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Eagles' defense contains Bills' LeSean McCoy

SOMEBODY ASKED Rex Ryan Sunday after his team's 23-20 loss to the Eagles at the Linc whether it was his team's 10 offensive penalties that held LeSean McCoy to 74 rushing yards or the Eagles' defense.

Fletcher Cox puts an exclamation point on his tackle of Bills running back LeSean McCoy.
Fletcher Cox puts an exclamation point on his tackle of Bills running back LeSean McCoy.Read more(Clem Murray/Staff Photographer)

SOMEBODY ASKED Rex Ryan Sunday after his team's 23-20 loss to the Eagles at the Linc whether it was his team's 10 offensive penalties that held LeSean McCoy to 74 rushing yards or the Eagles' defense.

"I don't know," Ryan said. "That ain't exactly the '85 Bears. But if you want to say it is, then go for it. It must have been them."

No one ever will confuse the Eagles' defense for the '85 Bears. They went into Sunday's must-win game against Ryan's Bills ranked 25th in the league in points allowed and 26th in total defense.

They were just two weeks removed from those back-to-back 45-point debacles against Tampa Bay and Detroit.

They had been torched for 18 touchdown passes in their last five games and have spent much of the season fighting a losing battle to get off the field on third down.

But for the second straight week, Bill Davis' unit displayed enough resilience to help the Eagles win their second straight game and maintain a share of first place in the NFC East, even if their record does happen to be 6-7.

Led by the one guy who could've played, and flourished, on Rex's old man's '85 Bears defense - Fletcher Cox - the Eagles did a good job of neutralizing the Bills' two lethal weapons - McCoy and wide receiver Sammy Watkins.

McCoy rushed for 59 yards on his first nine carries, including a 24-yard run in the second quarter. But then the door closed. Cox and Co. held their former teammate to 15 yards on his final 11 carries.

On a fourth-quarter play that kind of punctuated Cox's impressive daylong performance, he blew past left guard Richie Incognito and decked McCoy for a 10-yard loss.

Watkins burned the Eagles early with a 47-yard touchdown catch from Tyrod Taylor, but would catch just four more passes for 34 yards the rest of the game.

"We had to stop the run game," Davis said. "That's what they want to be, who they want to be. We knew they would emphasize it.

"And we had to take away Watkins. Those are the two things we tried to do."

The disruptive Cox played a major role in both shutting down McCoy and pressuring Taylor enough to force him off his spot and and hurry many of his throws. If the guy isn't a unanimous first-team All-Pro this year, there needs to be an investigation.

Cox gave Incognito fits all day. His frustration led to two costly fourth-quarter penalties, including a hold on the Bills' next-to-last possession that put them in a second-and-20 hole at their own 10.

"He's a great player," said Incognito. "I did not play my best and he beat me early and often."

Even Ryan tipped his hat to Cox. "That 91 is a good player," he said. "I was laughing when I saw him being compared to Jerome Brown. But I'm not laughing now. The kid is a pretty good player."

The Eagles gave up 412 yards to the Bills. Had a few breakdowns, including the Watkins' TD, McCoy's long run and a 19-yard touchdown run by Mike Gillislee that Eagles linebacker Kiko Alonso helped facilitate by overrunning the play and leaving an interstate-wide lane for him to run through.

But they stopped them when they had to. Thwarted them on four straight third-down situations in the fourth quarter.

Rookie cornerback Eric Rowe broke up a third-and-3 pass to Chris Hogan. Then the Eagles' other corner, Byron Maxwell, broke up a deep ball on third-and-4 to Watkins.

After the Eagles took the lead 23-20 on Caleb Sturgis' third field goal of the game, a third-and-14 pass to Watkins went incomplete.

Finally, safety Ed Reynolds, who was late providing over-the-top help on Watkins' 47-yard scoring catch in the first quarter, intercepted a third-and-8 pass for Robert Woods with 1:23 left to ice the win.

"We're starting to believe in each other," safety Malcolm Jenkins said. "We're a scrappy group. It doesn't have to be pretty.

"When we're all out there playing together and playing complimentary football, it's really tough to beat us. Obviously, the way the season has gone, we've had to develop some thick skin. But I think that has helped us. You go on the road against the Patriots and fall down 14-0 like we did last week, you need thick skin to believe you can win that game.

"That thick skin and all of the things we had to persevere through earlier in the season, I think has helped us to be poised and ready for this situation."

Two weeks ago, after giving up 45 points for the second time in five days, this looked like a defense that was ready to roll over and play dead.

Davis found himself answering questions about his job security. Jenkins, one of the team's defensive leaders, openly wondered whether there was enough accountability on the team.

Against the Patriots last week, they gave up 27 first downs and 427 yards. But they also intercepted Tom Brady twice and stopped them on their final drive.

On Sunday, they again rose to the occasion, holding Taylor to five completions in 13 third-down attempts.

"The guys made some plays when we needed them," Davis said. "We tried to change some of the coverages that we had been showing on third down. Today, some of them worked and some of them didn't."

There is little time to celebrate. They've got another big game coming up next week against another very good offense when Bruce Arians brings his 11-2 Cardinals to the Linc.

The prospect of Davis' secondary trying to defend Arians' stable of wide-receiver thoroughbreds is not all that appetizing.

"Right now, we've got two wins in a row and we're feeling good about ourselves," Davis said. "But we have to put our heads down and get ready for one of the two best NFC teams next Sunday. We have our hands full and have to meet the challenge."

The Eagles haven't forgotten the debacles against the Bucs and the Lions. But they don't dwell on them either.

Rex Ryan is absolutely right. This ain't the '85 Bears. But they understand that if they play together and minimize the big plays, they don't have to be.

"We're staying in each other's head," linebacker Brandon Graham said. "When we see something, we talk about it."

"I believe in every guy on this team and on this defense," Cox said. "We've never pointed fingers at each other. We've always had each other's backs through the ups and downs. That's not going to change."

On Twitter: @Pdomo