EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — It took six weeks, but this was the type of performance the Eagles had been waiting for this season. After appearing like a shadow of the Super Bowl champions while slogging through the first five games, the Eagles assuaged mounting concern about them with a dominant 34-13 win over the New York Giants on Thursday night.
"I think this is finally a game where we're finally able to say, 'That's us. That's the Philadelphia Eagles'," tight end Zach Ertz said. "That's a game where we put our stamp on the whole entire game."
The Eagles had not scored more than 23 points in a game yet this season. They reached 24 by halftime. They totaled only seven first-quarter points through the first five games. They scored on the opening drive and had 14 points by the time the second quarter started. Carson Wentz played to the MVP standard he set last season and the defense swarmed Eli Manning. The Eagles moved to 3-3, giving them the most wins in the NFC East, and they now have extended rest entering next Sunday's game against the Carolina Panthers. They won't be hearing much criticism or concern leading up to it.
"When things kind of get piled on them the last couple of weeks, they don't listen to it," coach Doug Pederson said. "They come out and play like they do tonight, it's a credit to that team."
Wentz went 26 of 36 for 278 yards and three touchdowns for his best game of the season Alshon Jeffery caught eight passes for 74 yards and two touchdowns. Wendell Smallwood and Corey Clement combined for 29 carries for 94 yards in their first game after Jay Ajayi's season-ending injury. And the defense had four sacks, 13 quarterback hits, and a turnover.
>> PHOTO GALLERY: Scenes from the Eagles-Giants game
The Eagles used their formula from last season. They built an early lead, allowing their pass rushers to pin their ears back and get after Manning and the running backs to get consistent carries.
"Everyone's a more dynamic team when they have the lead," Wentz said. "The defense feeds off that. It's always big for us."
It looked like it would be a good night from the game's first minute, when Jordan Hicks deflected Manning's pass on the second play of the game and Kamu Grugier-Hill grabbed the interception and returned it to the Giants' 16-yard line to give the offense favorable field position.
Still, the red zone has been a problem for the Eagles in recent weeks. They scored touchdowns on only 3 of 9 visits during the previous two games. Wentz made sure the Eagles capitalized on this trip. Facing a third-and-7, Wentz rolled to his right and hissed a pass across his body to Alshon Jeffery in the end zone for a 13-yard touchdown. It was an exceptional play by Wentz, who played like the franchise quarterback on a night the Eagles needed it.
"It's not always the smartest thing to throw back across your body," Wentz said, "but when you've got a guy like Alshon, you really trust him to make a play."
The Giants' only chance to take a lead thereafter came when they regained possession at their 9-yard line with a 7-3 deficit, except Michael Bennett burst past $62-million offensive tackle Nate Solder for a strip sack of Manning. Although the Giants recovered, they were pushed backward and the Eagles had favorable field position after forcing a punt.
From there, the Eagles turned on the rout. Clement's one-yard touchdown run came two plays after a 14-yard rush and on a night when he's trying to convince the front office that they don't need to add a running back in the coming weeks. That touchdown gave the Eagles a 14-3 lead, and it turned out those were the only points they needed. The defense didn't let the Giants back into it, holding the Giants to 4 of 14 on third downs and 0 of 3 in the red zone.
"Defensively, we can pin our ears back," safety Malcolm Jenkins said after the defense played all but two snaps with a lead. "All the sudden, you let the rush go, and the runs you give up don't really mean much. It's actually draining the clock. So when we get in those situations, that's when we're really dangerous as a defense."
Of course, they were far from finished. The Eagles converted 9 of 16 third downs on Thursday, including a 58-yard pass to Nelson Agholor in the second quarter. Agholor showed impressive awareness throughout the night, breaking off his route when needed if it helped Wentz complete a pass. Wentz finished the drive with a 10-yard touchdown to Zach Ertz. A field goal before halftime gave the 24-6 edge at the break.
If the game wasn't out of reach by then, the Eagles punctuated their lead with a 12-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to open the second half. The Eagles mixed in the no-huddle offense and converted two third downs, including a one-yard touchdown pass from Wentz to Jeffery. It was the second time they connected for a score on Thursday. Jeffery said the play design was taken from the New England Patriots.
Although the Giants looked like a team that will pick near the top of the draft next season, the best part of their evening was the play of rookie sensation Saquon Barkley, a former Penn State star. Barkley rushed for a 50-yard touchdown in the third quarter to cut the Eagles' lead to 31-13, and he totaled 130 rushing yards and 99 receiving yards. The Giants don't look like they can contend with the Eagles this season, but Barkley is the type of player who can give the Eagles headaches for much of the next decade.
Even with that touchdown, the Giants could never threaten the Eagles. The Eagles lost both offensive tackles in the second half when Jason Peters exited with a biceps injury and Lane Johnson didn't return after coming up slowly while playing on an injured ankle. But the Eagles didn't need them while nursing a three-score lead. And now those players have extra rest to try to get healthy for the Panthers game.
>> READ MORE: Grading the Eagles: Carson Wentz, Birds' offense clicks
The Eagles are off this weekend, but they return with two games against playoff opponents from last season before the bye. If they play the way they did on Thursday, the Eagles will return to the Super Bowl contender status they were anointed with before the season. They showed their formula against the Giants, even if was six weeks later than the Eagles might have hoped.
"I think confidence wise, it gives our guys a shot, gives our guys a boost," Pederson said. "They have a break this weekend, get a chance to really rest and reflect on the first six weeks and make another push in these next couple of weeks before our full bye."