IT WASN'T as splashy as last week, when the Eagles' special-teams scored two touchdowns at New England, one on a blocked punt and another on a punt return. But the kick and punt teams again were a critical part of an Eagles victory Sunday over the Bills.
The big moment was Bryan Braman's recovery of Marcus Thigpen's punt return fumble, which gave the Eagles the ball at the Bills' 37, eventually setting up Nelson Agholor's 53-yard touchdown catch, good for a 14-7, second-quarter lead. But there were plenty of more subtle moments - Caleb Sturgis went 3-for-3 on field goals, including a 45-yarder just before halftime, Sturgis went 5-for-six on kickoff touchbacks, Darren Sproles managed punt returns of 28 and and 14 yards in the fourth quarter, and Donnie Jones punted seven times for a 50.4-yard gross and a 43.3-yard net.
Braman said gunners Jaylen Watkins and E.J. Biggers got downfield in a hurry and Thigpen "ended up muffing the punt."
"I saw it drop, and really just focused on it," Braman said.
Braman agreed that Sproles' returns were a big boost to field position.
"If they're willing to punt to him, we're going to do everything we can to get him started," Braman said. "Put him on the perimeter, up the middle, anything we can do to get him in the end zone or give the field position to our offense."
Despite NFL Network reports that first indicated DeMarco Murray would be inactive, then that he would be fourth on the depth chart, Murray gained 34 yards on 11 carries. Ryan Mathews, who started, got 13 carries (for 38 yards). Darren Sproles darted for 41 yards on just seven carries; Kenjon Barner was active but did not carry the ball.
A week earlier, you might recall, Murray spoke with team chairman Jeffrey Lurie about Murray's role, on the charter flight home from New England. On Tuesday, offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur's day to speak to reporters, Shurmur did not seem thrilled that ESPN had found out about the conversation and Murray was dominating the questions.
Shurmur said Sunday none of that had anything to do with the way carries were allocated against the Bills.
"We sorta don't attach the drama to it in the building," Shurmur said. "If you asked all four of those guys, if the circumstances were different and we lost the game, and they maybe had four or five more rushes, none of them would take that . . . We've got competitive guys here. All skill players want the ball, every time it's snapped."
Shurmur said Murray "did a very good job," converting third-and-short three times, "and he did a good job this week, concerning what was swirling around outside the building. We need him, as we need all the other guys that are in the backfield."
The Eagles take a $13 million cap hit if they release Murray after this season.
Lane Johnson said that if Jason Peters goes down again, you should get used to what the Eagles did for a few snaps Sunday - they played Dennis Kelly at left tackle, instead of moving Johnson from right to left and having Kelly replace Johnson, as they have done previously. Kelly took penalties on back-to-back plays as Peters got an ankle tweak taped Sunday, but the Eagles scored on the drive anyway . . . Ryan Mathews (13 carries, 38 yards) returned from a three-game concussion absence and said he felt he left a lot of yards on the field . . . The Bills' 15 penalties for 101 yards were the fourth-most ever taken by an Eagles opponent and the fourth-most the Bills have ever accrued . . . Nelson Agholor said he was thinking more after the game about the two third-down catches he missed than the big TD catch . . . The Bills, now 6-7 but in a much less forgiving division, lost dynamic tight end Charles Clay in the first half with a back injury.