “Against a good team, we can’t let them come back like that.”
It was a game that was a lot like the season so far. We don’t know for sure who the Eagles are going into their bye. We know they aren’t a train wreck, despite injuries and controversy. We also know their offense is far from the high-powered, dominant group envisioned in the preseason, and their defense looks dreadful anytime the pass rush doesn’t overwhelm the other team.
“You’ve seen a hunger from the team to get better and improve,” center Jason Kelce said. “Obviously, preseason expectations were very high. … We wish we were better than 5-4, for sure, but we’re just going to continue to get better, continue to improve. … The last couple weeks have been good and hopefully we can build on them.”
Graham said the focus right now should be “get rested up, get your body right. … We’re 5-4, still in this thing. … Don’t look too far ahead.”
Wentz said the Eagles “all feel good about where we’re at."
“There’s things the last two weeks that we’ve left out there, for sure," he said. "But to be able to go against two good football teams and come away with a win, the defense playing great, and offensively sealing the deal late in the game on both these last two [games], I think gives us a lot of confidence going into the bye week. We were able to weather the storm. … I have a lot of confidence going forward.”