Birds Survive 3 Giveaways, Edge Bears To Come Closer To NFC East Clinch
Of his eight receptions on Sunday, the one that drove the dagger deepest into the heart of the Chicago Bears was the 68-yard sideline strike from the right hand of Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts hauled in by A.J. Brown.
Fighting off contact and keeping himself in bounds after the over-the-shoulder haul, Brown nearly found pay dirt until Bears rookie safety Jaquan Brisker dragged him down at the Chicago 3-yard line.
Three plays later, Hurts scampered into the end zone as decisive touchdown in an Eagles 25-20 win at Solider Field, their fifth straight win and a triumph that sets up a potential NFC East clinch and NFC top seed clinch on Christmas Eve against the rival Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium.
Hurts’ 1-yard touchdown – his third rushing score of the day – put the Eagles ahead 25-13 with just 2:27 to go in the game, an insurmountable lead for a Bears team devoid of playmakers outside of quarterback Justin Field.
The Eagles managed to win despite giving the ball away three times, compared to just one takeaway, and despite losing time of possession, an uncharacteristic breakdown that also shows how dangerous the Eagles can be even when not at their best.
Less than a minute after the final Hurts touchdown run, Fields tossed a 35-yard to Byron Pringle off a scramble – a rare Eagles coverage breakdown – but DeVonta Smith scooped the ensuing onside kick and another Hurts connection Brown, on a third-down slant, was enough to milk the final seconds off the clock.
The Eagles’ win, combined with a Dallas overtime loss to Jacksonville, has the Eagles headed to Texas on Saturday with a three-game division lead over the Cowboys with just three games to play. The Eagles (13-1) already beat Dallas in Philadelphia earlier this season. With a two-game lead over the Minnesota Vikings (11-3), the Eagles can also clinch the No. 1 seed with a win and Vikings loss thanks to an Eagles Week 2 victory over the Vikings.
Let’s go with the observations:
1. From the start, this game had the feel of a sloppy game that the Eagles would eventually seize control of once they settled down. Conjured reminders of games earlier this season against the Jaguars and Cardinals, games when the Eagles weren’t crisp at the beginning but also never gave out a strong vibe that they would lose. Even after the Miles Sanders fumble in the third – the team’s third giveaway – the feeling here was that the Eagles weren’t going to play lousy enough to lose unless Justin Fields pulled magic out of his hat.
2. The lesson learned all season – and again Sunday – is that teams with bad offensive lines aren’t going to beat the Eagles, no matter how much effort they muster. The Bears played hard and challenged, but they’re not nearly good enough in the trenches to score an upset against the Eagles. That experiment with Alex Leatherwood at right tackle failed miserably, as Riley Reiff had to come back in at right tackle to replace Leatherwood, who was absolutely abused by Haason Reddick and Josh Sweat. Reiff wasn’t much better. Fields was bruised and battered by the Eagles’ pass rush, which had its third straight game of six or more sacks. The Bears lost their best lineman, right guard Teven Jenkins, early in the game, which really hurt their chances.
3. Glad to see head coach Nick Sirianni and the offensive staff go back to Sanders immediately after his third-quarter fumble. Sanders, who had issues putting the ball on the ground earlier in his career, had 225 straight touches from the start of the season without fumbling before coughing up the ball after an odd screen reception. The mistake didn’t warrant any time on the sideline. It’s still been a great season for the fourth-year pro.
4. I can’t remember a single time in the Andy Reid era — or even the Doug Pederson and Chip Kelly eras – that the Eagles played 20 minutes of a game without a running back having a single carry. About 12 minutes remained in the second when the Eagles finally ran the ball with a running back for the first time. There were probably some RPOs in the first quarter, but the Eagles clearly prioritized the pass game, which is fine but can also can be a little overdone, especially against a Bears run defense that ranks among the league’s worst. The Eagles were probably expecting the Bears to be keying on the run given their ranking and the frigid temperatures. Maybe the pass-heavy attack was intended to be a curveball. If so, the Bears weren’t fooled.
5. Fields ran for 95 yards, including that ridiculous 39-yarder after escaping Reddick’s near-sack, but the Eagles really didn’t let him run wild. He’s had games with well over 100 yards rushing. The Birds probably used third-string quarterback Ian Book throughout the week to simulate the strong, elusive Fields and used tactics to keep defenders around him. You know he’s going to get rushing yards, you just try to limit the chunk runs. The Eagles did OK at that.
6. For the first time this season, the quarterback draw that burns Eagles opponents so well, especially from empty formations, didn’t help the Eagles as much as it typically does. Hurts rushed for a 22-yard touchdown from an empty set because the Bears had two defenders playing one gap, but his other draws were well-defended. Something to watch going forward, if the Bears did something strategically to limit Hurts’ production on those plays.
7. T.J. Edwards made a big tackle on a 3rd-and-10 screen in the third quarter to stop Bears tight end Cole Kmet from getting first down and maybe more. If Edwards hadn’t made the stop three yards shy of the first down, who knows what the Bears might’ve done on that drive. Edwards, a Chicago native, fought through some traffic to get Kmet down, one of the game’s most pivotal plays as the Eagles were only up by four and had just turned the ball over on downs after Hurts’ fourth-down pass to A.J. Brown was broken up by Jaylon Johnson.
8. Boston Scott’s return to kickoff role has continued to pay off for a unit that struggled before he reassumed the job. Scott, who returned a kick 66 yards last Sunday against the Giants, added a 58-yard return against the Bears to help the Eagles in the field position department. The Eagles finished that 42-yard drive with a touchdown that put them up 17-6, their largest lead of the game.
9. Along with an over-reliance on passing, the Eagles also seemed to lean heavily on attacking the edges with swing passes, end arounds and some keepers by Hurts, none of which seemed to profit or boost the offense compared to quick slants to Brown and DeVonta Smith. The Eagles curiously gave a handoff to Quez Watkins on an end around very late in the game while trying to run the clock down, and Watkins nearly went out of bounds, which would’ve been a disaster. Not enough consistent north-s0uth running from the Eagles against a Bears front that wasn’t known for stopping the run.
10. The Bears have nice some young pieces in the secondary. Rookie corner Kyler Gordon and rookie safety Jaquan Brisker, along with third-year corner Jaylon Johnson, is a good foundation. Chicago really needs some pass rushers to complement its secondary and, of course, some offensive linemen and playmakers to surround Fields. They can’t fix that all of that in one offseason, but I’d expect this team to be decent next year if they can make some upgrades in those areas.
– Geoff Mosher (@geoffmoshernfl) is co-host of the “Inside the Birds” podcast and staff writer for InsideTheBirds.com.