They never make it easy, do they? They’ve got to toy with your emotions, get your heart rate up to 180 and scare the beejeebus out of you for 3 ½ quarters before they figure things out.
But a win’s a win, and for the second time this month, the Eagles struggled against the Commanders, let Sam Howell shred them and kept looking for ways to lose before finally finding a way to win.
On Oct. 1 at the Linc it took overtime. Sunday at FedEx, the Eagles fought back from an early 11-point deficit and a 4th-quarter seven-point deficit to toppled the Commanders 38-31.
The Eagles trailed by seven before scoring 21 points in the game’s final nine minutes.
Here’s our 10 Instant Observations from the Eagles’ 25st win in their last 30 games:
1. This football team has some serious guts. They don’t always play well. They don’t always play smart. But they have that rare ability to dig deep when things are falling apart all over the place and get the train back on the rails, and that’s not an easy thing to do. They have a mental toughness you just don’t see very often, and it allows them to perform at a high level when the pressure is the greatest. In New England, they blew a 16-point lead before getting it right and winning by five. Against the Vikings they nearly blew a 20-point lead before winning by six. They let the Commanders take them to overtime with a last-second drive earlier this month. And while you’d love them to all be 38-6, that’s just not happening for this team right now, but they are 4-1 in one-possession games – 4-1 in games that get your heart rate up to 180 – and there’s something to be said for a team that knows how to win and keeps finding different ways to win. Things are about to get very tough. The Cowboys and then a bye and then the Chiefs, Bills, 49ers, Cowboys again and Seahawks. This is the stretch we’ve been waiting for since the schedule was released in April, and those matchups look very, very tough. The Eagles will definitely have to play better to navigate those six games and get themselves the four wins that would make it a successful run. But I’ll tell you what. I wouldn’t bet against them. They just keep winning. Even when you have no idea how.
2. I’ve got nothing left. I’ve got no words. No adjectives that can adequately describe what we’re seeing from A.J. Brown. I don’t think the right words even exist. Brown had eight targets, eight catches, 129 yards, two more touchdowns and became the first player in NFL history with six straight games with at least 125 receiving yards. Nobody – not Jerry Rice, not Larry Fitz, not Randy Moss – has ever done that before. Jalen Hurts has done a fabulous job getting him the ball, and the two have a truly remarkable connection with each other. But Brown is just playing out of his mind right now, making tough catches, trampling linebackers and corners once he gets the ball in his hands and finding the end zone. And doing it consistently week after week. We used to get excited around here when Torrance Small had 86 yards. Or when James Thrash caught a 26-yard pass. Or when - oh my God! - Travis Fulgham had four straight games with 70 yards. We’ve entered a new realm now. Brown is doing things nobody else has ever done.
He’s on another plane now. And you get the feling he’s not done yet.
3. I loved the matchup between the Eagles’ pass rushers and the Washington offensive line, and I loved the matchup between the Eagles’ secondary and Sam Howell. How could you not after the way the Eagles’ defense played Sunday against the high-flying Dolphins. The Eagles did find a way, but, yikes, Sam Howell shredded this defense and if not for Reed Blankenship's huge interception with eight minutes left deep in Washington territory, who knows? Howell – who had been sacked 40 times coming into the game, 2nd-most in NFL history through seven games – didn’t get sacked until the final minute of the game and completed an absurd 39 of 52 passes for 397 yards and four touchdowns. He drove the ball up and down the field against the Eagles’ secondary, and you can make excuses like it was Kevin Byard’s first game and a very inexperienced Sydney Jones was in the slot with Bradley Roby still out. But it’s not like the Eagles were having communication problems out there. They were just getting beat. I loved the way the Eagles’ pass rush was playing over the past month, but Josh Sweat, Haason Reddick and Co. just weren’t able to generate any serious pressure on Howell, and he showed in the first game that if he has time in the pocket, he can make all the throws. This defensive performance was good enough to beat Washington but it wouldn’t have been good enough to beat the Cowboys, Chiefs, Bills, 49ers and Seahawks. They’ve got to be better.
4. I’m not sure there’s a more revealing stat than turnover margin. The Eagles are 20-1 under Nick Sirianni when they’re plus-one or better, with 20 wins in a row. When they’re zero or worse they’re now 12-13. Which is why their current turnover margin slump (is that a thing?) is so alarming. They were minus-1 Sunday with two turnovers and one takeaway and it was their sixth straight game without a positive turnover margin and fourth straight at minus-1 or worse (their longest streak since 2012). It’s so hard to win that way and they’re talented enough that they beat the Rams, Dolphins and Commanders at minus-1, but they’re making it really hard for themselves. During these last five games they have only two takeaways – Darius Slay’s interception of Tua Tagovailoa last week and Blankenship’s pick Sunday – and they’ve committed nine turnovers. That ought to be impossible. They’ve got to find ways to protect the ball and they’ve got find ways to create takeaways or they’re going to have a lot of problems over the next couple months.
5. Bad fumble at the goal-line, sure, but Jalen Hurts was magnificent Sunday. Completed 76 percent of his passes (29-for-38) for 319 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions. You know the knee was bothering him, but he just has that ability to navigate through injuries, whether it’s the ankle in 2021, the shoulder last year or the knee this year. Hurts became only the third Eagles quarterback ever with a 300-yard, 4-TD, 0-INT, 75-percent game. Donovan McNabb did it twice – in 2005 against the 49ers and 2007 against the Lions – and Foles did it against the Raiders in the seven-TD game in Oakland in 2013. Still too many turnovers but when he can take over a game like this without running – he only had two carries for seven yards before a couple kneel downs – it just shows you how locked in he is as a passer, as a quarterback. So tough. So talented.
6. Where on Earth was D’Andre Swift in the first half? I think Brian Johnson is doing a good job overall, but he does tend to forget about the running game sometimes, and when the Eagles got to halftime and Swift had one carry for three yards, it seemed like opening day all over again. Johnson finally started dialing up Swift, who ran 15 times for 56 yards in the second half with a 4th-quarter touchdown run. I get that you liked the matchup between the Eagles’ passing game and the Commanders’ secondary, but Swift is too good to be ignored like this.
7. We’ve talked so much lately about A.J. Brown lately it’s easy to forget about DeVonta Smith, who’s kind of taken a back seat to Brown much of this year. But Smith is really, really good, and it was good to see him come up big with seven catches (on seven targets) for 99 yards, including that 38-yard touchdown. Obviously, the Commanders should have challenged the 18-yarder, but they didn’t. Smith is quietly having another very good season. He’s 39-for-482 and on pace for 83 catches for 1,024 yards and seven touchdowns, and as teams begin devoting more and more attention to Brown, Smith is going to get more opportunities, and he’s had a couple drops this year, but Jalen Hurts has a ton of trust in him, and I expect a big second half from him.
8. Reed Blankenship might have had the worst game of his career – and it’s easy to forget this was only the 10th start of his career – but he struggled start to finish, and that’s why he deserves so much credit for that interception, which really saved the game. Blankenship would be the first to tell you he was awful Sunday. But biggest point of the game? The Eagles had just tied the game at 24-24, and after a penalty Washington had a 2nd-and-15 on its own 20-yard-line when Blankenship picked up his third career interception on a pass intended for Terry McLaurin. His 17-yard return – and a penalty – gave the Eagles a 1st-and-goal inside the 10. Two plays later Jalen Hurts gave the Eagles the lead for good with his 8-yard TD pass to Julio Jones. The way Sam Howell was chucking the ball? To end a drive without a touchdown was huge and then to create a TD? I don’t know if the Eagles win the game without that interception. You love to see a guy who’s been struggling all day keep grinding, stay confident and make a critical play down the stretch. It wasn’t Blankenship’s day for 52 minutes. Then he made the play of the day. That’s huge.
9. That Julio Jones touchdown was huge for a couple reasons. On one level, it gave the Eagles the lead for good. But in the bigger picture, it raised the possibility that Jones could become that WR3 the Eagles have needed. I don’t know when or if we’ll see Quez Watkins again. And Olamide Zaccheaus hasn’t really been a factor, other than the Tampa game. Maybe Jones can be more than just a future Hall of Famer along for the ride. That touchdown made him the oldest Eagles WR with a touchdown catch since Irving Fryar (from Koy Detmer) in 1998. Yeah, he’s 34, but that was a big play at a big moment by a guy who just got here. I’ll tell you what, I’ll take a 34-year-old Jones over Quez or O.Z. We’ll see, but it could go down as another big in-season move by Howie Roseman.
10. Jake Elliott’s 51-yard field goal in the first quarter was his fifth 50-yarder this year, tying his own franchise record for 50-yarders in a season … with nine games left. Elliott also made five 50-yarders in 2017 and five last year. What a weapon. He hasn’t been asked to kick the long ones the last few weeks, but he’s made 9 of his last 10 from 50 yards and out (and 14 of his last 16). The dude is such a weapon.