The Eagles all but saved their season with a 25-22 comeback victory over the hapless New York Giants on Sunday.
Win, lose or draw, here's what we learned:
1. The Eagles are not dead yet. Bring out yer dead! The Eagles avoided the death cart for this week's trip around the NFL. Their victory may just be delaying inevitable death — they're "very ill" in Monty Python parlance – but with the NFC East moribund there is life. The Eagles have been down this road several times this season. They'll win a game, not quite convincingly, and Doug Pederson and the players will say that their vessel is now pointed in the right direction. Of course, they've reversed sail and lost the following game after each of their previous wins. Are you convinced that systemic issues that have plagued the team all season have gone away? Do you think the win over Pat Shurmur's Giants was once again fool's gold? Or is winning ugly sustainable enough for the Eagles to win a weak division? There were positive signs Sunday. The Eagles showed resiliency in coming back from a first half 16-point deficit. They won on both lines of scrimmage. They executed in the second half and came up clutch down the stretch. The first half, however, was mostly a repeat story of the season. The Giants aren't very good, particularly up front. And Shurmur made some boneheaded play-calling decisions in the second half. But here's the thing: The Eagles could somehow find themselves in a three-way tie atop the NFC East in one week. The 6-5 Cowboys host the 10-1 Saints, arguably the best team in the NFL, on Thursday night. And the 6-5 Redskins, with backup Colt McCoy at quarterback, travel to face to the 5-6 Eagles on Monday night. If the favorites win in both scenarios, the Eagles would head to Dallas the following week with a chance to stand atop the division alone. Do you believe?
Here are the remaining schedules for all three teams:
Cowboys: Saints (10-1), Eagles (5-6), at Colts (6-5), Buccaneers (4-7), at Giants (3-8)
Redskins: at Eagles (5-6), Giants (3-8), at Jaguars (3-8), at Titans (5-5), Eagles (5-6)
Eagles: Redskins (6-5), at Cowboys (6-5), at Rams (10-1), Texans (7-3), at Redskins (6-5)
2. Doug Pederson got out of his own way. The game didn't start off so well for the Eagles coach. The Eagles faced a third-and-10 from their own 48 on their opening drive. Pederson called a screen pass to receiver Golden Tate that netted a 5-yard gain. I was fine with the call if he had decided that it was four-down territory. But on fourth down at the Giants 47, Pederson punted. He said Monday that it was early in the game and that he had hoped to pin the Giants back. I felt it was another instance in which Pederson wasn't aggressive enough, whether in the screen or the decision to punt. The Giants, it should be noted, went 87 yards the other way and kicked a field goal. The Eagles' first quarter woes also continued. They were shutout for the fifth straight game and their average of 1.9 points in the first 15 minutes is last in the NFL. Pederson had a much better second half and seemed to catch up with the message he delivered to his offense last week, one of simplicity. Don't make things overly complicated. If the run game is working – and it was – stay with it. Early in the fourth quarter, with the Eagles trailing, 19-14, Pederson called six runs on a seven-play drive that culminated with a Josh Adams 1-yard touchdown bolt. Overall, the run-pass ratio was 29-31. I'm not a big balance-for-the-sake-of-being-balanced guy, but leaning on the ground game made sense in this case. Adams was in a groove. The offensive line was getting push. And ball control tipped time of possession in favor of the Eagles and kept a struggling defense off the field. I'm not sure if the recipe is sustainable. But Pederson seemed to stop trying to counter what defenses were doing and just said, "We're going to do what we do best and make you defend us."
>> MARCUS HAYES: Pederson's FEARLESS fourth-down call saved the season for the Eagles
3. Jim Schwartz got out of his own way. Some day, when Schwartz is 94 and rocking in his chair, he'll tell his great grandchildren about the time he held the Giants to 51 yards and three points in the second half with De'Vante Bausby, Chandon Sullivan, Cre'Von LeBlanc, Trey Sullivan and Corey Graham in his defensive backfield. Sullivan left in the second half with an injury, which forced Schwartz to move his only starter, safety Malcolm Jenkins, into the slot after LeBlanc moved outside. Deep reserve safety Deiondre' Hall was even pressed into duty when Graham left briefly. How did Schwartz do it? According to Jenkins, the key was convincing the defensive coordinator to simplify the coverages after the Giants took a 19-3 lead. The Giants had already gained over 200 yards of offense before they scored a touchdown on just a three-play drive midway through the second quarter. Eli Manning found tight end Rhett Ellison wide open for 20 yards after linebacker Nate Gerry blew his assignment, and two play later, Saquon Barkley broke through some leaky tackling attempts for a 51-yard score. Jenkins went to his coach and said something needed to change. To Schwartz's credit, he listened and allowed his unit to just line up in a few basic coverages without many pre-snap changes. Jenkins, who had questioned some of his teammates' demeanor last week, backed up his talk and had another strong outing. He had six tackles, broke up a two-point conversion and intercepted Manning before the half.
4. Carson Wentz got out of his own way. The Eagles quarterback doesn't exactly belong in the same company as Pederson and Schwartz when it comes to square-peg-in-round-hole thinking. But Wentz had increasingly forced his hand over the last month. He wasn't taking enough of what defenses were giving. He has elite talent and, to some degree, likely felt that he needed to carry the Eagles if they were to stave off elimination. And that may still be the case over the last five games. But it wasn't necessary Sunday. The game called for a workmanlike performance and Wentz delivered. He completed 20-of-28 passes for 236 yards and a touchdown. He entered the game throwing an average of 4.6 20-plus yard passes per game. He threw just one beyond 20 on Sunday. He didn't have a turnover for the first time this season. And he led the Eagles to their first last-minute game-winning drive since Jake Elliott's 61-yard walk off against the Giants 14 months ago. Wentz heard about Saints coach Sean Payton's plan to make Wentz beat them last week. The Eagles had never won when the quarterback throws for between 308 and 364 yards, the theory being that if he must throw that much, the Eagles can't run the ball. There will come a time when the Eagles will need Wentz to be that kind of quarterback. He has the tools to win one-dimensionally. But the offense just isn't clicking enough for Pederson to play those odds. Wentz is still a work in progress. He's still less than a year from major knee surgery. He's good and should be great. But you can't rush it.
5. Josh Adams is the best the Eagles got at running back. Can you believe Pederson chose Wendell Smallwood over Adams when final roster cuts were made just before the season? OK, old news. I'm probably still bitter about losing the beat reporter pool. Nevertheless, Adams clearly had greater upside and we're seeing that now. He rushed 22 times for 84 yards (3.8 avg.) and a touchdown. The numbers aren't spellbinding, but he had a 52-yard touchdown run brought back by a holding penalty, left briefly with a shoulder injury, and had several late runs designed to burn the clock. I'm not sure what the future holds for Adams. We've seen other young tailbacks have great days only to be exposed later. He has good size, is faster than he looks, and has above-average vision and patience. But turning his hips on outside runs can be a problem and he's not dynamic like most of the prototype lead running backs in today's NFL. Adams is probably a complement in the backfield, but for now the Eagles need him to carry the load. Corey Clement had a nice bounce back game (127 all-purpose yards) and will likely handle third-down running back responsibilities from here on out.
6. The Eagles win when they control the lines of scrimmage. Duh. OK, so that's not exactly rocket science. But considering the Eagles' off-and-on struggles this season, it's worth noting. The o-line had one of its better outings. Eagles running backs averaged 4.8 yards a carry. Wentz was sacked three times, but I wouldn't charge any of the linemen with allowing those pressures. The defensive line also got cooking after the break. Shurmur's play calling helped: Barkley rushed nine times for 95 yards and a touchdown and caught six passes for 37 yards and a touchdown in the first half; he had only five touches in the second. Receiver Odell Beckham Jr. was targeted only nine times. The Eagles shaded coverage to his side, but there were opportunities to throw at the disadvantages in the secondary. But the defensive front deserved credit for stuffing the run after the half (seven carries for 16 yards) and forcing Manning into quick throws. Michael Bennett, despite leaving for a bit with a foot injury, had a sack and a quarterback hit. Fletcher Cox had three hits himself. Tim Jernigan played a quiet 20-of-65 snaps upon his return, but his presence kept Haloti Ngata (25) and Treyvon Hester (15) to a more practical number of snaps.
>> READ MORE: The long road back for Tim Jernigan's back | Bob Ford
7. Winning with a Chandon Sullivan-De'Vante Bausby-Cre'Von LeBlanc trio is unsustainable. Not to be a buzzkill, but the Eagles aren't winning another Super Bowl if they must play the above triumvirate for the foreseeable future. But there could be help coming as soon as Monday night: Pederson said that cornerbacks Sidney Jones (hamstring) and Jalen Mills (foot) were day to day and gave the same prognosis for safety Avonte Maddox (knee, ankle). Cornerback Rasul Douglas (knee, ankle) played only two snaps Sunday, but he was healthy enough to dress. We're not talking about the Legion of Boom here, but each player would be an upgrade.
8. Pederson still hasn't found the right receiving formula. The decision to play more Dallas Goedert (36 of 65 snaps) than receiver Jordan Matthews (14) was a sound one. The rookie tight end has more versatility and his in-line blocking gives Zach Ertz more freedom to line up in receiving spots. Tate (39 snaps) played less than Nelson Agholor (47), but he was targeted significantly more (8 to 1). He caught only 4 passes for 30 yards. There was a nice jump ball snag on third down, but something is still lacking. Agholor isn't as effective on the outside, but the same goes for Tate. Someone must be sacrificed. That doesn't explain why Alshon Jeffery has been used less. He caught three of three targets for 39 yards. There is little justification for keeping Goedert on the sideline for extended periods. He's become the Eagles' best blocking tight end – albeit a low bar – and has now caught 20 of 25 targets from Wentz for 217 yards.
9. Zach Ertz is having a career year. The tight end quietly set career marks for catches (84) and receiving yards (895) in a season Sunday. Ertz finished with seven catches for 91 yards and a touchdown. His 15-yard score was a yards-after-catch beauty. Ertz is far from finished and is on pace to end the year with 122 catches for 1,301 yards. He already has six touchdowns. Ertz had X-rays after the game, but neither him nor Pederson provided additional detail other than to say that he was fine. The Eagles can't afford to lose Ertz, who hasn't played a full 16-game season since his sophomore year.
10. And a few leftovers … Elliott may have shaky moments, but he's as clutch as they come. His 43-yard game-winner split the uprights. After starting the season 11 of 14 on field goals, he's connected on all six of his last attempts. … Punter Cameron Johnston is having a very good rookie season. He's second in the NFL in gross average (48.8 yards) and net average (42.7 yards). He had some issues during the spring and summer camps, but they were obviously overblown. Mea culpa.