McMullen’s Quick Hits: Eagles Play Spoiler vs. Giants
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - It took four months but the Eagles finally accomplished two firsts for the 2016 season on Thursday night, winning an NFC East game and also coming out on the right end of a one-score affair, topping the New York Giants, 24-19.
The result also put off New York’s playoff party for a few days and clinched the division crown and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs for the Dallas Cowboys.
The Giants have struggled recently in prime-time windows in the City of Brotherly Love, marked by a 27-0 whitewash on a Sunday night in 2014 and a barely better 27-7 setback on a Monday night a year later.
It was a little bit better this time for the Giants but that’s hardly a moral victory because the Eagles haven’t been very competitive lately, having dropped nine of 11 coming in since their surprising 3-0 start.
Six of those setbacks were in one-score games, a reality that really explained the separation between these two franchises this season. While Philly was 0-6 in those types of games, the Giants were 8-2, including a 28-23 win over the Eagles up the New Jersey Turnpike on Nov. 6.
On Thursday the Eagles turned that narrative on its head and finally found a way to win one of those games by playing with the lead, first using the return of star right tackle Lane Johnson to run the football right down the Giants’ throats on their first offensive possession and then piling on that with a Malcolm Jenkins pick-six to extend to an early 14-0 edge.
The Giants were playing catchup from that point on and Eli Manning was his usual streaky self, at times making brilliant throws but also tossing three interceptions.
Despite all of that New York had a chance to win the game in the waning moments and were driving when Odell Beckham Jr. seemingly picked up a first down at the Philadelphia 31.
It was a generous spot, however, and Eagles coach Doug Pederson challenged it. On review, the football was moved back a yard and as the Giants lined up to go for it but right guard John Jerry, dealing with the talented Fletcher Cox for most of the night, was flagged for a false start.
All of a sudden a 4th-and-1 was a 4th-and-6 and Manning’s out route to Sterling Shepard was broken up by Nolan Carroll 1:54 remaining.
When you’re winless in one-score games, however, things are never easy.
The Giants still had all three of their timeouts and the Eagles went three-and-out, using only 23 seconds.
A couple last-ditch efforts with Eli throwing the football toward the end zone came up empty, first an incompletion to Beckham into triple coverage and then a prayer to Will Tye that backup safety Terrence Brooks easily corralled to seal things.
"This team does not quit," Cox said. "We go out on that field every time and embrace it. This team takes on every moment we get and seize the moment ...We obviously haven't won a game in five weeks, and we haven't won a division game this year. So we wanted to come out and capitalize and finish this game hard for this team, this organization and the fans."
Carson Wentz left briefly in the third quarter while being checked for a concussion but return to finish the game, completing 13 of 24 passes for 152 yards with a touchdown and an interception.
The running game was paced by Ryan Mathews, who ran for 46 yards on 18 carries but did not finish due to a stinger while Nelson Agholor finally paid some dividends, hauling in a 40-yard TD reception.
The key to stopping the Giants’ offense is stopping Beckham and that was a mixed bag as the talented receiver caught 11 passes for 150 yards but he was also targeted 20 different times and the Eagles kept him out of the end zone.
Philadelphia tried to zone OBJ up quite a bit and that didn’t work all that well but you have to give the corners Leodis McKelvin, Nolan Carroll, and Jalen Mills a lot of respect for continuing to play hard even when things weren’t going their way.
“We changed up a lot of looks on Eli,” Mills said. “He’s a smart guy who does a lot of pre-snap adjustments. We showed some new looks and tried to confuse him back there.”
BACK IN THE ‘RIGHT’ LANE
Maybe Lane Johnson really is that valuable.
The Eagles are now 4-1 with perhaps the best right tackle in football and they were 2-8 during his 10-game PED suspension. That’s pretty striking stuff and with Johnson back in the lineup, Pederson sent a message early by running right behind the returning star on the team’s first possession, which included 62 rushing yards, including Darren Sproles’ 25-yard TD run.
The band wasn’t back together for long because left guard Allen Barbre was forced to exit after aggravating his hamstring injury but having Johnson back had a lot of Eagles’ smiling in the locker room.
CONFIDENCE SPAWNS PRODUCTION IN AGHOLOR
It’s not time to say the worm has turned but after being booed like Roman Reigns at a Wells Fargo Center “Monday Night Raw” taping while being introduced and that only being amplified when he dropped a perfect slant pass from Wentz, a funny thing happened with Nelson Agholor.The embattled wide receiver got behind the Giants’ defense and caught a 40-yard TD pass from Wentz.
He later hauled in a brilliant seven-yard that set up Caleb Sturgis’ final field goal and showed some juice in an end around.
Confidence can do wonders for a player.
KEEP JENKINS AT SAFETY
As a former cornerback, Malcolm Jenkins likes playing in the slot but he’s a so-so nickel back and a great safety. Both of the veteran’s INTs of Manning came when he was playing on the back end while he allowed a 13-yard TD reception when the ultra-quick Shepard beat his press coverage in the slot.
One of the more underreported injuries this season for the Eagles was the loss of nickel back Ron Brooks, which forced Jim Schwartz into moving Jenkins down to the slot in the nickel while inserting Jaylen Watkins at safety.
The better move might be letting one of the healthy corners (McKelvin, Carroll or Mills) handle nickel duties and keeping Jenkins where he often plays at an All-Pro level.
It wasn’t the best day for Wentz, who was forced to leave the game for a bit after getting his bell rung. He often showed a breathtaking ability to extend plays but forced the football down the field and his throws died in what was a bit of a windy day but not exactly hurricane-like.The first part of that equation is Brett Favre-esque but the latter is anything but and you have to be at least a little concerned with what is starting to look like a lack of arm strength.
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen