NEWCOMERS SANDERS AND JAMES COME UP BIG IN EAGLES WIN OVER PACKERS
GREEN BAY: It was just one number. One number that was standing in the way of the Eagles and the team’s lofty plans for this season.
The Birds were off to a tough start in 2019. An ineffective offense in the first quarter and a slew of injuries to their ball handlers added up to 1-2 record after three games.
Thursday evening, the Eagles were able to get their season back on track, defeating previously undefeated Green Bay Packers 34-27 at Lambeau Field in a thriller that was not decided until the final seconds.
"We knew this was a game that might determine our season," said linebacker Nigel Bradham, whose interception off a tipped pass from Aaron Rogers, caused by defensive back Craig James. "The first quarter if the season, we didn't want to go 1-3. That wouldn't have look good on our resume sealed the win with 20 seconds left in the game. “We knew we had a battle. We knew we had to fight throughout the whole game because we knew what kind of quarterback we were going to have to face."
James had just been called up to the active roster from the practice squad. It was just the third defensive play of his young NFL career. James was signed by the Minnesota Vikings as an undrafted free agent in April 2018. He was cut by the Vikings at the end of the preseason.
The 23-year-old was re-signed to the Vikings' practice squad in October, then promoted to the Vikings' active roster on November 27, 2018. James made his NFL debut on December 2, 2018 against the New England Patriots. James played three games during his rookie season, appearing exclusively on special teams. James was waived during final roster cuts on August 31, 2019. James was signed to the Eagles practice squad on September 2, 2019.
The Eagles defense had its hands full all night. Quarterback Aaron Rogers was almost unstoppable in the air going 34 for 53 for 422 yards and two touchdown passes. He was stripped sacked once by Derek Barnett at the end of the second quarter, recovered by Brandon Graham setting up the Eagles third touchdown of the second quarter.
Eagles Pro Bowl safety Malcolm Jenkins said he and the other veterans harp to the young players on the bench to always be ready…because you never know.
"We talk about it all the time, " Jenkins said at his locker after the game. "You never really know when that opportunity is going to come. You never know when the team is going to need you. You've got to be prepared. We count on everybody on the roster."
Jenkins was asked if he sees the same thing in James as he did in Same thing as Cre'Von LeBlanc.
"I only had two snaps to grade him," Jenkins said with a laugh. "He's grading out pretty well right now."
Jenkins was asked what he and the defensive leaders were thinking after cornerback Avonte Maddox was knocked out of the game on a wicked hit by teammate Andrew Sendejo after a reception by tight end Robert Tonyan put the ball on the Eagles seven-yard line with 1:06 left in the fourth quarter.
He was examined on the field for several minutes by medical staffers before being taken off the field on a protective gurney. It was later announced Maddox suffered a concussion.
But there were some tense moments while the second-year corner was laying on the field.
"In the midst of Avante being down, we had to figure out (what we were doing)," Jenkins said.
"We were down to one corner left. We had to come up with a different configuration that wasn't too complicated. We said to him 'you know where the ball going. It's gonna come to you. you have to be ready. He made a huge play. There was no bigger moment right now for this team right now and he made it. One guy who didn't get any reps at all with the ones, stepped up and made that play."
While the defense had it heroic moments. The offense shook off a scoreless first quarter to score 21 points in the second quarter, erasing a 10-0 Packers lead after a minute into the second quarter.
The Eagles stayed with their game plan to run the football. And run they did. The Birds rushed as a team for 176 yards on 33 carries.
Jordan Howard led the way with 87 yards on 15 carries and two touchdowns. Mile Sanders rushed 11 times for 72 yards. Howard also caught a 20-yard touchdown pass. Sanders set up the Eagles first touchdown of the game with a 67-yard kickoff return at the 14:01 mark of the second quarter,
Carson Wentz, who was 16 of 27 for 160 yards, three touchdowns, and a passer rating of 113.2, talked about Sanders big return.
"It was huge,” Wentz said. “To have a short field like that. We were stopped I think two straight drives. Plus we were down 10-0 and the way we were, we were kind of slow on offense. We were able to get it rolling and get it into the end zone.”
Wentz talked about the Eagles game plan.
“A balanced attack, especially against a good defense like the Green Bay Packers, that balanced attack was the difference-maker for us,” Wentz said. “It takes a lot of pressure off me. We can lean on those big guys up front, they love running ball, they love moving guys up front and we were able to get that done tonight.”
Center Jason Kelce said it was a matter of knowing how good you are and continuing that belief even when you are behind.
“It comes down to us knowing that we’re a good football team,” Kelce said. “I don’t think we had played to our capabilities in the first three games and we knew it,” center Jason Kelce said. “We knew we had to put four quarters together in this game to win and we did it. We didn’t stop playing our game.”
Now the Eagles are back on track. *
Follow Al Thompson on Twitter @thompsoniii