ATLANTA — “Woo-hoo!”
That’s how Miles Sanders greeted the public after the Eagles shocked the world.
The Eagles won. Dallas lost, and New York, and Washington. (Carson Wentz lost, too. Bonus.)
Week 1 could not have gone better for the first-place Eagles.
The Philly Birds flew south and upset the Dirty Birds, 32-6. First-round receivers DeVonta Smith and Jalen Reagor each caught a touchdown pass; Smith, a rookie, did so on the first catch of the first series of his first game. Try to sell that script.
Jalen Hurts, the replacement for traitorous coward Carson Wentz, threw for three TDs, no interceptions, ran for 62 yards, executed a perfect two-minute drill before halftime, and displayed a level of professional quarterbacking not seen since Nick Foles.
The running backs ran (Philly’s favorite thing), and did so for 111 combined yards, 74 of them from Sanders. The rookie, Kenneth Gainwell, had a rushing TD. To his credit, Sanders has predicted greatness from this team all summer.
“This is exactly what I expected,” said Sanders, still in his padded undershirt and football pants, eye-blacked and sweaty.
Nick the Quick
New coach Nick Sirianni is very much a woo-hoo guy himself, but had the team ready to play, despite a paucity of a preseason. They were prepared.
The defense didn’t give up a point in the last 44 minutes and allowed just three of 14 third-down conversions. The offensive line didn’t give up one sack. The Birds didn’t turn the ball over.
Wait a minute. This team was supposed to stink.
Sirianni will forever preach that Kumbaya “connection” stuff, but there have been lots of great teams that hated each others’ guts. Winning football games takes skill and talent and grit, and the Eagles showed boatloads of that here in the Dirty.
That’s why, on Monday morning, there will be a lot of 5-12 prognosticators reversing that prognostication and agreeing with my prognostication, made way back in May.
And … Carson who? Oh yeah, that guy. He played pretty well for his chosen team, the Colts, in a 16-point loss to the Seahawks. Dak Prescott and the Cowboys lost, too, and did the Washington Football Team, and the Giants, which left the Eagles — the Eagles — atop the NFC East.
There were, and are, concerns. The old guys didn’t collapse. Defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, right tackle Lane Johnson, right guard Brandon Brooks, center Jason Kelce, and tight end Zach Ertz, all high-mileage thirtysomethings, finished the game both conscious and ambulatory. Both Kelce and Ertz looked like they were hurt in the second half, but they missed little or no time. Hey, only 16 games to go.
Johnson committed three of the Eagles’ 14 penalties. Too many by half.
Sirianni, an analytics disciple to owner Jeffrey Lurie’s taste, got too eager once. He tried to convert fourth-and-2 from the Falcons’ 20, leading 15-6, when he should have kicked a field goal. Analytics are great, but when you have the chance to take an 18-6 lead with 21 minutes to play — on the road, with a new coaching staff and a young quarterback — you can stuff your analytics back in your briefcase.
The biggest question before the game concerned Sirianni’s credentials. Could he call plays? He’d never done so at any level. Could Hurts, making just his fifth NFL start, run those plays? Those worries were wasted. The Eagles took a delay-of-game penalty on their first series, and they used a timeout in the fourth quarter, but that’s an 8 out of 10 on the Andy Reid time-management scale.
How did a new coach and with a new offensive and defensive scheme, hindered by an offseason wrecked by COVID-19, bring things together so efficiently?
Practice. We’re talking about practice.
Sirianni insisted all preseason that intense training-camp practices against the Patriots and Jets would have as much value, if not more, than would playing his starters in preseason games, which hardly happened at all.
“When you’re playing against another team, to me, that’s a game,” Sirianni said Sunday, basking in validation. “Practices prepared us for this.”
But he would say that, wouldn’t he?
Brandon Graham wouldn’t say it. Not it if it wasn’t true. He practiced for Andy Reid, Chip Kelly, and Doug Pederson, but Graham witnessed a level of function in the Eagles’ workouts he hadn’t witnessed in his 11 other seasons.
“I saw it when we were going against other teams in practices,” said defensive end Graham.
We saw the result Sunday.
As a well-conditioned, disciplined team will do, the defense gave up 72 yards, then 74 yards, but stiffened each time and allowed only a field goal, then nothing more … then collected three sacks as the end drew near.
The offense started the game with three wide-receiver screens and scored the final TD with another — plays that demand the timing, detail, and focus fostered by efficient practice.
Even the punter, Australian rules football alum Arryn Siposs, had a great day.
It was the Eagles’ best possible day.
Dallas lost. Washington lost. The Giants were losing as Graham walked out of Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Could it possibly have gone any better, BG?
“You already know!”
Woo-hoo, BG. Woo-hoo.