Tom Brady found the going a little tougher Sunday against the Eagles defense than he did two years ago in Super Bowl LII.
While the Eagles ultimately lost the game, 17-10, they were able to find a little bit of solace in the fact that they shut down the G.O.A.T.
The future Hall of Famer completed just 26 of 47 passes against the Eagles. He was held to a puny 4.6 yards per attempt and no touchdown passes.
The only TD pass the Eagles gave up Sunday was thrown by wide receiver Julian Edelman on a trick play on the first possession of the second half. Brady threw a lateral pass behind the line of scrimmage to Edelman, who hit wide-open Phillip Dorsett for what turned out to be a game-deciding 15-yard touchdown.
“I thought we played well,’’ Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins said. “But we didn’t play well enough to win the game.
“We battled. But you look back at the one drive where we needed to make plays to eventually win the game and we didn’t make them. So while we had a solid game and battled, we just didn’t make enough plays.’’
For the third straight game, the Eagles held their opponent to fewer than 20 points. That’s something they hadn’t done in the regular season since Doug Pederson’s first three games as the Eagles’ head coach back in 2016.
But the offense -- which was playing without running back Jordan Howard and wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, and then lost right tackle Lane Johnson early to a concussion early in the game -- couldn’t get out of first gear against the Patriots’ tough defense.
They were held to 255 yards and converted just three of their 13 third-down opportunities. Carson Wentz had one of his poorest performances of the season, completing just 50 percent of his passes and getting sacked five times, several of which were the result of him holding the ball too long.
“We knew it was going to be a defensive battle,’’ Jenkins said. “We just tried to stay patient and make the plays when they came to us.’’
“But there were a couple of plays on defense that could have been the difference to give us a chance [to win]. And we didn’t make them.’’
The Eagles held the Patriots to three Nick Folk field goals in the first half and held a 10-9 halftime lead.
On their first possession of the third quarter, the Patriots went up-tempo and it took the Eagles out of their rhythm. Wide receiver Mohamed Sanu gained 8 yards on an end-around. Rex Burkhead had a 6-yard run.
Then Burkhead slipped a tackle by linebacker Nate Gerry on a first-down screen pass from Brady and picked up 30 yards.
The Eagles did an excellent job against Brady and the Patriots on third down Sunday, holding them to five conversions on 16 third-down opportunities. Just three of their 16 third downs were 5 or fewer yards.
But on a third-and-11 at the Eagles’ 15 shortly after Burkhead’s big catch-and-run, the Patriots went to their bag of tricks and brought out the double pass. A little bit of payback for “Philly Philly.’’
“They came out in the second half with a lot of tempo,’’ Jenkins said. “They broke the one screen for a long gain. We settled down and got them into a third-and-11.
“They threw a bubble [screen] to No. 11 [Edelman]. Guys were hustling to the ball, thinking it was a screen. And it ended up being a double pass. Good play by them.’’
Dorsett was wide-open in the end zone. The touchdown, along with the Patriots’ successful two-point conversion, gave them a 17-10 lead less than five minutes into the second half. They would end up being the last points scored in the game.
Brady ended up completing just five of 12 third-down passes as the Eagles shut down the Patriots’ run game and constantly put them in third-and-longs.
“That’s unusual for them,’’ Jenkins said. “It’s a compliment to what we were doing on first and second down. Stopping the run or getting negative plays.
“They started out trying to attack us with screens. We sniffed those out for the most part. They had a couple that they got loose on.
“Guys just played assignment football. Each guy knew he was going to have a critical matchup. It was just going to come down to executing. For the most part, we battled well. We just needed to make one or two more plays.’’
For the third straight game, the Eagles failed to get an interception. They had a few near-misses Sunday, but couldn’t finish the job.
“We had a couple of [interception] chances in the first half but couldn’t get it done,’’ safety Rodney McLeod said. “If we had just come away with a couple of those turnovers, that would have been the difference.’’
While the Eagles offense still has some significant issues it needs to deal with, the defense appears to finally have turned a corner now that key players like cornerbacks Jalen Mills, Ronald Darby, and Avonte Maddox are healthy again.
“We’re doing a good job of matching up,’’ Jenkins said. “Playing a lot more man-to-man. Getting guys back healthy in the secondary has definitely helped. Our d-line is doing a great job against the run and making teams one-dimensional.’’
The Eagles held the Patriots to 3.4 yards per carry Sunday. Held the Bears to the same number two weeks ago.
They’ve held their last three opponents to three touchdown passes, a 51.4% completion rate and a 5.1 yards-per-attempt average.
Brady’s two go-to guys now that Rob Gronkowski has retired are Edelman and running back James White. He targeted Edelman 10 times Sunday, but he had just five catches for 53 yards. His longest gain was 14 yards.
White, who went into the game with 18 third-down receptions -- fourth in the league -- had four catches for just 16 yards as Jenkins did an exceptional job on him.
“We played tight coverage,’’ Mills said. “As far as our defensive set-up now, we’ve got our starters back in the secondary. We’ve got our starters back on the d-line. [Defensive coordinator Jim] Schwartz trusts us in the game plan. And we trust the game plan.’’
The Eagles mixed up their coverages against Brady. With the return of Mills and Darby, their top two corners, they can play a lot more man-to-man.
“We played a whole bunch of things,’’ Mills said. “With a guy like Tom Brady, you can’t just line up in one thing. He’ll pick you apart. The game plan was good. We did a good job as far as showing different looks.’’
Said McLeod: “It goes to Jim [Schwartz] trusting us on the back end. The entire defense, man. A lot of new guys have stepped up this year. Especially our linebacker corps. Nate [Gerry] and Kamu [Grugier-Hill] played a helluva game. Made a lot of plays tonight.’’