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The Eagles won the COVID Bowl behind their real QBs: Jason Kelce and their O-line | Mike Sielski

Under unorthodox circumstances, the Eagles won again in their unorthodox manner. They ran all over a shorthanded Washington Football Team.

Eagles running back Jordan Howard (24) surges forward on a run during the second quarter of the team's 27-17 victory Tuesday over the Washington Football Team.
Eagles running back Jordan Howard (24) surges forward on a run during the second quarter of the team's 27-17 victory Tuesday over the Washington Football Team.Read moreDAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer

There are a few unwritten rules of sports-column writing. The first, and maybe the most important, is Before you do anything, ask the beat reporter what he or she is writing. Beat writers work much harder than columnists, and they tend to be grumpy. You would, too. So it’s smart and right to pay them respect.

The second rule is one that varies slightly depending on the sport you’re covering, but it can loosely be called the When In Doubt rule. That is, if there isn’t an obvious angle or take, write about the player or position or figure who factors most prominently in the game’s outcome or who demands and generates the most interest. Hockey: When in doubt, write the goalie. Baseball: When in doubt, write the starting pitcher. Write A-Rod. Basketball: When in doubt, write Allen Iverson. Write LeBron. Write Joel Embiid or Ben Simmons. And in football, when you’re in doubt, you write the quarterback.

Except that rule doesn’t apply to the 2021 Eagles, because their quarterback is not their quarterback. Nothing against Jalen Hurts — or even Gardner Minshew, if you’re into the whole the backup-is-always-better thing. But the Eagles’ quarterback, the reason they’re 7-7 and still in the NFC playoff race, the reason they beat the virus-ravaged Washington Football Team, 27-17, on Tuesday night, is their offensive line. It’s their best position group, by a mile. It’s one of the best lines in the NFL, maybe the best. And it’s allowing them to win games in a manner thoroughly unorthodox by the standards and norms of present-day pro football.

» READ MORE: Eagles-Washington instant analysis: Birds overcome sloppy start to grab pivotal NFC East win

Unorthodox was just fine Tuesday. Unorthodox was appropriate. A game that was supposed to have been played Sunday instead went off two days later because so many Washington players were caught up in the league’s health protocols. There were 13 additions to and 11 subtractions from Washington’s roster on the pre-game flip card, which seemed every bit as long and with just as much text as a CVS receipt. So … a midweek night game featuring a team that might have been competitive in the Mid-American Conference. No wonder it felt like we were all watching the Mazda Pfizer Moderna J&J Poulan Weed-Eater COVID Bowl.

To the Eagles’ credit, once they got past a kooky interception by Washington’s Landon Collins — Dallas Goedert dropped a pass, then Hacky Sacked the football into the air with the back of his foot — and a red-zone fumble by Hurts, they took care of an inferior opponent. And they did it by continuing to zag, by running the ball, at a time when most NFL teams zig, by throwing it. They rushed for 238 yards, averaging nearly 6 yards per attempt.

“That’s just a credit to the O-line,” said tailback Miles Sanders, who had a career-high 131 rushing yards Tuesday on just 18 carries. “It makes it very easy for running backs to run behind them.”

The Eagles are just the ninth team in league history to have seven straight games of at least 175 rushing yards, and they’re the first since the 1985 Chicago Bears. That team had Walter Payton. This team does not have any running back deserving of mention in the same sentence as Payton. What it does have, though, is a couple of freak tackles in Lane Johnson and Jordan Mailata, remarkable depth at guard — Nate Herbig and Sua Opeta were in there Tuesday, Opeta filling in for Landon Dickerson — and the man who might be the most beloved athlete in the city at the moment: center Jason Kelce. Not since Iverson has a Philadelphia athlete combined excellence in his play with such openness and willingness to emote in his interactions with the media and public.

After breaking down last week during a press conference when talking about Johnson’s struggle to overcome mental health issues, Kelce was a force of one Tuesday night, a performance made particularly impressive because Washington wasn’t as shorthanded along the defensive line. Tackle Jonathan Allen and end Montez Sweat, two of Washington’s top players, suited up. When Sanders broke a 37-yard run in the third quarter, Kelce somehow was ahead of him, leading the way, throwing a block that should have cleared a path to the end zone, except Sanders cut right instead of cutting left. Kelce, frustrated, threw his hands in the air.

“I made the wrong read,” Sanders said. “I should have went the other way. That’s all. He was upset with me. I’m sorry. Sorry, Kelce.”

Again, no offense to Hurts, who threw for 296 yards and got better as the night went along. But if the Eagles have a quarterback, it’s those five guys up front. More specifically, it’s the future Hall of Famer in the middle of them. He’s the one this team rides. He’s the one you write.