Well, that was unexpected. After nearly a month of poor play, the Philadelphia Eagles went into Gillette Stadium looking for a win no one thought they could earn. It wasn't always easy, and it took a complete team effort, but the Eagles knocked off the 10-1 New England Patriots by a score of 35-28 to stay in the hunt for the NFC East crown. Let's take a look at how each unit fared Sunday:
Overall grade: A
The Eagles beat the Patriots. Read that again: the Philadelphia Eagles defeated the New England Patriots in a real, live, regular season game. A game in which Tom Brady played quarterback. At one point, the Eagles scored 35 unanswered points. Against the Patriots. That alone gets them an A.
The defense had a monster performance, the special teams arose from the dead, and the offense didn't totally blow it. When that happens, the Eagles demonstrated that they can beat just about anyone, just about anywhere.
If you missed the game and only watch the highlights, you'll probably notice that, for scoring 35 points, the offense won't be prominently featured. Quarterback Sam Bradford and company were solid, and avoided deadly mistakes (for the most part - more on that later). That enabled the Eagles to hang around when down 14-0 and eventually take a commanding lead before holding on for the win.
Bradford was solid, going 14-of-24 for 24 yards for 120 yards and two touchdowns. He was nearly intercepted on at least one occasion and had a couple head-scratching throws, but was otherwise fairly accurate. One week after missing a game with a concussion, Zach Ertz had a beautiful leaping touchdown, and Jordan Matthews also got on the score sheet.
The only real negative was the run game. DeMarco Murray was a non-factor, rushing eight times for 24 yards - with a long run of 19 yards. Darren Sproles was the lead back, picking up 66 yards on 15 carries. And Kenjon Barner saw his most significant action, though he created some late-game drama. He fumbled late in the fourth quarter, and the ball was recovered by the Patriots, giving Brady a chance to tie the game with a minute to go. But otherwise it was a quiet but solid day for Chip Kelly's offense.
Prior to Sunday, the Eagles had never intercepted Tom Brady. On Sunday, they did it twice. And, oh yeah, one of those went for a touchdown. Malcolm Jenkins picked a pass tipped by Walter Thurmond III and took it 100 yards for the score. Then, in the third quarter, Byron Maxwell intercepted a pass in the end zone. Add to that the Eagles' four sacks and nine tackles for loss and baby, you've got a stew going.
Things got a little dicey there toward the end - Tom Brady was able to engineer a little bit of a comeback by stringing together back-to-back touchdown drives. But the defense held on and put an end to Touchdown Tom's come-from-behind antics.
Special teams: A+
Where to even start with this one? After a quiet season, the Eagles' special teams units showed up in a big way.
First was the blocked punt. With under ten seconds to go in the first half, Chris Maragos blocked a Ryan Allen punt, which was picked up by Najee Goode and returned for the touchdown. It was a dramatic swing that tied the game before New England got the ball in the second half. Then, early in the third quarter, Sproles caught a punt, shook off New England defenders and returned it 83 yards for the touchdown.
Those two enormous plays aside, the special teams unit deserves credit for playing on its toes. In the second half, up 14-0, the Pats tried a drop kick instead of a standard punt. The bit of hubris backfired because the punt return unit had its wits about it. And in the fourth quarter when the Patriots tried another onsides kick, Riley Cooper wisely swatted the ball out of bounds before any Patriots could grab it.
Dave Fipp's crew had been MIA for much of the season, so it's very encouraging to see them back in 2014 form as we head into the home stretch of games.