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Eagles' Alshon Jeffery bowls a strike against his former team

The former Bears receiver had a big first half against his former team, but he said there was no added significance. There were signs to the contrary.

Eagles’ Alshon Jeffery, right, catches a 2nd quarter touchdown pass in front of the Bears’ Christian Jones, left. Philadelphia Eagles win 31-3 over the Chicago Bears in Philadelphia, PA on November 26, 2017. DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer
Eagles’ Alshon Jeffery, right, catches a 2nd quarter touchdown pass in front of the Bears’ Christian Jones, left. Philadelphia Eagles win 31-3 over the Chicago Bears in Philadelphia, PA on November 26, 2017. DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff PhotographerRead moreDAVID MAIALETTI

Alshon Jeffery stood with his back to a larger group of reporters than he typically has at his locker stall. The Bears were in town and the Eagles wide receiver had just helped his new team smoke his hapless former team, 31-3, at Lincoln Financial Field.

Jeffery refused to cater to the narrative, both before and after, that Sunday's meeting had more meaning. But as he dressed and the additional Chicago reporters waited with the rest of the Philadelphia contingent, he slipped a Michael Jordan Bulls jersey over his head.

"Michael Jordan is my favorite player," Jeffery reminded the group when asked if there was any significance. "I thought today I'd just wear a jersey."

Perhaps. But it was difficult to watch Doug Pederson consciously feed his receiver early on, and Jeffery cap his first half of success with a touchdown and not recognize how his fate has changed in a year.

He may not be the Eagles' leading receiver, but he's become the leader of their group celebrations. If that doesn't say enough about how Jeffery has adapted to a lesser role in the name of winning, it does speak to how he isn't the aloof teammate that some had labeled him in Chicago.

"These are my group of brothers now," Jeffery said. "I'm trying to tear their ass up if you're on the other side."

His touchdown grab came with just five seconds left in the first half. The Eagles had already posted 17 points on the Bears, but another seven would all but seal the outcome.

Jeffery wasn't the first option. He was the third. The Eagles have increasingly lined him up in the slot over the last two games as to get different matchups. This time he had a linebacker shade him underneath as he ran a crossing route into the end zone.

"I knew he was going to get behind that linebacker and I just wanted to give him a nice, high ball to go get," Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz said. "He did the rest."

Jeffery jumped early, but he was so open it didn't matter, and he had his seventh touchdown of the season. After a fist pump and a few hugs, he gathered the other 10 Eagles on the field, walked about 10 yards back, and mimed rolling a bowling ball toward his teammates, lined up like bowling pins.

It was a strike. Sort of.

"The fall was perfect, but Alshon messed it up," receiver Torrey Smith said.

Jeffery initially said that he wished he had actually rolled the ball instead, but when a reporter asked if he didn't want to lose the ball, he changed his tune.

"I wasn't rolling that one," he said.

Jeffery's seventh touchdown triggered a $250,000 incentive in his contract. He could earn the same amount if he hits nine and then 11 touchdowns this season. At his current pace, it's possible. Jeffery has yet to have 100 yards or more than seven catches in a game, but he has five touchdowns in his last four games.

The Eagles' first play from scrimmage went to Jeffery. It was just a 5-yard comeback route, but it was a sign of what was to come. Jeffery was targeted seven times before the break, and he caught five for 52 yards. He had previously only seen more than four first-half passes come his way against the Broncos when he caught four of eight targets for 63 yards and a score.

"I just think any time a player [is] going against a lot of his friends and teammates from the last couple of seasons … just get him going early," Pederson said. "I was really pulling for him to have a big game today."

A series later, Jeffery converted a third down with a 14-yard catch. And two possessions later he had another third-down grab when he reeled in a 16-yard back-shoulder pass. Both catches led to touchdowns – the second to receiver Nelson Agholor with help from the downfield-blocking Jeffery.

By the end of the half, Jeffery had more yards (52 to 33), first downs (2 to 0) and points (6 to 0) than the Bears. He had never experienced the playoffs in Chicago and had played on only one winning team, during his rookie season when he had only a part-time role.

The Bears used their franchise tag on Jeffery last season, paying him $15 million, and they tried to re-sign him this offseason, so it wasn't as if they didn't treat him well.

"He seemed like the same old Alshon to me," Smith said. "I've been there, so I know what it's like."

Smith had twice faced former teams – the Ravens after he left three years ago and the 49ers this season.

"It's just weird when you see guys who you've been going at it with, you were on their side so you know what they're saying, on their sidelines you know what they're thinking," Smith said. "But once you get out there you're trying to cut them just like in practice."

Jeffery didn't catch two targets in the second half, but the damage had already been done. As he and some of the starters watched the Eagles tie a bow on their ninth straight victory, Jeffery told the offensive linemen about his $250,000 incentive.

"I'm going to  take them to dinner," Jeffery said. "They said they wanted a bunch of Jordan stuff. I'm going to see."

They'd be fine with just more touchdowns and celebrations.