The Eagles’ most critical offensive moment came on their first drive, when Carson Wentz chased down an errant Jason Kelce shotgun snap. Instead of falling on the ball for a 22-yard loss, Wentz had the presence of mind to scoop it and flick it at the feet of wide receiver Mack Hollins, who had joined the posse sprinting downfield after the miscue.
No intentional grounding, no lost yardage. Just second-and-goal from the New York Jets’ 6. Two plays later, Jordan Howard scored the game’s first touchdown. The Eagles were off and running toward a 31-6 obliteration of the Jets and overmatched quarterback Luke Falk, who was making his second NFL start.
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It might also have been Falk’s last NFL start, if Sam Darnold’s spleen returns to its pre-mononucleosis state this week. Falk turned the ball over three times, twice for touchdowns.
“At that point, it’s just get the ball and try and throw it away,” Wentz said. “Fortunately, Mack was trailing the play, so we had a receiver there. Obviously, a situation you never want to be in, but we were able to salvage it, get into the end zone a couple plays later.”
Given a rare first-quarter lead, the defense fed the rout, piling up 10 sacks, the second-highest total in franchise history, and scoring half the team’s touchdowns.
The offense was another story. It endured a three-possession stretch in the second quarter in which it gained minus-23 yards, and it managed just three points in the second half against the now 0-4 visitors.
Future opponents got a glimpse of what the Eagles attack can look like without DeSean Jackson, when the opposition doesn’t get gashed by the run the way Green Bay did. It can look pretty limited.
“No, no,” Eagles coach Doug Pederson said, when asked if he thought his team played well. It should be noted that Pederson tends to see the game through the offensive lens.
“The penalties [nine for 76 yards, five of them on the offense] just put us in too many long situations today, second-and-long, third-and-long. … That’s a good defense, that’s a good front. But no, we, offensively didn’t play good enough to – we have to look at it and make corrections.”
If you’re thinking Pederson might have stopped himself from saying the offense “didn’t play good enough to win at Minnesota next week, or Dallas the week after, or at Buffalo the week after that,” you might very well be correct.
But the Eagles are 3-2 and this was a get-well week for their hobbled, maligned defense, which came in having allowed more passing yards than any other NFL unit, and was ranked 26th in points allowed, at 26.2.
Their cornerback shortage – the Eagles started Rasul Douglas and Craig James, and played Orlando Scandrick in the slot -- wasn’t a problem. Falk threw for all of 120 yards, and the Jets would have been shut out had Corey Clement not muffed a bouncing punt at the Eagles’ 19 on the second play of the fourth quarter, leading to a short-field touchdown.
Scandrick, a 12th-year veteran who had been watching the NFL from his California couch since the Eagles axed him in the cut-down before the opener, sacked Falk twice. The second time he wrestled the ball away as Falk was going down and ran it in from 44 yards, setting the final score with seven minutes, 39 seconds remaining.
Asked if he’d known Scandrick was such a good pass-rusher, Malcolm Jenkins said: “Everybody looked like a good pass-rusher today.”
Brandon Graham notched three sacks for the first time in his 132-game Eagles career, his first of the day coming on the game’s initial third down. That stop was historic: An Eagles’ opponent failed to score on its first drive for the first time this season.
“I want to stay here as long as I can and have fun, man, as long as I can, and today was fun,” Graham, 31, said. “Today, we talked about having a party, and we obviously went out there and had a party.”
But Graham, too, noted that the party had some dull moments.
“We were at [14-0] for a minute,” he said. “It was kind of like, ‘All right, y’all, let’s stop messing around, we’re getting these opportunities.’ ”
Zach Ertz, who caught five passes for 57 yards and scored his first touchdown of the season, said that getting a solid lead for the defense, making the Jets one-dimensional, was a key.
“If we get our defense in position to rush the passer, I think we all saw today what they could really do,” Ertz said. “We’ve just got to put them in those positions more consistently, and I believe that’s coming.”
Ertz gave credit to Jets defensive coordinator Gregg Williams’ Cover 2-intensive scheme and to the talent the Jets have up front, but he said he, too, felt the Eagles could have done more.
“As an offense, I think we can play better, and I know we will be better. … I’m not overly concerned. Last week [in winning 34-27 at Green Bay] we were on a roll. We kind of had to pick up the defense,” Ertz said. “I think this week it was the opposite.”
Wentz completed 17 of 29 passes for 189 yards and a touchdown. He didn’t turn the ball over, but 11 of the 17 receptions went to Ertz or Alshon Jeffery (six catches, 52 yards).
“We definitely got to be better. We’ve got to stay ahead of the chains, we got to stay on the field,” Wentz said. “We know we can be better. We’ve shown it. … Our defense played incredible.”
Defensive end Derek Barnett notched one of the sacks. He said the key to being able to tee off on Falk was shutting down running back Le’Veon Bell, who gained 43 yards on 15 carries, 2.9 yards per carry.
“After we were able to do that, we were able to get our chances to rush a little bit,” Barnett said. “Guys up front, in the middle, and even back end, too.”
But Barnett also illustrated how the Eagles still aren’t quite the team they need to be, as aspiring championship contenders. Ten days after a helmet hit in Green Bay that netted a personal foul and a $28,075 fine, he took another 15-yarder, which would have negated an Eagles touchdown had it happened a split-second earlier.
Linebacker Nate Gerry intercepted a first-quarter fourth-and-1 pass by Falk and easily ran it 51 yards for a 14-0 Eagles lead. Way behind the play, Barnett cut-blocked a Jets offensive lineman, just after Gerry crossed the goal line. The senseless penalty was then assessed on the ensuing kickoff.