Eagles close out victory with gusto

RON CORTES / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Vinny Curry knocks off the helmet of Packers quarterback Scott Tolzien for a third-quarter sack.
RON CORTES / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Vinny Curry knocks off the helmet of Packers quarterback Scott Tolzien for a third-quarter sack.
Posted: November 12, 2013

GREEN BAY - The crucial sequence in their 27-13 victory over the Green Bay Packers, the part that the Eagles will try to take with them and build upon, began with 10 minutes and 58 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter yesterday.

Replay review ruled Nick Foles had fumbled the ball away on a sack, after Foles initially was deemed down by contact. Green Bay, trailing by two touchdowns, got the ball at the Birds' 13. Despite being forced to resort to third-string quarterback Scott Tolzien, who was brought up from the practice squad earlier in the week, the Packers and their fans were able to kindle a bright flicker of hope against the chilly November breeze.

The Eagles' defense shut off that flame's oxygen. The sequence began: 4-yard run, 2-yard run, pass blocked by Connor Barwin. On fourth-and-4 from the 7, replay review upheld ref Mike Carey's view that wideout Jordy Nelson did not catch the ball in the corner of the end zone, even though the Lambeau Field scoreboard emphasized a freeze-frame angle suggesting Nelson's hand was under the ball all the way (without a turf cam, directly underneath Nelson, there was no way to be sure how much the ground helped him pin the ball to his stomach).

But Carey wasn't looking at the scoreboard, he was looking at the views available underneath the magic hood, and Carey eventually emerged and said it still wasn't a catch. The Birds, known for short possessions in their fast-twitch offense, took the ball with 9:32 left and RAN OUT THE CLOCK. Fifteen snaps, including three kneel-downs at the end. Fourteen runs against what had been the fourth-ranked run defense in the NFL, which had to have a pretty good idea of what was coming. Seventy rushing yards, before the three kneeldowns lost a yard apiece. One crucial third-and-7 completion for 8 yards, Foles feeling pressure but finding James Casey on a middle screen.

"It felt good late in the game when we needed to ice the game out, we did that," said LeSean McCoy, after running 25 times for 155 yards. McCoy gained 50 yards on eight carries on the final drive. "When we needed to make a play and answer back, we did that."

A lot of what happened before that was ungainly and odd, like the blooper-reel touchdown the Eagles scored to make it 7-0 early, DeSean Jackson gifted with a deflection of an underthrown Foles pass when the Packers' Tramon Williams and Morgan Burnett ran together and inadvertently swatted the ball to No. 10, who strutted backward with it into the end zone.

"It sorta got bobbled up," Foles said after acknowledging his underthrow.

"The defender just really couldn't bring it down, so I did," Jackson said.

There were key losses on both sides - the Eagles losing Jason Peters to a quad problem, Mychal Kendricks and Earl Wolff to knee injuries, while Packers backup QB Seneca Wallace, who was starting for broken-collarboned Aaron Rodgers, left after the first series with a groin problem. There were missed field goals by both kickers, and a bunch of calls that Carey's crew seemed to get wrong.

But the way the Eagles reacted to their late adversity was impressive.

"You've got to realize, there's going to be things that happen in a game that aren't good. It's not always going to be perfect. We were playing a pretty good game, staying away from turnovers and stuff, then that happened. It's not a good situation," Foles said. "It just shows you how much this team's come along, where our defense goes out there and stops 'em. Then we get the ball back and our o-line does a great job . . . that's a good team out there, and we were able to run the ball and take the clock away, after our defense had a huge stop. I feel like our team grew, throughout that whole thing."

Foles put up some strong numbers, most critically three touchdown passes and no interceptions (again). With 16 touchdowns and no picks, Foles is tied for the second-best total ever to start a season, the Eagles said. Peyton Manning set the record earlier this season, with 18.

If you were watching, though, there were times when Foles underthrew balls in the swirling wind (as on the Jackson TD), there were times when he held it too long and took sacks, and that fumble sure could have been a disaster. How the second-year QB really fared probably depends on how you're grading. Twelve-for-18 for 228 yards, three touchdowns and a 149.3 passer rating is darned good if you're measuring him against other QBs with fewer than a dozen NFL starts. If you were waiting for him to regress to his dysfunctional Oct. 20 Dallas mode, that didn't happen. But Foles has to be good enough to convince Chip Kelly that the coach won't be better off in the long run going with a more mobile quarterback drafted next spring, and despite yesterday's numbers, Foles still seems a ways from nailing that one down.

Packers coach Mike McCarthy faulted his defensive backs for not making plays on balls McCarthy clearly thought were hanging there for them, such as the Jackson TD and the first Riley Cooper touchdown, when Foles said he saw an open spot and threw a ball up for Cooper to run under at the goal line, like a baseball outfielder. (Cooper, who was fighting the late-afternoon sun on the play, said one difference would be that when he was a high school outfielder good enough to be drafted by the Phillies, he had this big glove he could use to shield his eyes.)

"Both those long throws, when the ball is in the air that long, as a defensive back, you're licking your chops," McCarthy said. "When the ball gets up and down, that's when it's a bigger challenge."

Kelly, not surprisingly, offered a different view.

"They put us in a lot of man coverage, and one of the things you have to be able to do [against man] is to be able to throw the ball over the top, and he did. We took advantage of that," Kelly said.

Of the final drive, Kelly said: "That's what this league is all about, is executing, and I thought our offensive line and our backs and our quarterback executed."

The Eagles' defense came in knowing that with no Rodgers, it was going to see a whole lot of power back Eddie Lacy, a different sort of test than the Eagles had faced previously. Lacy gained 17 yards on his first two carries (and Kendricks left after making the tackle on the first one). His next 22 carries, Lacy gained 56 yards - 2.55 yards per carry, which isn't the sort of thing you can sustain an offense on.

Special-teamer Najee Goode, who replaced Kendricks and saw the most action from scrimmage of his NFL career, said the Birds wanted to attack Lacy's downhill running style with downhill tackling - they wanted to go at him head on, before he got his legs under him.

Linebacker DeMeco Ryans, who notched an acrobatic interception to go with his 11 solo tackles, said the switch from Wallace to Tolzien at QB wasn't that big a deal.

"We still know that he's going to hand the ball off," Ryans said. "There was still a heavy run focus . . . We didn't bat an eye."

Foles didn't bat an eye when the Packers took away the short passes he's shown good touch on. Foles' TDs went for 55, 45 and 32 yards.

"He doesn't really make egregious mistakes out there," Kelly said, explaining that occasional inaccuracy is easier to live with than, say, not seeing wide-open receivers or throwing picks in bunches. "I feel real comfortable with him."

How comfortable Kelly really feels with Foles, we might not know until next May.


On Twitter: @LesBowen

Blog: ph.ly/Eagletarian

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