The winds of winter have come, bringing with them a fleeting feeling of hope the Eagles can latch onto for at least one week. After only just barely overcoming the Giants a week ago, the Eagles — a team that can’t afford to lose many, if any, games from this point on if it wants to journey back to the postseason — survived a game against the shorthanded Redskins on Monday night with a 28-13 win that was far from impressive, but all too important in terms of the playoff race in the NFC East.
Carson Wentz submitted an uneven outing with two touchdowns and one ugly interception. Zach Ertz continued his awesome season with 83 yards. Golden Tate, an addition at the trade deadline, finally broke out with seven catches, 85 yards, a touchdown, and a two-point conversion. The defense held an offense quarterbacked by two backups to 235 yards and 10 first downs. And the Eagles finally have their first two-game winning streak of the season.
In a game between two teams that have each reached 30 points only once this season (as our Jared Dubin noted in his game preview) and rank in the bottom half of the league in defensive DVOA, the quality of football wasn’t desirable. It didn’t help matters that Redskins backup quarterback Colt McCoy, who is playing in place of the injured Alex Smith, left early in the second quarter with a leg injury, which set the stage for the long-awaited return of Mark Sanchez.
It looked like the Eagles were finally in the process of breaking out on offense when they went 75 yards on 12 plays for an opening-series touchdown, but they found success far too sporadically from that point on. The Redskins got on the board early in the second quarter with a field goal after manufacturing an eight-play, 45-yard drive that was aided by a pass interference penalty on third-and-long.
McCoy left the game, Sanchez entered the fray, and Adrian Peterson rendered the quarterback position meaningless with a 90-yard touchdown run. Seeing this, Darren Sproles decided that Peterson couldn’t be the only aging running back to score, so he responded by giving the Eagles a 14-10 lead with a 14-yard touchdown. Improbably, Sanchez led the Redskins into field-goal range just before the break. At halftime, the Eagles led only 14-13 against the Redskins’ two backup quarterbacks.
It looked like the Eagles would finally run away from the Redskins when they forced a quick stop and moved inside the red zone in the third quarter, but Wentz threw a reckless interception to Josh Norman in the end zone. The Redskins had life, but only just barely. The 14-13 scoreline remained in place until early in the fourth quarter, when it finally unraveled for the Redskins. First, they allowed Wentz to throw his second touchdown of the game. Then, they gave up a two-point conversion, which placed them in a two-score hole. To wrap up the sequence, Sanchez threw an interception on the third play of their ensuing drive.
And so, the Eagles have climbed their way back to .500 for the first time since late October and into the NFC East race. At 6-6, they’ve drawn even with the Redskins — who entered the night as the sixth seed, but got replaced by the 6-5-1 Vikings by the end of the night — and sit one game back of the Cowboys, who lead the division at 7-5. The two teams will meet in Dallas on Sunday in a game that could decide the fate of the division.
Despite their positioning in the standings, it’s still not clear if these Eagles are any good. A win over two backup quarterbacks provides little clarity. It’s not like they emphatically beat up on a team down to their third-string quarterback, who only joined them two weeks ago. Injuries have been a real problem. At some point soon — next week against the Cowboys would be a good time to do so — the Eagles need to start playing like a playoff-caliber team instead of relying on the inferior competition around them to bail them out.
But they’re hanging around. They’re not dead yet. They’re still searching for answers, but they will be afforded the opportunity to get hot down the stretch and earn a postseason spot.
That said, the biggest winner on Monday night might’ve been the Cowboys, who watched their only two challengers play 60 minutes of underwhelming football. The Cowboys should be confident in their chances of capturing the NFC East crown. Neither the Redskins nor the Eagles appear to be on the verge of surpassing them as the best team in the division.
The Redskins lost another quarterback. And the Eagles look nothing like the team they were a year ago.
Uneven outing by Wentz
Wentz has yet to recreate the magic of his 2017 season. Against a Redskins defense that came into the week ranked 18th in DVOA, Wentz submitted an uneven outing. He finished 27 of 39 for 306 yards (7.8 YPA), two touchdowns, one pick, and a 98.9 passer rating.
On the opening drive, he briefly looked like the magician he was during his ascent to MVP candidate a year ago when he abandoned the pocket and floated a pass to Golden Tate down the sideline for a big chunk of yards. A few plays later, Wentz and Tate polished off the drive and put the Eagles in an immediate position of strength with a touchdown.
This looked more like the Wentz of last season (and yes, the officials missed a blatant false start before the touchdown, which is becoming somewhat of an unfortunate theme of the season).
Immediately after the Redskins took a 10-7 lead in the second quarter, Wentz responded by overthrowing a wide-open Ertz for what would’ve been a huge gain. In the third quarter, the Eagles were on the verge of putting Sanchez in a touchdown-sized hole when Wentz stared down Alshon Jeffery and forced a pass to the wrong team in the end zone.
Wentz wasn’t awful on Monday night. He was good at times and outside of that interception, he didn’t turn the ball over. But that interception was the one play Wentz couldn’t make in a game like this. Luckily for him, the Redskins offense couldn’t capitalize on his mistake.
Wentz finally put the Redskins away with a four-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Matthews early in the fourth quarter that stretched the lead to seven and a completion to Tate for a two-point conversion that made it a two-score game.
From there, Wentz didn’t have to do much more. The Eagles kicked a couple field goals and ran out the clock on the Redskins.
Sanchez replaces McCoy
Early in the second quarter, McCoy hobbled off the field before he limped on over to the locker room for x-rays, which revealed a fractured right fibula, per Lisa Salters on the ESPN broadcast. Jay Gruden confirmed after the game that McCoy’s season is over.
That set the stage for Sanchez to commandeer the offense.
Sanchez, signed in the aftermath of the Smith injury to serve as McCoy’s backup, was last seen with the Bears last season, when he functioned as a mentor for Mitchell Trubisky. He never played in an actual game. The last time Sanchez took a snap in a regular-season game? That would be back at the end of the 2016 season when he played for the Cowboys and attempted 17 passes against … the Eagles. The last time he saw meaningful minutes? That would be back in 2015, when he started two games for … the Eagles. With the Eagles from 2014-15, Sanchez actually posted a 4-6 record as a starter.
On Monday night, he entered the game against the Eagles in a 7-3 hole and proceeded to engineer a 90-yard, go-ahead scoring drive in 13 seconds by setting up Peterson for a 90-yard touchdown run with a perfectly executed handoff. All jokes aside, Sanchez later connected on a few important throws to salvage a field goal just before halftime. But he couldn’t manage anything positive in the second half.
He finished 13 of 21 for 100 yards (4.8 YPA), no touchdowns, an interception, and a 53.7 passer rating. The stat line and the interception portray how difficult he found it to move the ball against an Eagles defense that came into the game allowing the fourth-most passing yards per game (276.5).
With McCoy out for the season, the Redskins will be forced to ride Sanchez for the remainder of it. That should end any of the playoff hopes they were hanging onto before Monday night, even though it seems almost just as unlikely that they wouldn’t have been able to make the playoffs with McCoy. The Redskins could always sign another free agent to replace Sanchez, but that won’t help if they only consider the guys they already brought in for a workout.
What seems likely is that the Redskins will miss the playoffs for a third-straight season and they’ll roll into next season with one of the worst quarterback situations in football, given the severity of Smith’s injury and his age (34). The Redskins gave Smith a four-year, $94 million contract after giving up assets to trade for him in the offseason.
The move already looks like a disaster.
Peterson breaks loose
Peterson’s resurgent season on the field continued. It took only one run for him to have a nice night.
In the second quarter, on Sanchez’s first snap under center, Peterson broke free for a 90-yard touchdown. Peterson’s 106th career rushing touchdown, which tied him with Jim Brown for the fifth-most all time, also happened to be the longest touchdown of his career.
Peterson finished with 98 yards on nine carries, so he managed only eight yards on his other eight carries. It was a one-hit wonder kind of night for him.
Welcome back, Sproles
Playing for the first time since Week 1, Sproles just wouldn’t let Peterson have all the glory. The 35-year-old responded with a touchdown of his own to give the Eagles a lead before halftime. It was his first touchdown in nearly two full years.
Also key on that touchdown? The blocking by Jason Kelce, who paved a path for Sproles.
Ertz sets franchise record
The Eagles tight end functioned as Wentz’s preferred target, as he always does, catching nine passes for 83 yards. In the process, he broke the Eagles’ single-season record for receptions. Brian Westbrook caught 90 passes during the 2007 season. Ertz is now at 93 catches.
There are still four games remaining on the schedule.
Redskins remain winless after going down
Fun fact for everyone who doesn’t root for the Redskins:
They’re now 0-6 after Monday night.
From the Philly Special to this?
After his incredible coaching job over the course of last season — from developing Wentz into an MVP candidate, to sustaining their success with Nick Foles, to his ballsy coaching decisions and play-calling in the Super Bowl — it’s been strange to see an Eagles offense as talented as this one struggle so much.
Some have wondered if the loss of offensive coordinator Frank Reich, who is busy resurrecting Andrew Luck in Indianapolis, has caused the Eagles’ downfall. As a result, Pederson’s reputation as one of the league’s great coaches has been called into question in some corners of the internet.
Pederson provided his critics with more ammunition when his fourth-and-goal play-call from the 1-yard line was a run up the middle that was promptly stuffed by the Redskins. In less than a year, we’ve gone from this ….
To this …
Going for it was absolutely the right call, which is supported by the fact that the Eagles got a stop and great field position before scoring a touchdown on their next drive. But it’s entirely fair to question the play selection.
On a broader level, it’s fair to question just how much the Eagles have been hurt by the losses of Reich and John DeFilippo, who coached the Eagles’ quarterbacks last season before getting the Vikings’ offensive coordinator job in the offseason. Even though they won Monday night, they hardly looked like a playoff-caliber team. And their offense continues to be inconsistent.
But while we’re on the topic, let’s give Pederson some credit for his decision making in the fourth quarter when he went for two up seven to turn a one-score into a two-score game. This time, he didn’t run the ball up the middle, instead letting Wentz throw on the run to Tate in the end zone. This time, it worked and Pederson got rewarded for being aggressive.
There might be some truth to the Eagles missing two of their former assistant coaches — there’s a reason two teams went after them in the offseason — but Pederson’s aggressive mindset helps the Eagles more than it hurts them. And for that, he deserves recognition.
At this point in the calendar, every game is a close to a must-win as regular season games can get. But Sunday’s matchup between the Eagles and Cowboys could determine the NFC East. The Eagles already lost to the Cowboys last month, so a loss here would pretty much end their hopes of catching the division leaders. As for the Redskins, they’ll host the Giants, who have suddenly won three of their past four games.
The Eagles and Redskins will meet again in Washington in Week 17.
Feel free to relive the game with our live blog below.