CHARLOTTE – All hope seemed lost.
When Jalen Hurts threw a bit too wide to a cutting Zach Ertz over the middle on a fourth-and-four from Carolina’s 39 with 5:38 and the Eagles trailing by five points to the Panthers on Sunday, it seemed over.
A fourth straight loss was imminent.
It had actually felt over in the first half, when the offense struggled mightily.
Only the defense provided a glimmer of hope, and a 58-yard field goal from Jake Elliott as time ran out on the first half that saw the Eagles trailing 15-6.
It probably was over until T.J. Edwards blocked a punt with just under four minutes to play, and the Eagles somehow found a way to capture a 21-18 victory at Bank of America Stadium.
Here are my 10 observations that, temporarily, anyway, may have saved the Eagles’ season.
Speed kills and Quez Watkins has it. The 53-yard catch the second-year WR made was a huge play. Head coach Nick Sirianni said afterward, “it felt different after that. That was a big play in the game. Great job by Jalen finding it. I thought Jalen overthrew him. It was great to see Quez put the burners on and go and track that ball.”
Watkins’ 21.9 yards per catch average led the NFL coming in, and that will go down a bit. Still, he had three catches for 48 yards.
The screen pass. Remember last year, when Doug Pederson was grilled about why there aren’t more screens? Well, this year, Nick Sirianni is running the screen into the ground. There has to be a happy medium in here somewhere.
Touchdown twilight zone. That’s what it’s become for this team. They had yet another touchdown negated due to penalty, this one a fourth-and-goal catch from DeVonta Smith in the first quarter that would have given the Eagles a 7-3 lead with a made PAT.
That was the fourth one in two games and fifth this season. That has to lead the league, right?
“We don’t have no control over that,” said Smith, “keep pushing. Just keep doing what we gotta do.”
Smith effective again. The rookie didn’t have a second straight 100-yard receiving game, but he made nice plays with a game-high seven receptions for a game-high 77 yards. He also caught an important two-point conversion pass that gave the Eagles a three-point lead rather than a one-point lead.
“I always think this as an offense, when you are down three as an offense it feels different than
when you are down one,” said head coach Nick Sirianni about the two-point catch. “Like, ‘Hey let’s go kick a field goal and win this game.’ It does. It feels different. I thought, that is a huge play.”
Smith won’t be the rookie of the year (Bengals WR Ja’Marr Chase will), but he could be the next Eagles receiver over 1,000-yards receiving, something that hasn’t been done since Jeremy Maclin did it in 2014.
No Lane Johnson again. Jordan Mailata was beaten badly on back-to-back sacks from Haason Reddick. After Darius Slay’s second interception, the Eagles got the ball near midfield, but Reddick went right past Mailata for sacks of eight yards each. Mailata, who was working at right tackle because Johnson missed his second straight game with a personal matter, was also called for two penalties, a hold and being an illegal receiver downfield.
“Still need a couple more practices,” said Mailata, who was signed to be the left tackle of the future but added he will do whatever the team asks.
Mailata wore a brace over his sprained knee. He didn’t like it, saying it made him feel like a robot and too stiff.
Darius Slay showed up. The veteran cornerback, who spent a few days on Twitter feuding with some fans following last week’s loss, had two interceptions and now has 22 in his nine-year career. It was his third game with two interceptions.
The last Eagle to have two picks in a game was LB Jordan Hicks against Dallas QB Mark Sanchez on Jan. 1, 2017.
The last CB to do it was Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie on Sept. 9, 2012, vs. Cleveland.
Sack attack. It was good to see someone other than Javon Hargrave get one. Hargrave got one but Fletcher Cox and Josh Sweat added one each and the Eagles now have 11 in five games.
Davion Taylor should play more. The second-year linebacker, drafted in the third round in 2020, may ultimately become their best linebacker. There will be growing pains, but he had a prominent role on Sunday and made some plays, finishing with four tackles.
“Only” six penalties. That is the fewest the Eagles have committed this season. Still, they were big ones because it cost them 60 yards of field position. LB Alex Singleton had two that totaled 15 yards – a face mask and an unnecessary roughness. Carolina had nine for 69 yards. Andre Dillard, who was called for four last week, didn’t have a single one.
Good and bad on third down. The Eagles defense did its job on that down, stopping the Panthers 10 times in 15 tries, allowing them to make a first just 33.3 percent of the time on third down. It’s a far cry better than last week when the Chiefs made nine of 10.
At one point, they had allowed just one in 10 tries against the Panthers.
The offense, however, needs to be better on third down after converting just four of 13 (30.8 percent).
Ed Kracz is the publisher of SI.com’s Eagle Maven and co-host of the Eagles Unfiltered Podcast. Check out the latest Eagles news at www.SI.com/NFL/Eagles or www.eaglemaven.com and please follow him on Twitter: @kracze.