INGLEWOOD, Calif. — The Los Angeles Rams had just taken the latest lead in a seesaw battle Sunday and the Philadelphia Eagles offense returned to the field with just 32 seconds remaining before halftime.
Deep in their own territory, they could’ve executed a single play — a kneel-down or a rush — to run out the clock and ensure they escaped the quarter unscathed. Few would have faulted coach Nick Sirianni for a conservative/safe approach. But there’s nothing conservative or safe about the Eagles coach or his team. Given the choice, Sirianni will always opt for the path of aggression, and his players love it.
So, Sirianni and the Eagles viewed the task of traveling 75 yards in 32 seconds as manageable. Three plays and two Rams penalties were all Philadelphia needed to reach the shadow of L.A.’s goal line, and with two seconds left on the clock, Jalen Hurts and the Eagles line plowed into the end zone on their signature and virtually unstoppable quarterback sneak. Blasting the Rams’ formidable defensive line off the line, the Eagles scored with authority. With that drive, they imposed their will on their hosts, swung the momentum back in their direction and never relinquished it en route to a 23-14 victory.
A little Brotherly Shove on the last play of the half 👀 @JalenHurts
— NFL (@NFL) October 8, 2023
In so doing, Philadelphia remained unbeaten, improving to 5-0. They may own a perfect record, but the Eagles certainly have their flaws. Yet they again proved themselves capable of 1) overcoming a variety of shortcomings or transgressions and 2) winning games in varied fashion.
“By any means necessary” is seemingly the Eagles’ season theme thus far, because every week, their approach differs and a different game-changer (or two or three) answers the call.
Wide receivers DeVonta Smith and A.J. Brown and running back D’Andre Swift all commanded the spotlight at various points during the first four games of the season, as did defensive linemen Jalen Carter and Jordan Davis and linebacker Nicholas Morrow.
This week, it was tight end Dallas Goedert’s turn to set the tone for the offense. Goedert had eight catches for 117 yards and a touchdown, all season highs after weeks of near irrelevance. Sunday, it was pass-rusher Haason Reddick’s time to deliver the knockout punch on defense with two massive sacks late in the fourth quarter.
— Philadelphia Eagles (@Eagles) October 8, 2023
This was also the day Hurts got back to being a dual threat, after being questioned for weeks about inconsistent passing and an apparent hesitancy to use his legs to hurt teams. Sunday, he not only delivered his second consecutive 300-yard passing day, he also led the team with 72 rushing yards and a touchdown on 15 carries (both season highs). And although shorthanded in their secondary and along their defensive line, the Eagles’ defense delivered one of its best outings yet while recording its first second-half shutout of the season.
Again and again, the Eagles just get it done, and they never seem to flinch, because the one thing that remains consistent each week is the mindset with which they go about their business.
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“I think we have a really tight group,” center Jason Kelce said, “and I think at this point, a lot of these guys, especially on offense, have been through a lot of football together. And I think when you’ve played a lot of football, playing a lot of tight games, the mistakes … you know there’s gonna be more opportunities. You just know there’s no sense of worrying about that. And then we have dynamic playmakers who can make big plays and overcome those mistakes.”
The Eagles will certainly look back at this game critically. They continue to struggle in the red zone. They opened the game with a red-zone touchdown pass to Goedert, and they closed out the half with the Hurts sneak. But for the day, they were 2-for-5 inside the 20. And they left even more points on the board when Hurts — with his team lined up just outside of the 20 — threw an interception to Rams defensive back Ahkello Witherspoon in the end zone on a third-quarter pass intended for Brown.
Defensively, the Eagles offered little resistance as Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp burned them for 95 first-half yards on six catches. Puka Nacua had another 34 receiving yards and a touchdown before halftime, and a third wideout — Tutu Atwell — also had a touchdown catch in the first half.
But the Eagles made the necessary halftime adjustments of altering their pass-rushing techniques to beat the Rams’ blocks and thus pressured Matthew Stafford more consistently, recording three second-half sacks and five hits. Kupp managed just two more catches for 23 yards in the second half. And L.A. produced only 81 yards of offense while converting 1-of-7 third downs after going 5-for-7 in the first half. (Comparatively, the Eagles gained 250 yards of offense while converting 6-of-8 third downs in the second half, and finished the game with 454 yards and a 13-for-18 showing on third downs.)
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Improved communication paved the way for the improved play on defense, cornerback James Bradberry said.
“We just went back more of, if we called zone, making sure we all knew it was zone. If it was man, we made sure we really got up on our man and challenged him,” he said. “And our line did a great job in the second half. I think that really was a game-changer, them just making plays.”
Having weathered the first-half storm on defense, and having overcome their second-half self-inflicted offensive wounds, a wave of relief washed over the Eagles as Reddick snuffed out the Rams’ final hopes for a late-game scoring drive when he sacked Stafford on back-to-back plays.
Sirianni erupted in jubilation, high-stepping onto the field, flexing and punching an invisible foe.
“Football is fun, and I’m not going to hide my emotions,” he said. “I can’t make plays anymore doing anything. So I celebrate when our guys make those kind of plays. … I want the culture for the Philadelphia Eagles to be you can have great relationships, have a ton of fun and still be highly, highly demanding. And that’s our culture.”
That’s why the Eagles refused to settle for a conservative approach late in the first half, or why they refused to let shortcomings in the red zone, or a drive-killing interception, deflate them. They understand that there are more waves to ride and more punches to throw, and if they refuse to relent, they’ll come out on top.
(Photo of Haason Reddick: Harry How / Getty Images)
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