BALTIMORE - Ryan Mathews was not on the field for the decisive two-point conversion attempt in the Eagles' 27-26 loss to the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday - a noticeable decision considering that Mathews had his best game of the season.
The veteran running back rushed for a season-high 128 yards on 20 carries and his seventh touchdown of the year. It came against the NFL's top-ranked rushing defense, which had limited opponents to 75.5 rushing yards per game and 3.4 yards per carry. The Eagles needed a good game from Mathews because Darren Sproles was out with a concussion, Wendell Smallwood is out for the season, and Kenjon Barner exited in the first half with a hamstring injury.
The only other running back was Byron Marshall - a rookie promoted from practice squad on Tuesday and making his NFL debut. He was the running back on the field for the two-point conversion.
"You know they're going to be in zero blitz; it doesn't matter who the back is," coach Doug Pederson said. "They're going to cover up all the gaps. Your chances of throwing it are actually a little bit better in that situation."
Maybe so, but the Eagles' best chance of moving the ball Sunday came by handing it to Mathews. His rushing yards accounted for 39 percent of the Eagles' total yardage.
"Line was playing great, receivers blocking downfield," Mathews said. "Tough running, though. But line played great today. Got to give all the credit to them."
Early in the game, it appeared the Eagles would have as much success running against Baltimore as the Ravens' other opponents. Mathews had 5 yards on his four first-quarter carries. He rushed for a 4-yard touchdown to start the second quarter, and the running game took off from there. Mathews had 55 yards by halftime.
Pederson said the Eagles needed to be patient - he has tended to get away from the run too early in games this season - and credited the determination of a patched-up offensive line. And Pederson kept feeding Mathews, who had 11 carries in the first half and nine in the second half. Mathews finished with fewer than 10 carries in half of his games this season.
"Just getting on a roll," Mathews said. "Guys were excited to run the ball."
Center Jason Kelce said that coaches will call running plays if they're having success and the game situation allows. He said the Eagles "have been close all season long running the ball" and feature an offensive that is good at run blocking. Left tackle Jason Peters said the Eagles could have had even bigger gains, but he was happy with how the running game looked against the Ravens defense.
"We've had good games before," Kelce said. "We have some good personnel, I think. We executed really well. Especially in the second half. That's all it comes down to. Good game plan coming in, obviously. They're bigger guys interior-wise. We got them on some outside zones, make those guys run a little bit. Thought we had a good job."
Asked if he would have liked to run the ball on the two-point conversion, Kelce also passed. He said that's "way out of my repertoire" and that it would have been tough to run the ball against the Ravens' defensive look.
But Mathews was the Eagles' best offensive skill player on Sunday, and he watched from the sideline when the game was on the line without even the threat of a handoff.