Ladies and gentlemen, the NFC East in 2018: You take it. No, you take it. No, you take it. No, you.
It goes without saying that this wasn't how the Eagles' envisioned the season unfolding when they first took the field in early September. But after a 25-22 come-from-behind victory in which their last rites could easily have been read at halftime, Doug Pederson and Carson Wentz and the gang are one victory into a three-game stretch that could see them emerge in first place in the division.
Granted, they have some work to do. The only thing this game showed us for sure was that the Eagles are not the division's biggest mess. That designation is now the sole and undisputed possession of a Giants team that needs a new quarterback, and perhaps a new play caller before they can begin the process of catching up to all who have passed them by over the last couple of seasons. That's not something that impatient Birds fans should overlook, regardless of how dysfunctional the team again looked for long stretches of this latest Sunday afternoon. They might not be clicking on all cylinders, but they are a coached by a man who looked markedly more in command than his counterpart on the visitor's sideline.
Pederson's decision to go for it on 4th-and-1 from the 42-yard-line with the game tied and time winding down was as close to a no-brainer as it gets, but it was the sequence of events before and after the snap that highlighted the true difference between these two teams. First, the Giants called their second timeout of the half, leaving them with little potential of stopping the clock in a meaningful way after Jake Elliott's eventual game-winner. After the stoppage, the Eagles came out in a spread formation with Carson Wentz in the shotgun, the ensuing play leaving Nelson Agholor wide open in the middle of the field for a 12-yard catch that both moved the chains and put Elliott in position for his decisive kick.
The execution was not perfect, nor pretty, but it was better than the other side. Pederson's decision to go for two and cut the deficit to eight points late in the second quarter was a pivotal moment in the game. So, too, was Pat Shurmur's unsuccessful decision to go for two after the Giants marched down the field for a touchdown on their opening possession.
There were other lessons, ones that Eagles fans can only hope will prove to have been the marks of a team in the midst of a reinvention. Chief amongst these was the sudden reappearance of the Eagles' running game during a fourth quarter touchdown drive that gave them their first lead of the game. All 61 of the Eagles' yards on the possession were produced by running backs, 38 of them on six carries (including a one-yard touchdown run by Josh Adams), and the remaining 23 on a catch-and-run by Corey Clement.
Also heartening was the second half performance of Jim Schwartz's beleaguered unit after a first and second quarter in which it might as well have made some extra scratch and rented itself out as a parade ground. With a practice squad secondary and a non-existent pass rush, the Eagles' D seemed incapable of keeping up with even the lowest reaches of the Giants' pass-catching depth chart, as names like Rhett Ellison and Bennie Fowler and Russell Shepard lit up the stat sheet, each of their catches registering like the rapidly converging beeps of a heart rate monitor. Then came the flatline: 1st-and-10, Giants just shy of midfield, the Eagles' front seven flowing one way, Saquon Barkley cutting the other, four member of the Eagles secondary falling into each other like bowling pins, Barkley rumbling 51 yards for a score.
Your 2018 Philadelphia Eagles: Things did not go as planned.
But then, suddenly, they did. Chris Long, Michael Bennett, and Brandon Graham played inspired football in the second half. A Giants offense that entered halftime with 346 yards of total offense finished with just 402 for the game.
Not only are the Eagles off life support, they are 5-6, with back-to-back games against the Redskins and Cowboys on deck, and a chance to equal or surpass both for the division lead.
Run the ball. Rush the passer. Make fewer mistakes than the other guy. They may have only followed the formula for two of these latest four quarters. Against the Giants, though, that was enough.
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