CHARLOTTE: The Eagles much maligned defense apparently had enough.
Over the last two games, the Eagles defense struggled mightily to get off the field. The Birds surrendered over 40 points in back-to-back games while the offense seemed to be finding a groove with quarterback Jalen Hurts and company.
This week, it was the offense that struggled against the Carolina Panthers while the Birds defense put on a show not seen in these parts in a long time, coming up with three interceptions, three third-down sacks and many other timely plays to lead the Eagles to a come-from-behind 21-18 victory at Bank of America Stadium that was filled with thousands of Eagles fans who were thoroughly happy to have made the trip.
The win snapped a three-game losing streak and breathed life into an Eagles (2-3) season that was starting to fall apart.
“It was emotional in there, just getting that win and coming in there and being able to celebrate,” head coach Nick Sirianni said after the game. “Really what that felt like was a complete team win and that is what it was. When one unit is down, the other units have to bring it up. The defense felt like it was up the whole game. It really did. They played an unbelievable game. Special teams was down a little but early, but then they would come back and make a play. And then the offense was down and they gutted it out in the second half on some really meaningful plays. It was really just the definition of a team win and it was the definition of what we talk about ‘Dawg’ mentality."
The Eagles offense struggled throughout the first half. The Birds first three drives failed to make a first down.
Even after cornerback Darius Slay came up with a dramatic first-quarter interception of Sam Darnold at the Panthers 29-yard line and returned it to Carolina’s ten-yard line, Hurts and company failed to find the end zone, settling for a Jake Elliott 30-yard field goal.
“Because the offense, it wasn’t going good, right?” Sirianni said. “For a long time of that game, it wasn’t going good. But when they needed to make plays at the end and it was still tight, they made the plays that we needed to make there. So, I am really happy for the guys. Every guy in there should be really happy for themselves. Again, it was just a great team win.”
SIRIANNI'S OUTBURST TO HIS DEFENSIVE COACHES SEEMED TO HAVE WORKED
After the loss to Kansas City, reports surfaced that head coach Nick Sirianni blew a gasket barking at his defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon and his assistants after being humiliated on consecutive weeks.
Surly a different unit would show up Sunday against the Panthers. A totally different unit came out of the tunnel in Charlotte.
The Eagles defense was outstanding against the Panthers who were without Pro Bowl running back Christian McCaffrey.
After spotting the Panthers 15 first-half points, the Eagles defense limited Carolina to just a field goal in the second half.
Slay, who ended up with two interceptions, said he knew the defense had to do its part until the offense was able to solve a Panther defense that was among the best in the NFL going into Sunday’s game.
“I was just looking at is as I watch football. I watch all kinds of football,” Slay said. “I love defenses and I know Carolina has got a great defense. My mindset was that we know they have a great defense on their end so we just have to get the ball to No. 1 (Hurts) a lot to help him out. Like I said, they have a great defense over there. We did our job trying to minimize it and time of possession we try to shorten that up for the offense to get the ball. We did our job today.”
The Eagles offense eventually found its way scoring 15 second half points, both on runs by Hurts that gave the Eagles the win.
Three third-down sacks and a big third down stop with 8:34 left in the fourth also contributed to the overall defensive effort.
Linebacker T.J. Edwards’ fourth quarter punt block with four minutes left in the fourth quarter set up the winning touchdown - a six-yard run by Hurts - and two-point conversion.
Javon Hargrave, who recorded a sack, a tackle for loss and two quarterback hurries, was asked if these big plays inspire each other.
“Definitely, it’s a momentum swing,” said Hargrave, who leads NFL defensive tackles with six sacks o the season. “Coverage, and rush working together trying to get to the quarterback, and they are picking off balls and even the blocked punt, it just changed the game.”
Fletch Cox and Josh Sweat recorded the other two sacks. Linebacker Alex Singleton led the the Birds with 13 total tackles (nine solo).
Darnold was 21 of 37 for 177 yards and three interceptions. He was sacked three times and ended with a quarterback rating of 44.5.
Darnold threw a five-yard touchdown pass to tight end Tommy Tremble in the first quarter to account for the only touchdown the Panthers (3-2) would get Sunday.
“Obviously tough loss, did not play well enough today,” Darnold said. “That’s just what it boils down to for me personally. I didn’t play my best football.”
PANTHERS DEFENSE CONTINUED TO IMPRESS
The Panthers defense came in the game allowing just 251.5 yards per game. The Eagles managed 91 yards on the ground, 33 of those yards coming on the game’s final drive when the Birds were running out the clock.
Hurts was not his best for most of the day. The offense seemed to start clicking after he hit Quez Watkins with a 53-yard completion with 38 seconds left in the third quarter setting up a first-and-goal at the ten-yard-line.
Two plays later, Hurts took the ball in from the one on a sneak.
He finished 22 of 37 for 198 yards, threw an interception, sacked twice – both by former Temple standout linebacker Haason Reddick – and ran for two scores.
DeVonta Smith finished seven receptions for 77 yards. The rookie receiver out of Alabama caught the two-point conversion pass from Hurts.
Hurts was asked what happened with execution. The Eagles offense couldn’t execute at all in the first half; then came to life in the second…what happened?
“I think we executed enough to win the game,” Hurts said. “Often, you come back after a game and see that you left some stuff out on the field and say that we didn’t play well enough. We didn’t play to our standard offensively but it was enough. So we’re going to go back to Philly with this win and probably not enjoy it for 24 hours, maybe 12 since we have a short week. We have to get back to work because we have a big one Thursday night.”
The Eagles face the Tom Brady and the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers Thursday at the Linc.
The offense will not get the second chances they got Sunday. *
Follow Al Thompson on Twitter @thompsoniii