Wow. What an emotional win. It took all three phases of the game for the Philadelphia Eagles to edge by the Buffalo Bills 23-20, in a game that kept the Eagles tied with the Washington Redskins atop the NFC East.
The major storyline, in case you were living under a rock or on Mars, was the return of LeSean McCoy, the all-time leading rusher in Eagles’ history, to Philadelphia. McCoy had made it clear this week that he wasn’t happy about the trade in March, one head coach Chip Kelly claimed was a salary dump. In reality, it was a combination of McCoy’s high salary, the opportunity to acquire a young linebacker on his rookie contract, and, if we’re being honest, McCoy and Chip’s inability to get along with each other.
While the McCoy-Kelly storyline was the major talking point of the week, once the game started it was all business for the Eagles. In the end, it was the Eagles’ defense who came away with a dramatic 23-20 win on a last-second interception by safety Ed Reynolds.
Below are five takeaways from the Eagles’ win over LeSean McCoy, Rex Ryan and the rest of the Buffalo Bills.
1 – Sam Bradford deserves to return in 2016… as of now.
There are still three games left this season, but if a decision had to be made right now, it makes sense for Sam Bradford to return as the Eagles’ quarterback in 2016. While it’s safe to say that Bradford hasn’t been as effective as the Eagles expected when they traded for him last March, he’s probably the best option moving forward. Kelly doesn’t strike me as the type of coach who wants to start over again with a new quarterback, especially in what will be his second-to-last year in his rookie contract. After throwing 10 interceptions in the first eight games of the season, Bradford has thrown just one in his last four, and it came on a ball that went directly through Brent Celek’s hands. There’s still lots of room for improvement for Bradford, particularly on deep passes. And we’re not even going to address that awful sack he took late in the game, a play that easily could have been the difference between the Eagles winning and losing. But right now, with the Eagles right in the thick of the NFC East race, it’s safe to say Bradford is good enough to earn a small contract extension this offseason.
2 – Three-headed running attack.
The biggest Eagles’ storyline heading into the game against the Buffalo Bills was how Chip Kelly would handle the carries at running back. High-priced free agent DeMarco Murray has been a major disappointment through the first 12 games of the season and didn’t earn himself any points with Chip Kelly by complaining about his playing time to owner Jeffery Lurie on the flight home from the game last week. Give credit to Kelly for not falling victim to Murray’s whining. The Eagles’ head coach evenly distributed the carries among Murray, Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles. Neither Murray (11 carries for 34 yards) or Mathews (13 carries for 38 yards) was particularly effective, while Sproles (7 carries for 41 yards) scored the game’s only touchdown. It’ll be interesting to see how Kelly chooses to handle the carries moving forward. It was also interesting to note that Kenjon Barner didn’t carry once, despite being active, and one can only assume that his late-game fumble against the Patriots has him momentarily in Kelly’s doghouse.
3 – Limited production from LeSean McCoy.
LeSean McCoy was ordinary against his former team. He rushed 20 times for 74 yards and caught four passes for 35 yards. He didn’t score a touchdown, he didn’t break off a long run and he rushed for just 15 yards in the final 38 minutes of the game. Despite his constant talking throughout the week, the all-time leading rusher in Eagles’ history failed to put on a show in a game he had likely circled on his calendar when the schedule was released last spring.
4 – Eric Rowe and Ed Reynolds the future in the secondary?
The secondary has long been one of the weaknesses for the Philadelphia Eagles, but several new faces are showing signs that they could be building blocks for the future in the back of the defense. Cornerback Eric Rowe, making his second career start, helped contain Sammy Watkins. Although last year’s first-round pick did catch five passes for 81 yards and a touchdown, he wasn’t near as much of a factor in the second half. At safety, Ed Reynolds, signed off the Eagles’ practice squad last month, recorded the game-winning interception with just over a minute remaining. Reynolds, who had been drafted in the fifth round by the Eagles in 2014, failed to make the 53-man roster last season and has bounced around a number of practice squads. More than a year later, he’s finally making a positive contribution for an Eagles team that has one of its two starters scheduled to hit free agency after the season.
5 – Eagles the clear NFC East favorites.
There’s still three games remaining in the regular season, and the Eagles aren’t even leading the division right now. That belongs to the Washington Redskins, who also have a 6-7 record but hold a head-to-head tiebreaker over the Eagles. The New York Giants can also hold a share of the division lead with a win over the struggling Miami Dolphins on Monday Night Football. But every analytics site, from FiveThirtyEight to ESPN’s Power Football Index to Football Outsiders, has the Eagles as the heavy favorite to win their second division title of the Chip Kelly era. Realistically, the Eagles need to win two of their final three games, and one of the two has to be against Washington or the Giants. There’s even a possibility that the Eagles could have the division title clinched heading into Week 17, which would be incredible when you consider the feeling surrounding this team just two weeks ago.