LONDON – Jordan Matthews returned to Philadelphia this season and accepted a secondary role with uncertainty about how long his stint would last.
But in the Eagles' 24-18 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars in London on Sunday, Matthews was back in a familiar spot in the box score. He was the Eagles' leading receiver for the first time since Nov. 20, 2016, after catching four passes for 93 yards.
Matthews led the Eagles in receiving yards 18 times during his first three years in Philadelphia, when he appeared as if he'd be a part of the Eagles' future. His career has meandered since the August 2017 trade to Buffalo, but there's no denying he's a part of the offense now.
"It was big for him to step up the way he did today," quarterback Carson Wentz said. "It was cool to have him be the leading receiver again. It's been a while."
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What stood out about it was that it was different from his last stint. Matthews was mostly a slot receiver with the Eagles. His production now is coming while playing on the outside – mostly as the "Z" receiver in the offense. The routes are different, the coverage is different, and Matthews needs to make plays downfield.
"When I came back in this situation, Nelson [Agholor] has done an incredible job playing inside," Matthews said. "He's one of the best in the league at what he does. Alshon [Jeffery] on the outside, backside X, I've always admired his game. So as the Z receiver, you're going to have to take it deep sometimes. But I've always been like, 'This is what I do.' I played Z when I was at [Vanderbilt]. I can go deep. I can run with the best of them."
Wentz said Matthews can play any spot in the offense and has shown he can beat man-to-man coverage. It runs counter to the criticism that Matthews is a slot receiver whose production comes as a high-volume, possession target. Matthews had two catches for more than 30 yards on Sunday.
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It was the seventh time in his career he has averaged at least 20 yards per catch, but just the second time it has happened with at least four catches. He now has 10 catches this season for 200 yards, and the 20 yards per catch far outpaces his average of 11.8 yards per catch.
Matthews, who is aware of how he has been typecast, can't help but point out that this shouldn't be surprising to those who watched him at Vanderbilt. As a sophomore, he averaged 19 yards per catch. He was the SEC's all-time leader in receptions and receiving yards. There were questions about his speed coming out of college, yet he ran a 4.46-second 40-yard dash at the combine.
"I've always thought that was really dumb," Matthews said of the criticism that he isn't a big-play receiver before he noted how he's used this season.
"I felt like that was something that I never liked. Like I said, you don't have the SEC record for yards and catches being a possession receiver. But when I came to Philadelphia, Chip [Kelly] was very honest with me, saying, 'Hey, you're going to be our slot guy.' So a lot of the plays were catch, getting tackled, across the middle, stuff like that. And the big ones were always me catching and running."
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Coach Doug Pederson said Matthews is "really kind of fitting into what we're asking him to do," nothing how Matthews has "been able to elevate" and "made some great plays on the ball."
Matthews said he's playing with the most talent around him since he was a rookie, when teammates included Jeremy Maclin and LeSean McCoy. He also sees the benefits of playing with Wentz.
But Matthews deserves credit, too. He has rebuilt his career, and even if he's no longer the Eagles' top receiver, he was their leading receiver on Sunday.
"Whether I'm at Vanderbilt and leading receiver in the SEC, or I'm the fourth guy in the progression, you're still balling," Matthews said. "You've got to be able to come out here and do it. And it just makes it easier when you have great teammates and great guys to play with."
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