The Eagles put two weeks of strife and turmoil behind them and ended their two-game losing streak with a 31-13 win over the Buffalo Bills at New Era Field on Sunday.
The stop in Orchard Park was the final trip on a three-game road swing. The first two stops did not end well with blowout losses in Minnesota and Dallas. The Eagles had been outscored by a combine 75-30 in those two defeats.
They are back on the winning side now, beating a Buffalo team that had been 5-1 coming in, and will take a 4-4 record into next Sunday’s game against the Chicago Bears at Lincoln Financial Field.
The Eagles got their ground game cooking and they needed it to heat up since weather conditions weren’t ideal, as the winds gusted to speeds of more than 25 miles an hour and rain fell intermittently.
“It was interesting weather,” said quarterback Carson Wentz, who ran eight times for 35 yards. “Probably as windy as I’ve played in. It took me back to the good old days on the playground, probably back in North Dakota, that wind. You were cognizant which direction you were going, with the wind, against the wind. To some extent it maybe changed some play calls, but way we were able to run the ball was huge for us.”
Against a Bills team that was ranked third in the league in rush defense, the Eagles left them in flames, running for a season-high 218 yards. Their previous best ground mark was 176 yards in a win over the Green Bay Packers.
They got a touchdown from each of their three running backs.
“They came out and established the line of scrimmage early in the game and that carried through the rest of the game,” said Bills coach Sean McDermott.
Miles Sanders got the ball rolling with a 65-yard touchdown run on the second play of the second half to give the Eagles a 17-7 lead after Jake Elliott missed his first PAT of the season. Sanders ultimately left the game with a shoulder injury, bit afterward said his X-rays were “cool” and the shoulder was fine.
The rookie finished with 74 yards on three carries, 44 yards on three catches and 24 yards on one kickoff return. The 142 all-purpose yards now gives him 851 yards this year to lead all rookies.
“We just kept grinding,” said Sanders. “We come to work every day and get better. We’ve been patient with it and it’s a long season, so eventually it’s going to start working for us. We leaned on the running game. We had high wind and tough weather so we knew it was going to be a run-the-ball type of game.”
Boston Scott scored his first career touchdown on a four-year burst to give the Eagles a 24-13 lead with 5:38 to play in the third quarter.
Jordan Howard finished the scoring with a three-yard run with 6:12 left in the fourth. It was Howard’s fifth rushing TD of the season and his sixth overall, which leads the team.
“We knew coming into the game be pretty tough conditions, so we knew we were going to have to lean on the run and game and luckily we were able to carry the team,” said Howard, who had 96 yards on 23 carries (4.2 yards per carry). “The O-line did a great job like they do week in and week out. We were able to stick with it. We didn’t get behind (like last week in Dallas when the Eagles fell behind 14-0 in the first six minutes due to two turnovers), so that helped us stick with it.”
The Eagles’ other touchdown came on a 5-yard throw from Wentz (17-for-24, 172 yards, one TD, no interceptions, and a passer rating of 104.9) to Dallas Goedert. It was Goedert’s third TD of the season.
Miles Sanders’ was the most obvious. His 65-yard burst took a slim 11-7 Eagles lead at halftime to 17-7 just 58 seconds into the second half.
It was his second touchdown of the season, but his first on the ground.
The run tied Sanders for the seventh longest TD run by a rookie. Bryce Brown had a 65-yard TD against the Panthers on Dec. 26, 2012.
“Means a lot,” said Sanders. Rookie season, first rushing touchdown a long one, took it to the house. But I have to give credit to the O-line and a key block from Jordan (Howard). That play doesn’t happen unless they do their job.”
Howard’s block spring the whole thing as the Eagles lined up in a rare two-back set.
“That was sweet,” said Wentz of Howard’s block. “The first thing I said to Miles was you better give your other boy some love on that because Jordan’s block was sweet.
“I had a front row view on that and to have explosive run like that, it’s been a while since we really broke a long touchdown run like that. The conditions like they were today that was huge. Jordan being selfless, turning into a fullback right there, I can’t say enough good things about those two guys.”
Brandon Graham forced a fumble from Bills quarterback Josh Allen on the first play after the two-minute warning and on a third-and-two.
For some reason, it wasn’t a ruled a sack, though Graham did get one of those later in the game for his fifth of the season, but Graham popped the ball free and pounced on it at the Buffalo 24.
One minute and 28 seconds later, Wentz hit Goedert for a touchdown. Sanders added the two-point run and the Eagles took an 11-7 lead into halftime.
The play ignited the Eagles, as they scored touchdowns on four of their next five possessions after the turnover.
“Momentum, momentum,” said McDermott. “Before half, I think it was 7-3 at that point and we’re thinking, ‘Hey, run the ball here, we got a chance. If we get it we’ll go. If not, we’ll punt it.’ And we turned the ball over.”