Eagles’ offensive leaders turned tide against Giants in the second quarter | Marcus Hayes
Before the big pick, and before fourth-and-1, Carson Wentz, Jason Kelce, Zach Ertz, and Alshon Jeffery stepped up.
Yes, Malcolm Jenkins saved the season when he intercepted Eli Manning near the goal line just before halftime. Sure, Doug Pederson saved the season when he went for it on fourth-and-1 late in the fourth quarter.
Neither of those things would have mattered if Carson Wentz and the offense hadn't already saved the season with their second-quarter touchdown. The score answered a Giants TD, changed the tenor of the game, and might have set the tone for the rest of the Eagles season.
"That was huge. I felt like it was the defining moment of the game," linebacker Nigel Bradham said. As part of the exhausted, demoralized defense, Bradham was relieved and grateful. "It brought momentum to our side. It brought us back into the game. It kept it close enough."
Saquon Barkley had just rumbled past Bradham & Co. for a 51-yard touchdown, a play on which players at all three levels — linemen, linebackers, and defensive backs — made mental mistakes. The season seemed finished.
When the offense took the field, it looked shell-shocked. As it turns out, the unit was just determined.
"We said, 'Let's stop beating ourselves,' " tight end Zach Ertz said. " 'Let's get out of our own way and go make plays.' "
And that's what happened.
Jason Kelce, playing with one good arm, opened a 5-yard hole from the center spot for Josh Adams. Ertz found a hole in the zone, and Wentz hit him for 24. A holding penalty made it first-and-20. Everything might have stalled right then: the momentum, the series, the season. Alshon Jeffery wan't having that. He turned a 6-yard slant into an 11-yard gain with a strong effort after the catch. The next snap, Jeffery's brilliant out-and-up move forced B.W. Webb to grab his jersey. That pass-interference penalty gave the Eagles a first down at the Giants' 32.
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A nifty misdirection fake to recently acquired receiver Golden Tate sprang tight end Dallas Goedert for a 16-yard screen pass. After a 1-yard carry, Wentz hit Ertz with a 9-yard throw — a routine play that Ertz made remarkable.
Ertz is often criticized for collapsing as soon as he catches the ball. Not this time. He shed linebacker Alec Ogletree and chugged 6 more yards for a touchdown.
"I shook him off and saw I was at the 6-yard line, and at that point, the goal line is right there," Ertz said, beaming with schoolboy pride. "I knew I was going to do whatever it took to get there. I knew we needed a play at that point."
They needed plays from playmakers, from leaders, and they got them: Kelce, Jeffery, Ertz, Wentz.
"One of the things that I've talked to our leaders on the football team about — just challenged them — we have to find a way to make plays in big situations," Pederson said. "Our veteran players really stepped up today."
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They needed big plays late in the second quarter as badly as the defense needed a break. After Barkley's run, the Eagles defense had been on the field for 16 minutes, 5 seconds, more than 6 minutes longer than the offense. Combined with the disaster in New Orleans a week earlier, when the defense spent more than 37 minutes on the field, the defense had been on the field for 21:24 longer than the offense. The defense played an entire 15-minute quarter plus 6:24 more than the offense in less than six quarters … mostly playing without six of its top seven defensive backs.
"The defense and secondary had been put in a tough situation," Ertz acknowledged.
Bradham said that touchdown drive revitalized the defense, which needed some inspiration after the kickoff-coverage unit immediately give up a 46-yard return. Jenkins squelched that threat when he picked off Eli Manning at the Eagles' 2, which kept the score at 19-11 entering halftime. The Giants didn't score again until early in the fourth quarter when they kicked a field goal, which tied the game at 22 and framed Pederson's decision to go for it on fourth-and-1 at the Giants' 42, which led to the game-winning field goal.
None of that matters — none of that happens — if not for the 75-yard touchdown drive that answered Barkley's run, fueled the decimated defense, and saved the Eagles season.
"The way we answered in the first half was big for us," Wentz said. "We were able to go into the locker room with a little momentum."
Sometimes, a little momentum is all it takes.