The Eagles showed great resolve after forfeiting a 14-point, fourth-quarter lead and clipped the New York Giants, 27-24, after Jake Elliott kicked a 61-yard field goal as time expired Sunday. Here's what we learned:
- Doug Pederson's Eagles can win close games. I don't want to go overboard because it was just one victory. And the Eagles did win a tight one last year against the Giants in the penultimate game. But there were so many more games when they couldn't close the deal in 2016. I don't think I need to rehash the misery. While the Eagles did cough up a 14-point lead, allowed 24 fourth-quarter points, and needed a Hail Mary kick to overcome the Giants, they did show great resiliency. They rebounded from a 7-point deficit to tie the score with 5 minutes and 46 seconds left. They knotted the score again with an Elliott 46-yard field goal with 56 seconds remaining. And they went ahead for good when the kicker blasted the game-winner through the uprights. There were countless moments that had to go the Eagles' way down the stretch – Eli Apple's pass interference on a ball that wasn't catchable, Ben McAdoo's bone-headed decisions to throw on second and third and long with less than 30 seconds to go, Brad Wing's shank out of bounds, the play-clock operator seemingly giving the Eagles the benefit of an additional second, the Giants calling a timeout to ice Elliott, but not realizing that it likely benefited the Eagles, who weren't completely set, and ultimately, the pint-sized kicker's unlikely boot. But the same would have been written had the other team pulled out the win. That how it goes in close games. The Eagles just made more plays down the stretch.
- Pederson will always be second-guessed. It comes with the job. But his aggressiveness lends for Monday morning hindsight. The decision to go for it on fourth and 8 on the Eagles' 43 has been the call for which Pederson has been criticized the most. He said the analytics suggested he go for it. But the math doesn't take score and situation into account. The Eagles were leading, 7-0, with a little more than 2:30 left in the half. Their defense had dominated the Giants for almost 30 minutes. It was at the least a questionable decision. The play call resulted in Carson Wentz's having an open receiver – maybe two – but the Eagles quarterback missed them, held the ball too long, and was sacked. I don't know if Wentz's indecision absolved his coach, but Pederson must also take his quarterback's relative inexperience into account when gambling. The Giants promptly marched down to the Eagles' 2-yard line on eight plays. If it weren't for some curious play-calling by McAdoo – a Sterling Shepard touchdown catch was also overturned – the Giants would have likely tied the score heading into the break. McAdoo, at the least, should have taken the three points on fourth down with the Giants set to receive the opening kick of the second half. But he had Eli Manning hand off to Orleans Darkwa and Jim Schwartz's defense answered the call and stuffed the running back for a loss. Maybe Pederson knew his defense had his back all along. Maybe.
- Jim Schwartz's defense is very good, but not good enough to withstand multiple injuries and the offense's sloppiness. I don't want to completely excuse Schwartz's unit. It did surrender 24 points in one quarter. But after bailing the offense out for three quarters, it was only a matter of time before the defense cracked. They were already down to their fifth safety and fifth cornerback before defensive tackle Fletcher Cox (calf) and linebacker Jordan Hicks (ankle) were knocked out of the game in the second quarter. And with Odell Beckham Jr. on the field, it was only a matter of time before the receiver started making ridiculous plays. But Schwartz countered nearly every Giants move for the first 45 minutes. He knew Manning would get the ball out quickly, so he predominantly rushed only four and dropped seven into coverage. The Giants dinked and dunked, but the secondary mostly kept the receivers in front. They rallied to the ball and forced two interceptions. Yeah, the defensive line didn't record a single sack, and needed to get pressure the more Manning dropped and surveyed the field. But with Cox out, there weren't as many one-on-one situations. And when the Eagles needed stops late – in the red zone and with 51 seconds left — Schwartz's group delivered.
- The cornerbacks aren't as much a liability anymore. Maybe it's time to stop waiting for the other cleat to drop on the Eagles' young outside cornerbacks. Jalen Mills has clearly taken a step forward. Tasked with following Beckham all game, he rose to the challenge. The Giants receiver has just seven catches for 65 yards through three quarters. I'd take a 9.3-yard per-catch average from Beckham any day. Mills' job was to keep the receiver in front and he did that for most of the game. And on Beckham's two catches in the fourth quarter – both touchdowns – Mills had tight coverage. Beckham was just being Beckham. All you can do if you're Mills is tip your cap. As for Rasul Douglas, he had a few tackle misses on the Giants' first touchdown drive. But the rookie continued to show that he can compete at this level. Giants receiver Brandon Marshall is on the decline, but Douglas held him to just 8.8 yards a catch. The first-year cornerback also recorded an interception on a deep Manning toss that he undercut. Slot corner Patrick Robinson deserves mention, as well. He got burned by Shepard on a 77-yard touchdown – safety Chris Maragos was also late to help over top – but Robinson broke up three passes, recorded five solo tackles, and caught a tipped ball for an interception beforehand.
- The run game is alive. Maybe it took Pederson's commitment to the rush for Eagles running backs to get going, and maybe the benching of left guard Isaac Seumalo helped, as well, but LeGarrette Blount, Wendell Smallwood, and Corey Clement ran with purpose. I haven't done the math yet, but many of their 171 yards on the ground came after initial contact. Blount (12 carries for 67 yards and a touchdown) was particularly effective in staying on his feet. I wanted to see a little more of him after he got rolling on the Eagles' third drive. But Smallwood started to get more snaps, in part because Darren Sproles had left in the second quarter with a torn ACL and broken arm. Smallwood started slowly, but got into a rhythm in the second half and finished with 12 carries for 71 yards. He also had one catch for nine yards and appeared to handle several blitzes. Clement got in on the act, too, and rushed six times for 22 yards with a 15-yard touchdown bolt. Pederson's play-calling was more balanced – 40 passes to 33 runs — than it had been in the first two games, and he didn't abandon it even after the Eagles fell behind.
- Stefen Wisniewski should start at left guard. Chance Warmack started, but Wisniewski rotated in and played more snaps (44 of 76 to Warmack's 32). The Eagles had more production when Wiz was in the lineup – at least that's how I saw it. I'll log the numbers when I review the film later. Warmack is a Jeff Stoutland guy, and maybe he has more upside, but Wisniewski is a solid technician and more reliable. I'm not going to sit here and say he's John Hannah, but he can consistently get the job done. The offensive line had its best game of the season. The numbers on the ground back it up, but the line was also solid in pass protection. Wentz took three sacks, but they appeared to be more on him than anyone else. Center Jason Kelce earned distinguished honors. He had many of the key blocks on the Eagles' longest runs.
- Repeat: Carson Wentz is a work in progress. In this increasingly impatient world, expectations for Wentz in his second season are out of whack. Does he need to be better than he was on Sunday? Absolutely. He missed a golden opportunity when Alshon Jeffery got behind the Giants defense in the second quarter. The deep ball continues to be an issue for Wentz. He's still holding the ball too long in the pocket. He can evade pressure and buy time on the move. But if he's going to hold onto the ball beyond the normal limits, he needs to have better movements in and out of the pocket. Otherwise, throw the ball away. But there was also a lot to like about Wentz's performance. No. 1, he didn't turn the ball over after having three giveaways in the first two games. And when the Eagles needed him to rally the troops, he did, directing the offense to a touchdown-field goal-field goal finish on the final three drives. It goes unnoticed, but there were times when Wentz would go to the line with run-pass options in hurry-up and take advantage of the Giants' six-man box and hand the ball off for big gains. Wentz managed the game. He'll do more than that on most weeks, but that was enough Sunday.
- Jake Elliott could make Caleb Sturgis expendable. He has a bigger foot than Sturgis, as evidenced by the 61-yard field goal and his kickoffs, but he isn't as accurate. I don't know if the Eagles can trust him if they were to keep him over Sturgis. But they have more than a month to decide. And Elliott has more than a month to make his case. It's not as if Sturgis had been lights-out before he suffered a hip injury in the opener. I wrote much more on Elliott's heroics in my newspaper column. It was quite a day for the 22-year old.
- The Eagles' depth will be further tested. Rodney McLeod tried to go during warmups, but he was held out along with fellow safety Corey Graham. Cornerback Jaylen Watkins was also inactive. All three have hamstring injuries, and they're not locks to play next week at the Chargers. The three injuries the Eagles suffered Sunday – at least the ones we know of – were significant. Sproles' will hurt the most. Smallwood will take the bulk of his third-down plays. He has the talent, but he isn't as elusive catching the ball out in space and is nowhere near the same blocker. Torrey Smith handled punt returns after Sproles left, but he looked shaky. The Eagles might bring in someone who can also handle punt returns. Cox was still limping after the game. My guess is that he'll be week-to-week. Beau Allen took most of his snaps after he left. With Destiny Vaeao still out with a broken hand, the Eagles have only three healthy defensive tackles: Tim Jernigan, Elijah Qualls and Allen. Except for the wrap on his ankle, Hicks didn't look injured when leaving the locker room after the game. He said his injury wasn't serious, but we'll see. Mychal Kendricks took over for Hicks in the nickel, and Najee Goode was the MIKE linebacker in base personnel.