Cardinals-Eagles: What we learned

Kevin Noonan, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

PHILADELPHIA -- Rookie tight end Zach Ertz has mostly played a supporting role in his first season with the Philadelphia Eagles, but on Sunday the second-round draft pick from Stanford finally got a chance to take center stage.
Ertz caught two touchdown passes from quarterback Nick Foles and veteran tight end Brent Celek caught one as the Eagles held off the Arizona Cardinals 24-21 on Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field to keep pace with Dallas in NFC East.
"We knew coming in that they play a lot of man-to-man against tight ends, so we knew we would have some chances to make plays,'' Ertz said. "It's a great feeling to make a significant contribution in a big game like this.''
It was a big game because the fourth straight victory allowed the Eagles (7-5) to remain tied with the Cowboys for first place in the division, although Dallas holds a tiebreaker since the Cowboys beat the Eagles on Oct. 20. The Eagles and Cowboys play in the regular-season finale on Dec. 29.
The Cardinals (7-5), meanwhile, lost ground in their bid for a wild-card playoff berth as the Eagles intercepted Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer twice, forced him to fumble once and sacked him five times.
"On the road, in a tough environment like this, you can't turn the ball over,'' Arizona coach Bruce Arians said. "But we hung in there and we had a chance in the fourth quarter, but we didn't make the plays to win the football game.''
The Cardinals rallied from a 24-14 deficit and had the ball with 2:03 left to play, but turned the ball over on downs and the Eagles were able to run out the clock.
"We have to do a better job on the road, because we played a good Philadelphia team, with a loud crowd,'' said Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who tied the game 7-7 in the second quarter with a 43-yard touchdown reception. "It was a learning experience and I know we'll bounce back, because we still control our own destiny.''
Foles, named the permanent starting quarterback this week by coach Chip Kelly, completed 21 of 34 passes for 237 yards and the three touchdowns and he still hasn't thrown an interception this season, although he did have a pass picked off on a play that was negated when the Cardinals were flagged for holding. Foles finished with a quarterback rating of 112.0.
"Nick is getting better and better,'' Kelly said. "You're starting to see him grow.''

What the Cardinals said
"We just have to keep working. There's a month of football left and a lot of crazy things happen this time of year.'' -- Quarterback Carson Palmer on Arizona's playoff chances.

What the Eagles said
"He's not a threat to run. We certainly made sure we collapsed the pocket. We wanted to disrupt him a bit.'' -- Linebacker Brandon Graham on the Eagles sacking quarterback Carson Palmer five times, including twice by him.

What we learned about the Cardinals
1. Arizona has to find a way to start games faster. The Cardinals have trailed at halftime in eight of their 12 games this season, including Sunday's loss to the Eagles. Even though the Cardinals managed to win four of those games, they can't keep digging holes like they did on Sunday.
2. The Cardinals have great receivers, including future Hall of Famer Larry Fitzgerald, but that doesn't mean much if they can't give their quarterback time to find those receivers. Quarterback Carson Palmer was sacked five times Sunday and pressured several other times. Eventually that lack of protection could keep this team from the playoffs.

What we learned about the Eagles
1. The Eagles have to find a way to finish games better. They have squandered most or all of second-half leads six times this season -- on Sunday their last five possessions gained a net total of 26 yards. Even though the Eagles managed to win three of those games, that inability to finish could keep them out of the playoffs.
2. Nick Foles was named the permanent (barring injury) starter this week and responded with his seventh game of the season with a quarterback rating of more than 100. He continues to make good decisions and avoid costly mistakes. That has been the big key to the Eagles' four-game winning streak.

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