There were still more than four minutes ticking off the clock when Eagles fans started filing through the Lincoln Financial Field exits on Monday, which had been impossible in the few Eagles home wins this season. The Eagles are well short of comparisons to last season’s Super Bowl-winning juggernaut, and one of the reasons is because they had been incapable of the dominant performances that had become customary by last December.
So it was a good sign when fans were cheering on their way out of their seats in a 28-13 win over the Washington Redskins on Monday night, moving the Eagles to 6-6 and keeping them in the thick of postseason contention.
“I think things are kind of clicking a little bit,” coach Doug Pederson said. "I believe this is our first two-game winning streak. And it’s a great time to start winning.”
Pederson is correct: The Eagles won back-to-back games for the first time this season, and they now head on the road for games against Dallas and the Los Angeles Rams. The Cowboys are the top team in the NFC East. The Rams are the top team in the NFC. By the time the Eagles return home for Week 16, they’ll either be firmly positioned in the playoff race or facing the prospect of a January at home.
That story remains to be told, but the Eagles have rebounded from the Nov. 18 blowout in New Orleans by winning two key division home games to set up a potential late-season run. Their 28 points were the second most of the season, and that total could have been greater if the Eagles didn’t go scoreless on two of their trips inside the red zone.
“If we score two touchdowns inside the 5-yard line tonight, we’re putting up 40 against a really good team,” tight end Zach Ertz said. "I think we’re close to reaching our ultimate potential as an offense.”
Wentz finished 27 of 39 for 306 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception. Ertz had nine catches for 83 yards and broke Brian Westbrook’s franchise record of 90 receptions in a season. Golden Tate had his best game with the Eagles, catching seven passes for 85 yards and a touchdown. The leading rusher was Josh Adams, who finished with 85 yards. Wentz said the Eagles are beginning to “mesh” on offense and they’re relying on the offensive line. They totaled 436 yards and went 7 of 13 on third downs. They’re not consistently at the level of the 2017 Eagles, but they showed firepower.
“We’re a long way from that, I promise you that," tackle Lane Johnson said. "As far as being consistent for two games in a row…we’ve had a lot of downs, if there’s ever a time to get our stuff right, it’s now.”
The Eagles' offense has seemed to arrive late to most games this season, although they put together an impressive opening drive on Monday. Wentz marched the Eagles 75 yards on 12 plays for the first touchdown on the opening drive since Week 6. It was a varied attacked – coach Doug Pederson mixed the pass and the run, shotgun and under center, huddle and no-huddle. Wentz completed all of his pass attempts, including a six-yard touchdown to Tate while buying time with his legs. Tate, who scored for the first time in an Eagles uniform, celebrated by doing the worm in the end zone.
It was a good sign for the Eagles, considering the team that scored first in every Washington game this season had won. That trend continued.
“It was huge," Wentz said. “Felt like we got that monkey off our back and started the way we wanted to start.”
The Eagles' defense forced a three-and-out on Washington’s opening drive, and it appeared like they were about force another one on the second drive until Cre’von LeBlanc was flagged for pass interference on third-and-11. Washington turned the new set of downs into a field goal, although it came at a cost. Quarterback Colt McCoy, who took over the starting job after Alex Smith’s injury, injured his leg and left the game. Mark Sanchez took over for Washington.
Sanchez’s first play came on a first-and-10 at Washington’s 10-yard line. Everyone in the stadium likely figured Sanchez would hand the ball to Adrian Peterson. The Eagles run defense didn’t seem ready for it – or they weren’t able to stop it. Peterson took a handoff for Sanchez and ran right through the middle of the Eagles’ defense for a 90-yard touchdown. It was the longest rushing touchdown of the future Hall-of-Famer’s career. Linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill couldn’t get off his block, but this was not about one player. The entire run defense failed, allowing such a long touchdown and give Washington the lead. Peterson finished with only 98 yards, though, so the Eagles held him to eight total yards for the rest of the game.
“They caught us out of our gaps,” safety Malcolm Jenkins said. "Before that play, we were doing good against the run, and after we were able to bottle it down. But they just caught us.”
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That lead remained even when the Eagles brought the ball to Washington’s 1-yard line. The Eagles had a fourth down at the goal line, but Pederson kept his offense on the field. He took Ertz off the field, though, making it more likely the Eagles would call a running play. Wentz handed it to Adams, who had nowhere to run. Washington dominated the line of scrimmage and Adams was stuffed for a two-yard loss, leaving the Eagles without points despite the red zone visit.
The Eagles redeemed themselves on their next drive. Darren Sproles’ 14-yard punt return allowed the Eagles to start the drive at the 40-yard line, and Sproles finished the drive with a 14-yard rush for his first touchdown since 2016. Sproles followed Jason Kelce, who blocked downfield like few centers in the NFL can, and pushed through defenders to give the Eagles a 14-10 advantage.
“It’s a good play because it works to one of my strengths and get me out in space,” Kelce said. “It also works to one of Darren’s strengths because it gets him out in space. We just caught them in a good situation.”
Washington added a field goal before halftime, but the Redskins could never regain the lead.
The score remained 14-13 in the third quarter because the Eagles missed another pristine scoring opportunity. Wentz drove the Eagles 70 yards when he completed five consecutive passes, but he couldn’t complete his sixth attempt on the drive. It was first-and-goal at the 5-yard line, and the Eagles had at least three shots at the end zone. Wentz forced a pass to Alshon Jeffery. Josh Norman undercut the route, stepping in front of Jeffery for the interception. It was Wentz’s first red-zone interception since Week 14 of the 2016 season, and it was the ninth of 10 games this season that Wentz committed a turnover.
“I just forced it,” Wentz said. “Definitely one I’m kicking myself.”
Still, it was a sign the Eagles were moving the ball. If not for the red zone miscues, they would have already reached a sizable lead. The big margin came at the start of the fourth quarter, when Wentz capitalized in the red zone with a four-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Matthews.
Pederson kept his offense on the field for a two-point conversion, which Tate caught to give the Eagles a 22-13 lead and forcing Washington to need two possessions to go ahead.
It wasn’t going to happen with Sanchez at quarterback. Nate Gerry intercepted Sanchez in Washington territory, leading to the first of two fourth-quarter field goals.
That’s when the fans started leaving Lincoln Financial Field. And now the question becomes whether the Eagles are still in contention when they return to the stadium on Dec. 23. The next step comes on Sunday against the Cowboys.
"We understand the urgency of right now,” Jenkins said. “We’ll take the same approach this next week knowing it’s a huge division matchup on the road with huge implications.”
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