Still Not Sure How They Won That Game – Ten Takeaways from Eagles 21, Panthers 18

Photo Credit: Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

With 32 seconds remaining in the second quarter, the Eagles had more penalty yards than offensive yards. They were losing by double digits. Jalen Hurts was 12-20 for 35 yards on what felt like a bazillion screen passes. The offense looked like it was primarily going backwards and sideways.

Then the Birds somehow scraped a 58-yard field goal before halftime and inexplicably grinded their way to one of the most befuddling and improbable wins in a long time.

Even 18 hours later I’m still having trouble wrapping my head around it. Give all the credit in the world to the defense, which transformed into the 1985 Chicago Bears after looking like the Bad News Bears just seven days ago. Throw in a crucial punt block and you have the perfect recipe for a “holy shit they actually won” storyline on a Monday morning.

Carolina really stunk up the joint in crunch time, but the Eagles showed a lot of heart in that win. The defense could have very easily quit on the offense after that pitiful first half performance. But they didn’t quit; they kept playing, and they ripped off three interceptions while making Sam Darnold look like the New York Jets version of Sam Darnold. It’s nice to stop the bleeding with a W, and if they get their doors blown off by Tampa, so be it, but let’s enjoy this one for at least a few days.

1) Hurts so average, but gutsy

It looked like it was going to be a horrendous afternoon for Jalen Hurts. There was Gardner Minshew chatter on the timeline. Even Joe Flacco’s name showed up in the feed.

At the risk of using a bad cliche, it was one of those “next play” kind of games for the Birds’ quarterback. For every misfire or scramble and heave out of bounds, he’d come back with a nice run, or pick out the right pass, and while it was FAR from perfect, he used his legs for two scores and extended the play on that crucial two-point conversion.

22 for 37 for 198 yards and a pick won’t get the job done on most occasions, but Hurts showed something in the intangibles department on Sunday. Honest to God, that’s the type of game Carson Wentz would have found a way to lose last year or the year before.

Hurts might not be the QB of the future, but when the play calling in the first half is mostly garbage, and you’re struggling individually, you can either turtle up and quit, or keep working. The defense gave him chance after chance and he finally took those chances, getting himself a come-from-behind win.

2) Rolling that Blount

The running game, or lack thereof, was a big topic coming into Sunday afternoon. It’ll go down as a 37 to 22 pass/run split in Week 5, and that’s more palatable on paper. They did not run the ball early, and did more of it as the game progressed (including that final drive with the bonehead Miles Sanders plays), but it was still a mix of zone read and option plays that resulted in 11 Sanders carries and nine for Hurts.

If that’s what we’re going to get, then so be it. We can groan about the screens in this game, and they were incredibly bad, but the Eagles targeted running backs eight times and gave them the ball 13 times on carries, so it’s better than what we’d seen in weeks prior. More touches in total for Sanders and Kenneth Gainwell.

Keep in mind, Carolina entered the game ranked 20th in run defense. They were giving up 4.5 yards per carry and the Birds went for 4.1 in this game, so you’d like more efficiency there. It not an offensive masterclass by any stretch of the imagination, but hopefully the defensive performance inspired the offense and helps get them going on Thursday night.

3) Special teams MAKING PLAYS

Special teams really has not been a strength of the Eagles since the Super Bowl year. No playmakers in the return game, some spotty Jake Elliott kicking, and overall a pretty bland set of results from this unit.

The Elliott 58-yarder goes down in the record books as the third-longest kick in Birds history, which is fantastic. He now has the #1 and #3 longest kicks in team history.

And the T.J. Edwards block was the biggest non-kicking special teams play since 2017, which was the Giants road game. Not sure how much you remember about that one, but the Eagles blocked a field goal, extra point, AND punt in the same game, and won 34-29 to clinch a first round bye in the playoffs. The blocked punt was Kamu Grugier-Hill getting in on Brad Wing, for a blast from the somewhat-recent past. Grugier-Hill is now a Texan and Wing is out of the league, so it’s been a minute since that sequence took place.

4) a Defensive masterclass

What a bounce back performance for Jonathan Gannon and his guys. They were getting absolutely obliterated last week, and rightfully so after the press conference in which the defensive coordinator said he has no scheme and does not think his team can play dime “right now.”

Sunday, the defense logged:

  • three interceptions
  • three sacks
  • six tackles for loss
  • five PBUs
  • eight QB hits

It was a very good defensive line game, and it needs to be if Gannon is going to play two safeties and continue with the conservative looks he’s been showing all season long. Darnold played mostly like shit against an Eagles team that was lighter in the box, which resulted in the concession of only two passes that went for more than 20 yards.

To that point, this was the best game from the Eagles’ outside corners since… when? Since Troy Vincent and Bobby Taylor were on the team? Maybe. Darius Slay and Steven Nelson did a really nice job in Charlotte and looked like bona fide CB1 and CB2 out there.

5) Zebra watch

Thankfully, the refs mostly stayed out of the way and didn’t call anything too egregious.

The biggest sequence was the pick play that drew an offensive pass interference flag in the first half. The Eagles have now had five touchdowns wiped out due to penalties this year:

That play would have been legal if the ball came out maybe a half second earlier. Throw that ball behind the line of scrimmage and let Greg Ward do his thing within the one-yard threshold and there’s no flag. They just didn’t execute anything about that play properly, and it’s a theme this season. They’re attempting some stuff with really tight timing windows, and that’s part of the reason why you’re seeing so many flags.

But if you’re keeping track, the Eagles have now had:

  • two touchdowns wiped out for illegal touching (Jalen Reagor and Devonta Smith)
  • two touchdowns wiped out for illegal pick plays (JJAW and Greg Ward)
  • one touchdown wiped out for illegal man downfield (Andre Dillard)

They really gotta smooth over the execution of these timing and threshold plays, i.e. RPOs and picks and anything in that family of calls.

6) Mistakes and breaks

A laundry list right here:

Mistakes:

  • Jalen Reagor first play drop.
  • Alex Singleton facemask on first defensive snap.
  • Another pick play resulting in a touchdown coming off the board.
  • Having to burn that timeout on 3rd and 5.
  • Jordan Mailata 3rd and 9 holding.
  • JJAW whiff on the partially-blocked punt
  • Singleton late hit on a play where D.J. Moore gave himself up for a four-yard loss.
  • Fucked up snap for a safety. Not sure why Hurts tried to pick that ball up, just kick the damn thing out of the end zone and take the safety. He got lucky there.
  • DeVonta Smith fumble, which was a great play by the CB, if we’re giving credit where it’s due.
  • Jordan Mailata getting shredded on two straight sacks (yeah, he was playing right tackle and not left).
  • 2nd and 5 false start.
  • Illegal man downfield on the 4th quarter throwaway.
  • Seemed like they couldn’t get lined up on that 3rd and 4 where Hurts tried to lob one for Gainwell down the sideline.
  • Ertz and Hurts unable to link up a 4th and 4 that should have moved the chains.
  • Goedert not being able to haul in what should have been the go-ahead touchdown.
  • Miles Sanders going out of bounds and stopping the clock with 1:51 remaining.
  • Miles Sanders going out of bounds and stopping the clock with 1:38 remaining.

I’m stunned they were even in this game considering all of the things they did wrong.

Breaks:

  • Darnold missing a wide-open Terrace Marshall.
  • Darnold playing like butt in general.
  • Carolina jumping offside on that second quarter hard count attempt.
  • Panther penalty on 2nd half kickoff.
  • Carolina pooch punt out the back of the end zone.
  • Carolina DPI in the end zone.
  • Robbie Anderson dropping a catchable 3rd down pass late in the fourth quarter.

Darnold killed them with those picks. And the punt block. Carolina didn’t even commit that many mistakes, it’s just the ones they did commit were absolute back breakers. Matt Rhule has to be beside himself after losing in that fashion.

7) Ancillary wins and losses

Some really funky stuff here:

  • lost time of possession 35:03 to 24:57
  • +1 turnover margin
  • 4-13 on third down (30.7%)
  • 0-1 on fourth down
  • allowed Carolina to go 5-15 on third down (33%)
  • lost 16 yards on two sacks
  • 2-4 success rate in the red zone
  • 6 penalties for 60 yards
  • 15 first downs, 17 for Panthers
  • ran 61 total plays, Panthers 70

Not a picture of efficiency right there. It just shows you how valuable takeaways are in the NFL. The Eagles benefited by starting their game-winning touchdown drive from the Carolina 27.

8) Nick’s best call?

The decision to go for it on 4th and goal after the first Slay interception was the right call, but they shouldn’t have been in that position in the first place. Shitty play-calling is what backed them up in the first place.

Sirianni didn’t have a great game. If I’m scraping the bottom of the barrel here, I guess I’d say the second half play calling was better than the first half. The Hurts touchdown run on the QB sneak was a good no-nonsense type of call, and then going zone read twice on scoring drives, with the second one just torching Carolina’s overzealous right side:

Love the Cam Newton celebration. Superman.

And it’s crazy how hard the Panthers bit on that. The Eagles ran that zone read out of 12 personnel. They blocked down with Dallas Goedert and sent Zach Ertz out on a dummy route that did enough to move the corner out of the way:

9) Nick’s worst call?

Absolutely hated the first series. Yeah, it’s nice to get Sanders two touches, but can’t you just hand him the ball? What the hell was with all of the screen passes in the first two quarters?

Likewise, I hated the screen to Quez Watkins on the first red zone possession. Not sure if Hurts checked to that or what, but Carolina was ready. Can we just get a red zone running play for once? Ground and pound, baby! That’s what the dude at the wedding said when Nick Sirianni bumped into them. 

After the second Slay pick, run the ball on 2nd down. Instead they give up two sacks trying to throw the ball and punt it away.

It’s weird; as I continue to write this column I begin to feel less positive about the win. The head coach wasn’t great and Carolina stunk up the joint as well. It was prototypical “winning ugly.”

10) Excellence in broadcasting

Some guy named Joe Davis with Greg Olsen and Pam Oliver on the call.

Davis was steady. And Olsen does a good job. He’s new to broadcasting but because of that there’s an enthusiasm that’s appreciated. He’ll give you Xs and Os and explain what’s going on out there. And yeah, he’s a former Panther, but I didn’t sense a ton of ‘homerism,’ did you? People love to complain about that stuff, but it’s super-overrated. “This guy hates the Eagles” and “Joe Buck is biased” and blah blah. Very rarely is any of it true. Every fan base thinks the broadcasters hate their team.

Truly, I have no idea how the Birds are 2-3, but we’ll take it. Ugly win. Gutsy win. Gritty win. DAWG mentality. Get at me. Arf arf!

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