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Completions this season by Carson Wentz and Eli Manning

Eagles get monkey off their backs

Posted by Eric Fisher On September 10

The Eagles didn’t downplay the importance of their season-opening 30-17 victory over the Redskins.

They dumped Gatorade on head coach Doug Pederson on the sideline and offered very little of the “it’s just one game” philosophy in their postgame comments.

“(The win) got the monkey off (Pederson’s) back, and it got the monkey off our backs,” left tackle Jason Peters said in an interview with Comcast SportsNet’s Derrick Gunn.

The victory was important for Pederson because of the public criticism he received from former NFL and Eagles executive Mike Lombardi, who questioned Pederson’s qualifications to be a head coach. The resulting firestorm, including speculation that defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz is trying to undermine the head coach, has put Pederson under the microscope.

When asked about the Gatorade shower after the game, Pederson, who also used the “monkey off our backs” idiom, said, “It’s what I’ve been telling you guys. Just ask the players how they feel about me.”

As for the players, some of them have been Eagles for five straight losses against the Redskins. Most of them were here last year, when the Eagles lost seven straight road games after a Week 2 win over the Bears. Sunday’s victory ended both of those streaks.

The victory wasn’t, by any stretch, a masterpiece. The Eagles offense did not score a touchdown after the first 1:37 of the second quarter. There were too many penalties and Carson Wentz had an interception returned for a touchdown.

“It wasn’t pretty,” right tackle Lane Johnson said, “but we got the win.”

The win did not come with a price. And it’s a potentially high price. With 11:51 remaining in the second quarter, cornerback Ronald Darby, listed No. 2 on the PhillyPhanatics.com Top 10 list of indispensable Eagles, left the field on a cart after injuring his right ankle. The injury appeared to be serious even before the cart arrived. Early reports are that Darby dislocated his ankle, an injury that, depending on the severity, could cause him to miss the rest of the season.

The Eagles also lost Peters to a groin injury, although Peters said after the game that he’ll be ready for the Chiefs game next Sunday. There also was an undisclosed injury to kicker Caleb Sturgis, which, according to Pederson, was one reason he chose to attempt a 2-point conversion after Fletcher Cox rumbled 20 yards with a fumble recovery for the victory-sealing touchdown with 1:29 remaining in the fourth quarter.

Defense sets the tone

Cox’s fumble return put the exclamation point on an impressive performance by the Eagles defense. The defense limited the Redskins’ running backs to 13 carries for 34 yards and only allowed one touchdown. The defense consistently pressured Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins, forcing him into mistakes that included two fumbles and a crucial interception.

The Eagles were only leading by 19-17 when Jalen Mills made a game-changing interception. The Redskins, who settled for a field after a 16-play drive on their previous possession, had momentum on their side as they quickly moved down the field to the Eagles 14-yard line. On third down, Jim Schwartz sent an all-out blitz. With no time to set his feet, Cousins overthrew an open Jamison Crowder underneath the coverage. Mills intercepted the pass and returned it to the 15.

With the Redskins comfortably within range for a go-ahead field goal, this was a huge mistake by Cousins. But he was harassed into mistakes, including a pair of fumbles, by the Eagles’ relentless pressure.

“Schwartz has got those guys flying,” Peters said. “They did it all summer and all training camp, and they did it again today.”

Cox caused Cousins’ first fumble in the first quarter when, while lined up at left defensive end, he hit Cousin’s arm, knocking the ball loose. Linebacker Jordan Hicks recovered,

Squandered opportunity

The Eagles already had a 7-0 lead on Wentz’s 58-yard touchdown pass to Nelson Agholor on the Birds’ first possession. The play featured an incredible individual effort by Wentz, who ducked and dipped his way around the pocket, breaking a tackle before delivering the bomb to a wide-open Agholor, who finished with six catches for 86 yards.

“I think it’s big for (Agholor),” Wentz said. “But, going back to the offseason, I could see a more confident player (than last year).”

After the first-quarter fumble, with a chance to bury the Redskins in an early hole, however, the Eagles squandered the opportunity. Agholor went in motion from left to right. Wentz’s pass to Agholor was high. He couldn’t corral the pass, but, because the pass traveled backward, it was a fumble. Receiver Torrey Smith, who missed a block on the play, either didn’t realize it was a live ball or didn’t hustle to recover it. Redskins linebacker Mason Foster recovered.

The Eagles eventually took a two-touchdown lead on a 1-yard touchdown pass to LeGarrette Blount. The drive was set up by Jamison Crowder’s fumble of a punt return at the Redskins 39. Trey Burton recovered to put the Eagles in prime position to score.

Caleb Sturgis missed the extra point, which became costly when the Redskins scored twice, once on a 20-yard interception return for a touchdown by Ryan Kerrigan after Wentz’s pass was tipped at the line of scrimmage, to take a 14-13 lead. Sturgis gained some redemption when he drilled a 50-yard field goal as time expired in the first half to give the Eagles a 16-14 lead.

The Eagles had outplayed the Redskins and were the beneficiaries of two costly fumbles, yet they needed a last-second field goal to take a lead into halftime. Although Wentz completed 26 of 39 passes for 307 yards, the Eagles never found a rhythm in the running game. If we set aside Wentz’s scrambles, the Eagles ran just 20 times for 52 yards, a 2.6-yard average.

“At the end of the day, we made enough plays to win,” Wentz said.

Shutting the door

The Redskins still had an opportunity to win after a long Eagles drive culminated in Sturgis’ 37-yard field goal, which game the Eagles a 22-17 lead with 1:59 remaining in regulation. But two plays into the possession, Brandon Graham hit Cousins for his second sack, causing the fumble that Cox returned to the end zone.

Replays seemed to show that Cousins’ arm was moving forward when he was hit by Graham, but the call on the field was not overturned by the replay official.

The Eagles certainly weren’t going to apologize for being the beneficiary of the replay official’s decision, particularly after losing five straight to the Redskins.

“We haven’t played well against them, especially here,” Pederson said.

The Eagles didn’t play great Sunday, except for the defensive line. The team will need to play better next Sunday in order to defeat the Chiefs, and there are questions about the cornerback position if Darby, as it seems, will be sidelined for a prolonged period of time.

But all the Eagles were concerned about Sunday was getting the monkey off their collective back.

They made no attempt to pretend that Sunday’s victory over the Redskins was just another game.

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R.I.P. Bobby "The Brain" Heenan