Top Of The Perch
Birds Set Record With 14th Win, Clinch NFC's Top Seed
PHILADELPHIA – With a first-round bye and home-field advantage at stake, Eagles fans fervently converged upon Lincoln Financial Field, hopeful that the mantra “third time’s a charm” would ring true Sunday to avoid an inexplicable late-season collapse.
Jalen Hurts, returning from a two-week shoulder injury, piloted a turbulent Eagles offense that somehow needed all four quarters to dispose of an undermanned Giants team, 22-16.
The playoff-bound Giants, who have the sixth seed, battled until the final 90 seconds, with quarterback Davis Webb finding wide receiver Kenny Golladay for an acrobatic 25-yard touchdown catch to draw the team within five in the game’s waning moments.
But a recovered onside kick, the Eagles’ second of the game, ensured the Eagles would preserve the win and clinch.
Hurts completed 20-of-35 pass attempts for 229 yards and an interception, accumulating a 65.1 quarterback rating.
In the midst of Sunday’s slugfest, the NFC East champions managed to achieve two more milestones, as wide receiver A.J. Brown surpassed former Eagles wideout Mike Quick as the team’s single-season receiving leader and second-year wideout DeVonta Smith eclipsed Irving Fryar’s record single-season receptions.
GETTY IMAGES: Boston Scott’s first-quarter touchdown put the Eagles on their way to a historic 14th win and NFC top seed clinch.Let’s go ahead with the observations:
1. The Eagles’ first drive covered 51 yards in seven plays – including a 35-yard reception from A.J. Brown – but ultimately stalled in the red zone, resulting in three points. On Brown’s 35-yard catch, the fourth-year receiver eclipsed Quick’s longstanding single-season receiving yards record (1,409). Brown moved to 1,436 on the season.
2. Giants wide receiver – and former Eagles wide receiver – Marcus Johnson runs crisp routes. On the Giants’ second offensive series, quarterback Davis Webb eluded pressure from Haason Reddick and heaved a pass in the direction of a wide-open Johnson in what would have been a momentum-altering connection, but the ball bounced off his outstretched hand. Johnson has been on three teams since departing the Eagles in March 2018, and his future with the Giants is uncertain, but he’s proven at various stops that he can play.
3. Miles Sanders logged just 22 snaps one week ago, as the Pro Bowl running back appeared to be nursing a left knee ailment, so his early usage against the Giants was something I wanted to keep an eye on. On the Eagles’ 12-play, 80-yard second possession that ended in a Boston Scott touchdown run, Sanders carried five times for 16 yards. The knee didn’t appear to hinder his change of direction. I wouldn’t anticipate any restrictions when the Eagles play next, in the divisional round.
4. The Eagles’ pass defense sorely missed safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson, whose presence alone translated to increased cohesiveness early on. The multifaceted defensive back – who mainly lined up at nickel, with Reed Blankenship at safety – stopped running back Gary Brightwell for a 1-yard loss, setting up a 3rd-and-8, which was ultimately nullified by a James Bradberry pass breakup. Gardner-Johnson’s return to the backend is paramount, as it affords defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon personnel fluidity and the optionality for varied looks.
5. Jalen Hurts took the reins seemingly without missing a beat, completing 12-of-18 pass attempts for 140 yards (90.0 QB rating). There appeared to be some tentativeness in his running, and points were undoubtedly left on the field, but it was nice to see the Eagles’ first-team offense roll up 187 yards of offense with the opportunity to accumulate more. The second half proved to be a mixed bag for Hurts, who hoisted some of his most errant throws of the season. His third quarter red-zone interception was an unusually bad decision for him and a byproduct of someone trying too hard to make a play.
6. Coming into Week 18, Giants quarterback Davis Webb had appeared in one game since entering the league as a third-round pick in 2017. The Giants presented him with his long-awaited opportunity for extended action, but the former Texas Tech and Cal quarterback struggled miserably with his accuracy through the first half, completing just 9-of-22 passes for 55 yards (48.7 QB rating) at the break. Granted, he wasn’t exactly playing with adequate weaponry, but for someone who has waited years for his moment, he often looked like a fish out of water as a passer.
7. I’ll be able to make a more definitive determination after watching the All-22, but it appeared to me that T.J. Edwards struggled in coverage – against Giants’ reserves. As good as Edwards has been throughout the season, particularly against the run, teams have found success targeting the linebacker, exploiting his range, and isolating him in space. He seemed slow to react on multiple occasions. I fully expect teams to employ similar tactics in the postseason, so it’s fair to wonder whether a more prominent role could be in store for rookie Nakobe Dean.
8. Poor first-half performance from the Eagles’ offensive line, which surrendered three sacks. Jack Driscoll’s challenges from a week ago persisted, but he wasn’t solely to blame. Offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland’s bunch, which committed five pre-snap penalties a week ago, surfaced again in the third quarter, with a Landon Dickerson penalty nullifying a Smith touchdown. The unit should benefit greatly in the playoffs from the return of right tackle Lane Johnson, assuming Johnson can play effectively through a torn tendon in his groin. They collectively appear to be in a state of flux at the most inopportune time.
9. The Eagles were uncharacteristically ineffective in the red zone on Sunday, going 1-of-5. While some of it could be attributed to the predictable Hurts rust, it’s worth mentioning that this marks the second consecutive week in which the offense’s functionality has been unideal. The offensive coaches will need to return to the drawing board during the bye week to recalibrate.
10. In addition to establishing a new franchise leader for single-season receiving yards, the team established another new record-holder in Smith, who entered the game tied with Fryar for most receptions in a season and increased his total to 95. The team finished two sacks shy of tying the NFL record for most sacks in a season. Miles Sanders finished the regular season with 1,269 rushing yards, qualifying him for 10th-most in team history.
– Andrew DiCecco (@ADiCeccoNFL) is a Staff Reporter/Content Producer for InsideTheBirds.com.