Eagles flip the script
Birds survive nearly disastrous start, fly to victory in opener
PHILADELPHIA — Punched in the face early, the Eagles responded with a dominating second half on their way to a 32-27 triumph over NFC East rival Washington in their season opener on Sunday.
Here’s what immediately jumped out.
Not ready: The Eagles certainly looked like a team that came in unprepared to execute the most basic of game plans. Sluggish on offense, slow to react and not able to tackle on defense, they were made to look vulnerable in all areas by a Washington team that came in as a 10-point underdog. This was the highest spread in the NFL for Week 1.
The Redskins jumped to a 17-0 lead before the Eagles could respond with a touchdown, then kicked another field goal for a 20-7 lead just before intermission.
The Eagles dominated the second half by not overreacting.
“Just a matter of staying patient, trusting the game plan and the guys executed well in the second half,” coach Doug Pederson said.
Added safety Malcolm Jenkins: “We all want to start fast, but the reality is, if you have a slow start, which you sometimes will, how do you respond to it and how comfortable are you in starting slow? I
think this is a confident bunch, and at no point in time do we feel we are out of it.”
Play calls: Pederson and defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz didn’t look they were in midseason form with their first-half calls, either.
On second-and-four from the Washington 31-yard line, they called for a sideways pass to DeSean Jackson that lost 3 yards. Two plays later, Wentz tried to go over the middle on fourth down and had the pass batted down at the line.
Two plays after that, Washington was in the end zone when rookie receiver Terry McLaurin beat their slowest cornerback, Rasul Douglas, by five steps in single coverage deep down the field for a 69-yard bomb that made it 17-0.
Late in the first half, on thirdand-10 in the 2-minute drill, a quick out was set up for Jackson to follow his blockers down the right sideline. The only problem was that one of them was tight end Zach Ertz, who will get shoved aside every time in that situation, as he was by Quinton Dunbar, who forced a punt with 1:48 to go, giving the Redskins time to drive for a field goal that sent them to intermission with a 20-7 lead.
Momentum killers/changers: So many games in this league turn on the last series of the first half and opening series of the second. And Washington closed the first half with an ominous drive for a field goal. Dustin Hopkins connected from 48 yards with a kick that wouldn’t have been good from 53. That is where the attempt would have been from had Derek Barnett not jumped offside on the play in which quarterback Case Keenum attempted to spike the ball to set it up.
But the Eagles calmly absorbed that blow by responding with a 12-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to open the third quarter.
Wentz magic: The touchdown pass Wentz tossed to Alshon Jeffery to finish off that opening drive of the third quarter showed his scrambling ability, vision and ability throw without necessarily stepping into the throw.
Wentz also connected with DeSean Jackson on touchdown bombs of 51 and 53 yards on his way to going 28 for 39 for 313 yards and three touchdowns.
That puts him on pace to finish with 5,008 passing yards. All he needs is 15 more like that.
Any more questions? True, his team looked unprepared in spotting the Redskins a 17-0 lead, but the ends clearly justified the means for Pederson, who was criticized heavily here throughout the preseason and again at halftime on Twitter.
But the Eagles also found a rhythm in this game in time to pull it out, which is all that matters.
They’re still far from midseason form, but they appear to have all the preseason-type kinks worked out, and they did it in a hurry.
Respect for elders: Running back Darren Sproles, 36, and Jackson, 32, accounted for 217 of the Eagles’ 437 yards from scrimmage. Sproles added 46 punt-return yards.
Jackson had game-highs in receptions (eight) and receiving yards (154). This was his first time playing with Wentz, too.
Injuries: Defensive tackle Malik Jackson after the game was wearing a walking boot on his left foot. He said he didn’t know what the injury was and will have an MRI on Monday.
Peeking ahead: The Eagles visit the Atlanta Falcons, who are coming off a loss at Minnesota, on Sunday night. The Falcons outgained the Vikings, 345 yards to 269, had nine more first downs and still were blown out, 28-12.
Simple. They lost the turnover battle, 3-0, and they couldn’t stop the run. The Vikings ran the ball 38 times for 172 yards. Meanwhile, quarterback Kirk Cousins attempted just 10 passes (completing eight) as the Vikings turned back the clock some 50 years.
Somehow, methinks the Eagles won’t use that approach as a blueprint for their game plan against Atlanta next week.
The Eagles’ DeSean Jackson celebrates after making a touchdown catch in Sunday’s win. The Eagles outscored the Redskins 25-7 in the second half.
Darren Sproles, leaping over tackle Lane Johnson, rushed for a game-high 47 yards as his Eagles defeated the Redskins on Sunday.