If Thursday night’s primetime showdown between the Philadelphia Eagles and Carolina Panthers is a potential NFC Championship preview, the sequel should be worth the wait.
The white-hot Eagles (5-1) capitalized on two Panthers turnovers inside the Carolina 20-yard line, turning both into touchdowns, and staved off the Panthers’ late rally to win 28-23 in Charlotte and pile up their fourth straight victory.
Eagles tight end Zach Ertz caught two red-zone touchdowns from Carson Wentz, both set up by Cam Newton interceptions, and rookie kicker Jake Elliott connected on kicks of 50 and 48 yards.
Wentz’s third touchdown, a 24-yard slant to Nelson Agholor, put the Eagles up 28-16 early in the fourth. Newton responded by marching the Panthers 75 yards and finishing the drive with a one-yard touchdown pass to Christian McCaffrey.
The Panthers (4-2) had two more opportunities in the final 5:50 to complete the comeback, but Newton was picked off on the first attempt and bounced a fourth-and-1 pass to McCaffrey on Carolina’s final play.
Newton, coming off consecutive wins where he threw for more than 300 yards and posted passer ratings over 130.0, managed just 239 yards and 48.5 passer rating against an intense Eagles defensive front.
Wentz, constantly under siege by a heavily blitzing Panthers defense, passed for 222 yards and three touchdowns. He lost a fumble but didn’t throw a pick for the third time in six games.
Here are five things we learned:
Nobody’s running against the Eagles. Nobody.
The Panthers were turned one-dimensional because, like all of the Eagles’ opponents this season, they couldn’t establish the ground game.
Carolina totaled 80 yards on 25 carries (3.2 per carry), but those stats count Newton’s scrambles and Curtis Samuel’s 8-yard end around. Panthers running backs combined for just a yard on 13 rushes.
The Eagles entered the game with the NFL’s second-ranked rushing defense. They haven’t allowed a 100-yard rusher and only one team, the Chiefs, have rushed for more than 100 yards against them.
Turnovers always determine tight games.
In a game between two 4-1 teams and with short preparation, turnovers almost always will decide the outcome.
The Eagles produced three takeaways, scoring touchdowns on two of Newton’s three interceptions, and turned the ball over just once. The Panthers, meanwhile, failed to convert Wentz’s first-quarter fumble into points.
Eagles linebacker Nigel Bradham was the game’s MVP.
The veteran strong-side linebacker, not usually one of the team’s standouts, made nearly every big play for the Eagles.
Bradham tipped away a third-down pass from Newton to Kelvin Benjamin on the opening drive, brought down Fozzy Whittaker for a four-yard loss, stopped McCaffrey on third down inside the Eagles’ 5-yard-line to force the Panthers into a field goal in the third quarter and dropped tight end Ed Dickson just short of the sticks on a third-and-9 late in the game.
Behind Wentz, the Eagles have staked their claim as an NFC power.
After finishing 7-9 last year, the Eagles have emerged into legit NFC contenders in Wentz’s second season.
On a short week, the Panthers wisely threw a slew of exotic blitzes at Wentz that he and the coaches probably didn’t see on film. Wentz shook off some early struggles and several big hits to make some back-breaking plays, including a 37-yard beauty to Alshon Jeffery down the right sideline in the third quarter that set up Agholor’s touchdown.
The Eagles have proven they can win on the road – where they’re 3-1 – and win close games. They improved to 3-1 in games decided by one possession and they currently sit atop the NFC East with five wins while the Cowboys and Redskins each have two and the Giants have none. All of the Eagles’ next three games are at home.
Pete Morelli’s crew continues to have issues
Just a quick note on how lopsided this game was officiated in Charlotte: The Eagles were penalized 10 times for 126 yards. The Panthers were flagged one time for a yard.
Sure, home teams get favorable calls, but this game was ridiculously one-sided. Eagles running back LeGarrette Blount was hit with an unnecessary roughness call early in the game but couldn’t draw one when he got slammed to the ground well after the whistle on a second-quarter carry.
The Eagles were called for pass interference several times but Alshon Jeffery was contacted during his routes at least three times and didn’t get any calls.
It also appeared that nobody blew a whistle on a Panthers delay of game, leading Eagles rookie Derek Barnett to capitalize on being unabated to Newton. Barnett still got saddled with a roughing-the-passer penalty.
— Geoff Mosher, a longtime Philadelphia sports reporter, is also a host on @975TheFanatic in Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter @GeoffMosherNFL.
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