Following the debacles against Tampa Bay and Detroit, no one could have envisioned what the Philadelphia Eagles did to the New England Patriots on Sunday.
After going down 14-0 – and with it looking like Chip Kelly’s squad would be on the losing side of a third straight blowout (and fourth straight defeat) – Philly took control of the game with an unprecedented 35 consecutive points. Tom Brady & Co. made it scary near the end, cutting the deficit to 35-28, but the Eagles held on with a critical fourth-down stop to hand Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots their second straight loss after a 10-0 start.
It’s a testament to Kelly and defensive coordinator Billy Davis that they had the Eagles ready to play after many – myself included – thought this team had simply quit on its head coach. Kelly’s remarkable ability to coax defensive and special teams touchdowns out of his players continued, as the Eagles came away with three such scores.
Kelly also did what his predecessor, Andy Reid, had never been able to do in four tries (including the Super Bowl) – beat Brady and Belichick, and he did it in Foxborough, a place where the Patriots have almost been invincible over the last 15 years.
Monday night’s matchup between the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins could remarkably have the Eagles in a tie in the NFC East. Even if Washington does win, the Eagles are just a game back in the division race with contests still to play against both the Redskins and New York Giants.
Sunday’s win over the New England Patriots was the signature win of Sam Bradford’s NFL career. While Bradford threw for just 124 yards, his value was far more than just his numbers.
Bradford was efficient and mistake-prime, two qualities Chip Kelly was looking for when he swapped Nick Foles and a second-round pick for Bradford. Bradford threw a pair of touchdown passes, finding both Jordan Matthews and Zach Ertz in the end zone. Most importantly, it was his crucial third-down completion to Riley Cooper late in the game that was his finest moment.
Bradford’s pass to Cooper was his most clutch moment of the day, but the touchdown pass to Matthews – perfectly thrown just a step ahead of cornerback Malcolm Butler – was his throw of the day.
Bradford has now played three consecutive games without throwing an interception, and he’s completing over 68 percent of his passes during that span. While the Eagles still have a key decision to make regarding Bradford’s future with the franchise, his stock is trending in the right direction.
Bill Belichick wasn’t shy in his postgame praise of Fletcher Cox, and it’s easy to see why.
The Philadelphia Eagles’ 2012 first-round pick is a nearly unblockable force on the defensive line. He’s not J.J. Watt, but he’s right up there with Muhammad Wilkerson and Calais Campbell as arguably the second-best 3-4 defensive end in the league.
Against the New England Patriots on Sunday, Cox took advantage of a depleted offensive tackle situation to harass Tom Brady all game. Per Pro Football Focus, Cox finished with a ridiculous four quarterback hits and 10 pressures. While he didn’t record a sack, there’s no way the Eagles would have won this game without Cox.
Chip Kelly made a bold decision on Sunday, effectively benching DeMarco Murray in-game and utilizing a shared backfield approach of Darren Sproles and Kenjon Barner. Sproles finished with 66 rushing yards on 14 carries, added 34 more yards on four receptions out of the backfield, and most importantly, took a punt back 83 yards for a touchdown to give the Eagles a two-touchdown lead late in the second quarter.
It was another fantastic day from the 32-year-old Sproles, who continues to look like a huge bargain for the fifth-rounder Kelly traded to acquire him before 2014. Sproles has four punt return touchdowns in 27 games with the Eagles; this after scoring three such times in 122 games with the San Diego Chargers and New Orleans Saints.
The Philadelphia Eagles got a momentum-changing play midway through the third quarter when Malcolm Jenkins intercepted Tom Brady and returned it 99 yards for a touchdown to give the Eagles a 21-14 lead they would not relinquish.
Jenkins has dropped more than his fair share of would-be interceptions this year, but this was a play he made, and at an opportune time for Philadelphia. Jenkins was a part of an Eagles secondary that was on the field for a ridiculous 89 snaps on Sunday, but still made enough plays to beat the greatest dynasty this generation has seen.
The season-ending injury to Nolan Carroll forced Eric Rowe into a starting role on the outside, and the second-round pick responded with a strong performance in his first NFL start.
Rowe was targeted 12 times in coverage, allowing just four completions and recording two passes defensed. Brady had just a 44.4 passer rating when throwing at the rookie. That’s exactly what Chip Kelly and Billy Davis wanted from Rowe. It really doesn’t get any tougher than going against Brady – in his first NFL start, no less – and Rowe responded extremely well.
Najee Goode/Chris Maragos
Early in his NFL coaching career, Chip Kelly placed a precedent on special teams success, and it’s paying off.
Najee Goode and Chris Maragos are two unsung heroes from the game. Right before halftime, Maragos blocked Ryan Allen’s punt and Goode picked it up and raced 24 yards for a touchdown. This tied the game and gave the Eagles momentum heading into locker room that then continued into the third quarter.
It’s now the fourth time since the start of 2014 that the Eagles have blocked a punt and returned it for a touchdown (Maragos has now has a direct hand in three of those, whether by blocking or returning it). The rest of the NFL has done it 10 times during that span.
It’s not complete without mentioning Chip Kelly, the oft-criticized head coach who did a phenomenal job in beating Bill Belichick on Sunday. Kelly smoothly transitioned from a DeMarco Murray-centered rushing attack to one with Darren Sproles and Kenjon Barner at the helm.
He wisely didn’t ask Sam Bradford to do too much, but when Bradford did need to make a throw, he got it done. And Kelly’s special teams effectively won the game, twice scoring pivotal touchdowns.
Beating Brady and Belichick is impressive enough, but doing it in Foxborough after the Patriots go up 14-0 early is almost unfathomable.