The Times Herald (Norristown, PA)
Birds’ graybeard linemen already making a difference
They’ve lost a little hair, not ability. They’re closer to the end of their careers than the beginning.
Age is just a number for the Silver Sneakers composing the defensive line of the Eagles. At this stage of their careers, every win is special, none more than the 17-16 triumph over the Indianapolis
Colts Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Even after Jalen Hurts finished his third fourth-quarter comeback with a clean, seven-yard quarterback draw to put the Eagles ahead for the first time all afternoon, a tall order given the absence of playmaking tight end Dallas Goedert, it would take a major stop to make that his fourth gamewinning drive.
No one knew this better than the Eagles veterans up front, who are so old compared to most teams they look like they’re headed to a high school reunion, not a football game when they get off the bus together. So, there they were, one-point lead, Colts ball, third-and-nine at the 40-yard line of Indy.
That’s when 34-year-old edge rusher Brandon Graham showed up with a nasty blindside sack of Matt Ryan to make it fourth-and-16 with 39 ticks left. A false start by right guard Will Fries later, it was fourth-and-21.
You’d flinch, too, if you’d been lining up opposite Graham and recently added tackles Linval Joseph, 34, and
Ndamukong Suh, 35, who collectively gave the Eagles 10 tackles, two sacks, one quarterback hurry and a nastiness up front that hasn’t been seen since the days of Buddy Ryan.
On fourth down, the 37-year-old Ryan instinctively and misguidedly checked it down to third string running back Deon Jackson, who got five yards. You would, too, if you’d been sacked earlier by Haason Reddick, whose drop appeared to include a bit of facemask and made the Colts settle for a field goal earlier in the quarter.
All that remained was for Hurts to kill the clock and head coach Nick Sirianni, who celebrated the
birth of a child in Indianapolis, where he worked for recently fired head coach Frank Reich, to thank his players for overcoming enough mistakes to win the day. That W was Sirianni’s gift to Reich, the offensive coordinator for the 2107 Super Bowl champion Eagles. The Eagles are 9-1.
“We never wavered, I thought, throughout the game,” Hurts said. “There were things that did not go our way in terms of our execution. We put ourselves in a bad position. But we were never out of the fight. There was never any doubt because of the belief we have in one another. We were able to put it together at the end. The defense played a hell of a game. That’s great team defense.”
Just as predicted here, the Eagles struggled
mightily on offense without Goedert, who when he’s not making big plays in the pass game is sealing the edge to make the run game work. The Eagles sputtered in both areas, tight ends Grant Calcaterra and Tyree Jackson registering costly penalties derailing drives. That changed the way the Eagles played.
Hurts had 16 rushes for 86 yards and the score, downshifting to the out-ofpocket role he used to play.
That was necessary because the Colts began doubling A.J. Brown, because DeVonta Smith was being bullied and Quez Watkins had to step up to provide the Birds’ only TD catch, a 22-yard play in the third quarter getting his team within 13-10. Hurts lost a fumble after being sacked and Brown coughed the
ball up, too. The Eagles countered with safety Melvin Epps forcing the ball from Pro Bowl running back Jonathan Taylor in one of those moving scrum piles in Philly territory.
The Eagles rolled out Joseph and Suh on the first series, Joseph starting and playing effectively while the rest of the defense figured out it would have to pitch in to do the job right.
The run defense didn’t gel right out of the gate. The Colts ran the ball on eight plays of the 10play, 75-yard scoring drive capped by Taylor’s oneyard run. Taylor ran seven times for 49 yards on the series, including a 28-yard run.
By the third quarter, the Colts couldn’t run, and on one play Joseph and Suh collectively put Ryan on his back. Taylor got just 35
yards the rest of the game.
“It was cool to play with Suh and LJ,” Graham said. “I’m thankful for them because they kept us up all through the game. We persevered through this one. All we were talking about was somebody’s got to make a play. I’m just happy we came out with the W.”
Considering the players and personnel he had to work with, head coach Jeff Saturday did a masterful job of keeping the Colts (4-5-1) in the game. While the Colts got a TD on the first possession of the game, making them the last NFL team to do so this season, they were fresh out of plays after the opening script. The Eagles shut down the run game, safety Chauncey GardnerJohnson having a huge day with a game-high 11 tackles and linebacker T.J. Edwards
adding 10 stops.
Young or old, it doesn’t get much better than that.
“That was a great win,” Sirianni said. “It wasn’t what you draw up but in this league it rarely is. It was just a great win. I’m emotional because I love Frank Reich. He’s one of the best damn football coaches I’ve ever been around. I was hoping that he and I would be able to coach against each other in this game. You don’t know what I think, whether he should be here or not.”
The Eagles wouldn’t have won without Hurts. And Hurts wouldn’t have won without that defense, where it starts up front with the oldies, but goodies.