BALTIMORE - The Eagles' offensive line did something Sunday that it needed to do in the worst way.
It smacked somebody in the mouth.
Not just somebody. One of the biggest, baddest defensive somebodies in the National Football League: the Baltimore Ravens' front seven.
After weeks of circling the wagons around rookie quarterback Carson Wentz as he tried to see how many passes he could possibly throw without his arm falling off, the Eagles ran the ball 38 times against the Ravens and their No. 1-ranked run defense. Not just ran it, but ran it well.
When all was said and done, they had piled up 169 rushing yards, including 128 yards and a touchdown by Ryan Mathews. It was the most ground yards given up by the Ravens this season. Mathews was just the second running back to rush for 100-plus yards against the Ravens.
Yeah, sure, it would've been nice if the impressive effort had been accompanied by a "W," rather than yet another close-but-no-cigar defeat. It'd also be nice if I won a Pulitzer this year. But that's not going to happen either.
Like my 2005 Honda-CRV on a bitterly cold morning, the Eagles' ground game coughed and sputtered early. But once it got rolling, it looked like the old days when LeSean McCoy used to wear midnight green.
The Eagles were held to just 12 yards on seven carries in the first quarter, then exploded for 157 yards in the final 45 minutes. They had a season-high 13 rushing first downs against a Ravens defense that hadn't given up more than eight all season.
"We just got more comfortable as the game went along," said center Jason Kelce, who had one of his best run-blocking performances of the season in the 27-26 loss. "We made some halftime adjustments on what plays we thought were there and what plays we thought weren't there.
"Obviously, they're a very good run-stopping defense. We just did a much better job of executing the plays called in the second half.
And the running backs, Ryan and (Byron) Marshall, ran so hard and physical."
Mathews has taken a lot of flak during his two seasons with the Eagles, mainly for his problems staying healthy. But when he's right, when every part of his anatomy is functioning properly, he's a very good running back.
His 128 yards against the Ravens were the third most of his career. He had eight of the Eagles' 13 rushing first downs. He had a season-high six double-digit-yard runs, including 19-, 11- and 18-yard runs on successive carries in the fourth quarter.
Marshall, making his NFL debut after being promoted from the practice squad earlier this week because of injuries to Wendell Smallwood and Darren Sproles, lost 3 yards on his first four carries against the Ravens, then reeled off 12- and 10-yard runs. He has some McCoy-like elusiveness to him and showed it on the 10-yard run when he faked Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs out of his jock.
"Once I got settled, the game came to me," Marshall said. "I felt like I made the right reads and the right cuts. The blocks were there. The offensive line was trying real hard today. They had a real good game."
The offensive line managed to win the run battle despite the fact that its was starting its fifth right tackle of the season, rookie Isaac Seumalo, who basically is a guard.
"Isaac has had the roughest go out of all of us," Kelce said. "He's been told the day of a game that he's going to go in there and start twice (at right guard for Brandon Brooks).
"He played right tackle today, which isn't something he's exactly been working on. He's been playing guard for the most part the whole season. For him to go out there and play the way he did today, for the offensive line to go out there and function the way it did with him out there, I don't think you can ask for anything more out of a guy. He's very smart, very athletic."
The Eagles averaged 4.4 yards per carry against the Ravens. They were just the third team this season to average 4.0 or better against them, and the first in seven games.
"I think they did a good job of scheming us up and just blocking us," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "It's a stretch-zone scheme, and they were doing a great job of reaching our guys and cutting us off on the backside."
For the first time in a while, the Eagles had a nice run-pass balance Sunday - 43 pass plays and 38 run plays. But the Eagles' ability to run the ball still didn't help their inability to throw it.
Wentz completed just 52.3 percent of his passes. He had a horrible first-quarter interception, another one of those rookie off-his-back-foot mistakes that he hopefully will eventually grow out of. He failed to throw a touchdown pass for the fourth time in the last seven games.
And the Eagles' defense once again made too many big-play mistakes. So, you've got two choices tonight. You can sit around and sulk about all that didn't go right again for the Eagles. Or you can take solace in the fact that, for one afternoon against a very good defense, the Eagles' run game was dominant, and hope it carries over into next season when the games mean something and Wentz is a year older and the scouting department has gone out and found a wide receiver or two that can put the fear of God into a defense.
"We were confident on play-calling and our run game today," coach Doug Pederson said. "They are a tremendous defense and one of the best in the league, particularly against the run. It just came down to sheer patience and determination and the offensive line."
Said Wentz: "Our offensive line did an unbelievable job today. They took it upon themselves to try and be dominant. And we had success on the ground."
By the numbers
* The Eagles have been outscored on the road in the first quarter this season, 68-12. They've been outscored on the road in the first half, 135-77.
* Ryan Mathews' 128 rushing yards Sunday were the second most in a game in his career. He had a 137-yard performance against Denver in 2011 when he was with the Broncos.
* A week after an impressive 10-for-13, 116-yard third-down passing performance against the Redskins, Carson Wentz completed just 6-for-14 for 47 yards with an interception and a sack on third down against the Ravens. Five of his six third-down completions did result in first downs, however.
* In Wentz's first four starts, he had a 67.4 completion percentage, a 103.5 passer rating and averaged 7.5 yards per attempt. In his last 10 starts, he has a 61.2 completion percentage, a 70.1 passer rating and has averaged 5.9 yards per attempt. Wentz had seven touchdown passes and one interception in his first four starts and six TD passes and 12 picks in his last 10 starts.
* Wentz has thrown 40 or more passes in six of the last eight games. He's on pace for 617 attempts, which would be 38.6 per game.
* The Eagles haven't scored more than two offensive touchdowns in a game since Week 3 against Pittsburgh. They have just 27 offensive touchdowns. They had 38 last season.
* Nineteen of the Eagles' 27 offensive TDs have come on drives of 60 yards or more. Just four of those 19 were seven plays or fewer.
* The Eagles converted just two of five red-zone trips into touchdowns Sunday. They are 3-for-9 in the red zone in their last two games and 15-for-32 in their last 10 games.
* The Eagles committed just three penalties against the Ravens. That's their season-low.
* Tight end Zach Ertz, who had six catches for 80 yards, has been targeted 36 times in the last three games. He has 25 catches for 271 yards and a TD in those three games.
* Ryan Mathews has a career-high eight rushing touchdowns. His 128 yards against the Ravens was his 15th 100-yard rushing performance of his career.
* Linebacker Jordan Hicks, who had his third interception of the season against the Ravens, has nine takeaways in 19 career starts.
@Pdomo Blog: philly.com/Eaglesblog