Nov 2, 2014; Houston, TX, USA; Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Jeremy Maclin (18) celebrates with running back Darren Sproles (43) after scoring a touchdown during the first quarter against the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
We knew this was going to be tough, the Philadelphia Eagles coming off a loss and facing a hungry Houston Texans team on the road.
But this was a whole different kind of tough. The Eagles battled a road crowd (that came largely dressed as empty seats, apparently late for both the game and Halloween), misfortune, poor decisions and a long list of injuries to key players.
Somehow, though, when the clock hit 0:00 the Philadelphia Eagles were still on top, moving to 6-2 overall with a 31-21 win. With a loss by the Dallas Cowboys, the Birds moved back into first place in the NFC East.
The Eagles lost quarterback Nick Foles, linebacker DeMeco Ryans and guard Todd Herremans in the game. The latter gutted it out with a torn bicep muscle before having to finally leave the game in the third quarter.
The other two, the leaders of the offense and defense, respectively, left the game and may not be back for a long time. Foles injured his left shoulder on a sack to close the first quarter. Ryans had to be carted off the field after intercepting (and fumbling on the same play, more on that later) in the fourth quarter.
But in relief, Mark Sanchez did enough positive things to outweigh the negative things and the Eagles’ defense, despite again giving up several big plays, had enough stops to send the team back to Philadelphia with a huge victory.
Sanchez threw for 202 yards in relief, with two touchdowns and two interceptions. The Eagles ran the ball for 191 yards as a team (welcome back, Jason Kelce) and LeSean McCoy went over 100 yards (though he was again held out of the end zone). Jeremy Maclin had 158 yards receiving and a couple of touchdowns.
It was a critical win for a team that needed something positive after last week’s gut-wrenching loss at Arizona, and now the Eagles return home for the first time in more than a month to play the Carolina Panthers on Monday Night Football.
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The Philadelphia Eagles’ offense got going on the team’s second possession, with Foles leading them from their own 12 with a great third-and-nine connection with Jeremy Maclin. LeSean McCoy and Darren Sproles had runs to help the ball reach the Philly 41, when Foles delivered a perfect 59-yard pass to Maclin for a touchdown that made it 7-0.
Defensively, the Eagles were stingy early and came up with a stop after the Maclin score. But on the first offensive snap of the next series, Foles – under pressure by J.J. Watt – underthrew Riley Cooper and was intercepted by A.J. Bouye, who returned it 51 yards for a score that tied the game at 7-7 with just over three minutes left in the first quarter.
Foles had the Birds moving again on their next drive, but was sacked twice in three plays to end the march as the first quarter ended. On the final play, Foles had stepped out of one sack, kept his eyes downfield and was drilled from behind by Whitney Mercilus, coming down hard on his left shoulder. Foles was slow to get up and left the game for X-rays. He did not return.
Enter Mark Sanchez at quarterback, and on his very first snap of the season he went over the top to Maclin for 52 yards to the Texans’ 8. Of course, the NFL hall monitors flagged Maclin 15 yards for telling a Houston player about the weather, and Philly was moved back to the 23. But five plays later, Sanchez floated a perfect ball to Jordan Matthews for an 11-yard touchdown to put Philly on top, 14-7.
An Eagles’ defense that has been victimized by big plays all season avoided the issue until late in the second quarter, when Arian Foster ran a wheel route to the ride sideline and drew single coverage from Connor Barwin. Foster and Houston quarterback Ryan “Yukon Jack” Fitzpatrick made the Eagles pay on a 56-yard touchdown play to make it 14-14.
With one more chance in the first half, Sanchez and the Eagles took over from their own 20 and got as far as the Houston 27, where rookie Cody Parkey kicked a 45-yard field goal to make it 17-14 at halftime.
The Eagles extended the lead to 24-14 in the third quarter on a four-play, 70-yard drive in which the ball never left the ground. McCoy went for 14 and 26, and Chris Polk came out of witness protection to run for 22 before finishing it with an eight-yard touchdown run.
After another Sanchez interception set the Texans up at the Eagles’ 38, Houston began a drive and was faced with second-and-seven at the 10. Fitzpatrick was under pressure and his wobbly pass was picked off by DeMeco Ryans, who stumbled forward a few steps, fell to the ground and fumbled the ball back to the Texans.
Ryans had to be carted off with an apparent leg injury, and two plays later Fitzpatrick hit DeAndre Hopkins for a touchdown to make it 24-21.
Needing something positive to happen, the Eagles got it when a third-down pass to Sproles was incomplete but the drive was extended by a penalty against Houston. Moving from their own 30, a pass to Maclin for 21 got them into Houston territory. The ground game picked it up from there and the Birds moved inside the Texans’ 10.
Sanchez hit Brent Celek on a third-down play that left them a yard short at the Houston 4. Chip Kelly elected to go for it and Polk picked it up by an inch, but Houston head coach Bill O’Brien challenged the spot (apparently, you can do that – someone needs to tell Chip).
The ruling on the field was confirmed and the Eagles got a fresh set of downs with 3:56 remaining. Sanchez then hooked up with Maclin on a quick comeback in the end zone and Philadelphia took a 31-21 lead to effectively end the game.
QUICK SIX OBSERVATIONS
1) How fantastic is Connor Barwin? There was a play in the first half where he somehow saw Fitzpatrick was about to throw, left his feet and forced the Texan quarterback to pull it down and take a sack. Then in the third quarter, Barwin was bearing down on Fitzpatrick. The quarterback pumped the ball, but Barwin didn’t bite and charged through him for a sack. How does he do it?
2) That DeMeco Ryans play was huge. If he’s done, the Eagles’ defense might be done, too. The Eagles lost both their offensive and defensive quarterbacks in the same game. Ryans is so, so important to that front seven. I don’t know who picks up that slack. Tough, tough loss.
3) Chip Kelly really needs to start challenging some spots. There were two – one early that the Texans got extra yards, one late where Polk was given an awful spot, that he would have easily won.
4) Of course, then you see them not change the spot on Polk’s run after a Bill O’Brien challenge, and maybe Chip has a point after all.
5) Mark Sanchez threw two interceptions and it probably should have been five. This is not a great way to live, Eagles fans. He’s going to have to be much, much better in coming weeks if Philadelphia is going to make the playoffs. He led the team to a win, so credit due to him, but apparently the interception problem wasn’t limited to the Eagles’ starter.
6) Give the Eagles’ offense credit. That was a tough, tough defense and they scored 31 points. That was not easy, not one bit of it.