No drop-offs from Eagles backups

Posted: November 12, 2013

GREEN BAY - When Eagles backup Najee Goode heard the words from his position coach he didn't imagine it would be he who would put them into practice.

Rick Minter last week stressed to his inside linebackers that the fates of football blessed the Eagles with a precious advantage: The Packers' best player would not play.

Good NFL teams thin the herd of contenders by eliminating the weakened. Without quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the Packers are weakened more than any other team in the league.

"No doubt," Goode said. "Coach Minter always tells us, 'Know your opponent.' We saw the Monday night game, and Rodgers went down. It was definitely a great chance to capitalize on our opportunity."

Rodgers left that loss with a shoulder injury that could cost him a month. Star linebacker Clay Matthews returned after missing a month, but with his injured right hand encased in a fingerless club to protect his broken thumb, the biggest of a pack of Packers who have been absent or limited. Yet the Pack had won four of five thanks to Rodgers' excellence.

Yesterday, the absence of Rodgers et al was too much for a depleted Packers roster to absorb.

It also framed a moment for a redesigned Eagles franchise. If Chip Kelly's team is to be taken seriously this season; if they are, indeed, building toward something real, the Eagles had to win yesterday. They did, 27-13.

After a dominant road win against a shockingly poor Raiders team a week before, a decisive, if ugly, win in Green Bay put the Eagles at 5-5.

Their first four wins came against awful teams with a combined three wins at the time they faced the Eagles. The Packers had five wins, and they shared the lead in the NFC North. They weren't that team yesterday, to be sure, but they were viable, and they were hosting.

By the time it ended the Packers didn't even have anemic backup Seneca Wallace, a failed athletic quarterback who spent 2012 out of football and might be the worst reserve in the league. Wallace's underused groin collapsed at the end of the Packers' first series, and the Scott Tolzien Experience began.

For the Eagles, when Wallace went down, the must-win immediately got must-winner.

Tolzien went undrafted out of the University of Wisconsin, but the Chargers gave him a look in their 2011 training camp. They cut him. Tolzien spent 2011 and 2012 on San Francisco's roster as a reserve, but the Niners cut him out of their 2013 camp. He landed on the Packers' practice squad and was promoted when Rodgers got hurt.

Tolzien's incompletion to Jordy Nelson 10 minutes into the first quarter was his first NFL pass. He tried 38 more yesterday, and while he completed 24 of them, one for a touchdown, two of his incompletions were Eagles interceptions.

"I thought Scott did a hell of a job," said Packers coach Mike McCarthy, who clearly grades on a scale.

On the other side of the ball, meanwhile, there were backups who actually did a hell of a job.

By the end of the first quarter the Eagles had lost three starters: Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters (thigh bruise), inside linebacker Mychal Kendricks (knee) and emerging safety Earl Wolff (knee).

As if in tribute to the front office's commitment to roster depth, Goode, Allen Barbre and Roc Carmichael stepped in for their injured teammates and played effectively. That is the crux of how the Eagles won the first must-win game of the Chip Kelly era, and let there be no qualification. No asterisk.

The Eagles couldn't help that this Packers team stocked their roster with Rodgers and a pair of castoffs.

All they could do was play, and hope they were sound enough to win. The Eagles are, after all, a work in progress, a clunker rebuilt from hood to trunk, from tires to top.

"I've heard that," said Goode, a second-year player who Tampa Bay drafted in the fifth round then abandoned this year. "In this league, you're never really rebuilding."

Sure you are. The speed of the process sometimes gets accelerated, if not disguised, by the competence of the opponent.

The Packers were decimated. The Eagles are flawed. What unfolded yesterday was semi-professional at best, but then, pay-to-play sports hinge only on the final score.

In the end, it mattered little that Nick Foles' first two touchdown passes were egregiously underthrown to double-covered receivers, or that Foles underthrew another, to Jason Avant. What mattered was that Foles threw them. He wasn't sharp - don't be deceived by the 149.3 passer rating, on 18 attempts - but Foles was fearless, and he has been gun-shy in the past. He hasn't thrown an interception yet this season, but that's not for lack of trying.

It didn't matter that Foles was stripped of the ball at the Eagles' 13 early in the fourth quarter. What mattered was that the defense stiffened and denied the Packers points, then the offense sprang LeSean McCoy for 50 of his 155 rushing yards and devoured the remaining 9 1/2 minutes.

It didn't matter that Alex Henery missed a fifth field goal, his fourth in 14 attempts, this one from just 39 yards. What mattered was that he didn't let it ride him; he later connected on a 25-yarder and a 41-yarder.

It mattered that little cornerback Roc Carmichael, in his first career start and his 13th career game, played well in place of Bradley Fletcher.

It mattered that nickel corner Brandon Boykin intercepted a pass in the end zone and ran it back 76 yards to preserve the Eagles' 7-0 lead early in the second quarter. It didn't matter that Boykin had, to that point, been effectively targeted all game, or that he failed to score because he was run down by 250-pound tight end Brandon Bostick.

Well, personally, getting run down by a man 65 pounds heavier than him mattered to Boykin, who also is the team's kickoff returner: "When I watch the tape, I'm going to cut it off before I get to that part," Boykin joked.

He should watch every second. He should savor it. The whole team should. This win represents a significant step forward, a validation of the team's depth, a confirmation of Kelly's bona fides.

"Definitely," said guard Todd Herremans. "The front office has done a good job of building the roster. We've got guys who are hungry to play when it's their turn. We're playing really good team football right now."

Nothing less would have let this Eagles team win at Lambeau Field, with or without Rodgers.

"The huge thing," Goode said, "was us backups coming in and having no drop-offs."

The Packers could not claim the same.


On Twitter: @inkstainedretch

Blog: ph.ly/DNL

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