In football, defense giveth, and sometimes defense taketh away. If defense wins championships, Week 5 was an interesting display by the Eagles. With a timid-offense still lacking the Chip Kelly spark of the season’s first few weeks, the Birds’ defense and special teams flexed it’s muscle in a 34-28 win that almost wasn’t over St. Louis Sunday.
Nursing a 27-point lead, the defense seemed to be allowing the Rams and Austin Davis to move at will. The Eagles gave up 21 unanswered fourth quarter points in what should have been a blow-out victory and the team barely held on to earn its fourth win of the year.
The Eagles defense had to mount one last stand as they punted at the two-minute warning clinging to a six-point advantage. After giving up a 43-yard pass to Brian Quick, the defense tightened up at their own 47th yard line. Birds fans breathed a sigh of relief as Davis’ fourth down pass hit the turf to preserve another unconventional victory.
“There’s always room to get better,” Jeremy Maclin, who once again led the Eagles with five catches for 76 yards, said. “I feel like I’ve been saying the same thing week in and week out, we’ll get it fixed. The bigger picture here is just to win.”
Cedric Thornton, Brandon Graham and Connor Barwin were three of the many Eagles defensive players to have huge days against the Rams, and although they did allow 466 yards from the Rams offense (278 of them in the second half), they caused game-changing turnovers and bent, but didn’t break (though they very nearly did).
When the Eagles had the ball, the run game looked improved, but not completely healed as the team ran 32 times for 146 yards.
It was deja vu to start the game, with James Casey blocking a punt after a Rams three-and-out. Chris Maragos then took it ten yards to the house to give the Eagles an early 7-0 lead. The play gave the Eagles a special teams score in three straight games for the first time in team history.
“We are creating more pressure on the other team’s punter,” Chip Kelly said, “that sets the tones for us.”
“We start the game on special teams, it’s a statement,” Casey said. “In the first half you show you’re ready to play and in the second half that you’re ready to win.”
With two more field goals added (both in the red zone after Foles failed to take the Birds into the end zone) the Eagles led 13-0 after the first frame.
LeSean McCoy and Rams quarterback Davis exchanged lost fumbles in the second quarter, the latter caused by Vinny Curry and recovered by Fletcher Cox with the Rams threatening in the Birds’ red zone.
In the ensuing Eagles drive, a Nick Foles interception on deep pass intended for Maclin led to a long, 11-play, 84-yard drive culminating in a Brian Quick eight-yard touchdown catch.
The Eagles responded with their first offensive touchdown in six quarters of play, Foles finding Riley Cooper on a fade route in the corner of the end zone to cap off an 11-play, 80 yard-drive to put Philly up by 13 at the half.
The second half started much like the first, with the defense scoring a touchdown this time when Cedric Thornton inched one-yard into the end zone holding a recovered fumble on the goal line caused by Trent Cole. The defensive strike put the Eagles ahead by 20 with 12:17 remaining in the third qyarter.
The defense wasn’t done in the third, with a Brandon Graham forced fumble leading to a 40-yard Thornton return to get the Birds’s offense within striking distance yet again. A few snaps later, Foles found Maclin in the end zone and the Eagles were up 34-7.
“Every defense in the NFL wants to have turnovers,” Thornton said. “Our coaches coach to have turnovers. Turnovers equal victory and thats what we did today.”
Benny Cunningham got the Rams on the board in the second with a 14-yard touchdown run to cut the deficit to 34-14. Nick Foles coughed up the ball when he dove forward and fumbled (rather than giving himself up via slide) and the turnover led to another Rams touchdown (a Kenny Britt 30-yard reception), cutting the Birds’ lead to 13 with nine minutes to play, and a touchdown pass to Brian Quick cut the lead to just six.