The Eagles are 4-0. The problem is—it is a team that does not look like a 4-0 team. The Eagles survived a motley, sloppy, undisciplined performance with a 34-31 overtime victory over the visiting Washington Commanders at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday.
Jake Elliott’s four field goals, his 54-yarder proving to be the game-winner, was the difference. That offset 11 Eagles’ penalties, a late taunting call that gave Washington strong field position to tie the game, a dubious decision in regulation to go for a touchdown, instead of whittling the time down for a walk-off field goal and a defense that made Commanders’ middling quarterback Sam Howell look like the next coming of Joe Montana in the first half.
The 34 points ties a season-high in this young season for the Eagles, who are the first losing Super Bowl team to begin the following season 4-0 since the 1998 Green Bay Packers, who lost in the Wild Card round to the San Francisco 49ers that season.
Jalen Hurts completed 25 of 37 for 319 yards and two touchdowns to A.J. Brown. In the second half, Hurts was 13 of 21 for 203 yards. Howell completed 29 of 41 for 290 yards and a touchdown, including five completions on the Commanders’ final drive in regulation that tied the score on the last play.
Afterward, Eagles’ coach Nick Sirianni wiped the sweat from his forehead when asked about the different ways the Eagles have won this season.
“I just want to win, and do anything we could do to do that,” Sirianni said. “It’s natural in this league to have win multiple ways. And we’ve had to, but at the end of the day, however we need to get the victory, and I’ve said this a thousand times, if we need to blitz a hundred times, if we need to pas a hundred times, whatever we have to do to win, we’ll do that that week.”
“I think you try to place your players in best positions and try to do whatever you think is right. Sometimes are we wrong, heck yeah. But we’re trying to do everything to get the ‘W’ anyway we can.”
Sirianni said he is happy the Eagles are 4-0, but admitted there is work to do. There is much to clean up he also said. He stressed there is a hunger to grow. Sirianni also pointed out that Brown was apologetic about the fourth-quarter taunting call that could have opened the door for Washington to win.
The Eagles’ coach said he would never apologize for being aggressive and scoring too quick.
Defensively, linebacker Nicholas Morrow made some key plays in keeping Washington in check and was one of the few Eagles’ defenders doing anything positive in the first half.
Washington outmuscled and outplayed the Eagles on both the offensive and defensive lines.
Overall, there was some good, though piles and piles of bad and ugly that Eagles emerged from in a 34-31 overtime victory.
Jake Elliott saves the day again. The reliable Elliott, once again, put the Eagles on his back and booted field goals of 41, 47, 36 and the game-winning 54-yarder in overtime. His four field goal erased a pile of mistakes, including 11 penalties for 80 yards and Hurts’ intentional grounding call that pushed the Eagles back to the Washington 45, and at the time, just beyond Elliott’s range.
A.J. Brown had a great game, kind of. He caught nine catches amounted to 175 yards and two touchdowns, including what seemed to be the game-winning score. He was targeted 13 times, and his 28-yard TD reception on a second-and-four with 1:43 left gave the Eagles a 31-24 lead. Brown then followed that up with a major gaffe.
Linebacker Haason Reddick’s first sack of the season could not have come at a better time. On second-and-10 at the Washington 30, Reddick pulled Howell down for a seven-yard loss, frustrating Washington’s bid to take the lead with 4:24 to play.
Olamide Zaccheaus’ 10-yard reception on a crucial third-and-eight at the Washington 45 on the last play before the two-minute warning.
Hurts’ 59-yard touchdown toss to A.J. Brown for the first Eagles’ lead of the game. Brown beat Commanders’ cornerback Emmanuel Forbes Jr., and Hurts’ deft touch hit Brown in stride, as he eluded the converging safety Darrick Forrest to take it the rest of the way. Hurt also hit Brown with a 28-yard pass on the Eagles’ first possession of the second half. The Eagles, however, did not follow up, settling for an Elliott 47-yard field goal.
Receiver DeVonta Smith’s leaping 37-yard reception with :37 left in the half. The play breathed life into a dormant, flagging Eagles’ team. It came on a first-and-10 at the Eagles’ 37 over Forbes, who had great coverage on the play. It was simply Smith beating Forbes at the high point and bringing it down. The Eagles, regrettably, blew it, forced to waste Smith’s brilliance on a 41-yard field goal.
Smith’s block on Kendall Fuller on Brown’s 59-yard TD reception. Smith simply got in the way as Brown zig-zagged his way down the field.
Linebacker Nicholas Morrow had his best game this season. With the Eagles floundering on defense, Morrow’s stop followed by an eight-yard sack finally got the Eagles off the field on a three-and-out, after the Commanders scored on their first two drives. Morrow’s second sack, a five-yard takedown at the Washington 37 with 4:35 left in the third quarter, came on a third-and-four at the Commanders’ 42. Morrow’s fourth-quarter seven-yard sack pushed Washington into a second-and-17 at the Washington 40 with 1:13 to play.
Hurts going seven-for-seven for 49 yards on the Eagles’ first drive. The Eagles countered Washington’s opening touchdown answering with a touchdown. The drive went 12 plays for 75 yards, taking 6:35 off the clock. By the end of the first quarter, each team had only one possession, thanks to clock-draining balanced drives. The Eagles threw the ball seven times and ran five times, converting two third downs on their first series.
Dallas Goedert’s eight-yard reception on the opening drive that converted a third-and-six at the Washington 17. The reception was the seventh-straight completion for Hurts. Two plays later, the Eagles scored to tie it at 7-7. Goedert came up with a great, lunging 17-yard catch in the third quarter that put the Eagles in Washington territory.
Cornerback Josh Jobe breaking up Howell’s pass to Jahan Dotson on a first-and-10 at the Eagles’ 24 on Washington’s first possession. It was the first good thing that happened for the Eagles as the Commanders rammed the ball down the field.
The Eagles blowing a timeout with 2:34 to play. Time was winding down on the play clock on a third-and-eight at the Eagles’ 44. It was an important TO, but the play clock was winding down and it did not seem as if the Eagles were set in what they wanted to do.
Taking the penalty on third-and-one at the Eagles’ 26 with 9:41 left in the fourth quarter. The next play, Howell hit slot receiver Curtis Samuel for seven yards and a first down. Two plays later, the Commanders tied the game at 24-24.
The last play of a very productive third quarter, where the Eagles outgained Washington, 162-18. Why run a quarterback draw there on second-and-10 at the Washington 15 with starting right guard Cam Jurgens out? Hurts was taken down for a one-yard loss by Washington defensive tackle Jonathan Allen. Why run into the teeth of the Washington defense there?
The first play of the fourth quarter. Why run that third-and-11 play there, which almost wound up in disaster when Kenneth Gainwell fumbled and right tackle Lane Johnson was fortunate enough to flop on the ball at the Washington 18. Why not take a shot inside the five? Elliott’s third field goal gave the Eagles a 24-17 lead.
Right guard Sua Opeta replacing the injured Jurgens in the second half. It was not a good start for Opeta, who got pushed around and shoved back into Hurts’ lap by Washington defensive tackle Daron Payne. It was almost comical as Opeta tried battling Payne on that Eagles’ drive.
Left tackle Jordan Mailata getting beat by Chase Young for a five-yard sack on a second-and-eight at the Eagles’ 45 on the Eagles’ third possession. The sack led to the Eagles’ first three-and-out. A Mailata false start happened at a critical time with 6:49 to play, making a second-and-eight into a second-and-13. The flag deflated the drive.
Safety Terrell Edmunds dropping a sure interception in the end zone on the Commanders’ first-and-goal on Washington’s second drive. Defensive end Brandon Graham had tipped the ball, and Edmunds could not handle it in the end zone. The next play, Washington scored on a recovered fumble in the end zone. Edmunds was later flagged for unnecessary roughness on a third-and-four at the 50, putting Washington in field goal range early in the fourth quarter.
Defensive tackle Jordan Davis missing Antonio Gibson on the first play of the Commanders’ second drive. The 10-yard run got Washington going again, this time on its way to a 14-7 lead. Davis later got turned inside by Washington center Nick Gates, creating a gaping hole for Brian Robinson’s 15-yard game-tying touchdown run with 8:01 to play.
Poor time management and the A.J. Brown taunting penalty. The Eagles could have squeezed the final 1:43 off the clock and won on a walk-off field goal in regulation. The Brown TD came on a very manageable second-and-four. The Eagles could have easily gained the four yards and forced Washington to burn its timeouts. No one will refute a touchdown, but when Brown taunted Forbes in the end zone, it was a crushing move. First, the Eagles left too much time on the clock, even for Howell, who was playing exceptionally well. Though the Eagles and Brown might have shrugged off the taunting penalty, that came back to bite them big, giving the Commanders sound field position. It set the stage for the final play in regulation when Washington tied it. It was not smart, disciplined football. Discipline comes from the top. Does Sirianni run this team too loosely when it comes to certain players?
Critical penalties in the first half. Two third-down penalties on defense, one a holding, another an interference, led to 10 Washington points. The other flag was a false start on fourth down, which negated an Eagles’ first down. The Eagles were flagged six times in the first half for 30 yards—including those three costly flags.
The pass interference call on slot corner James Bradberry on a third-and-eight at the Eagles’ 19 just after the first half two-minute warning. A previous Eagles’ third-down penalty led to an eventual Washington touchdown—both involving Samuel.
Left guard Landon Dickerson did not exactly have a great first half. He was flagged for a false start in the first quarter on a second-and-11 at the Eagles’ 43, and more crucial, his right hand was placed before the line of scrimmage on the Eagles’ fourth-and-one at the Eagles’ 49 on their second drive. The second Dickerson penalty, admittedly a little ticky-tack call, forced the Eagles into their first punt of the game.
The Eagles’ pass defense on third-and-four at the Washington 41. Terry McLaurin was wide open down the field for a 24-yard gain—and there was no one within five yards of him before the catch. Was cornerback Darius Slay supposed to pick him up or pass him off to safeties Reed Blankenship or Edmunds? For that matter, where were Blankenship and Edmunds on the Commanders’ first two drives?
The Eagles’ defense on the first series of the game. Credit Washington offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy for chewing up defensive coordinator Sean Desai’s defense. The Commanders were the first team to score on the Eagles in the first quarter this season, using a steady mix of rushing and passing. Howell negated the Eagles’ pass rush with a quick release. The Commanders ran the ball eight times for 25 yards, and threw six times, completing four for 50 yards. The 14-play, 75-yard drive took 7:04. It was helped up a blunder at the Eagles’ 9 (see below) on a third-and-11. But Washington knew how and where to attack the Eagles successfully and it showed in an early 7-0 lead. The Commanders converted one fourth down and one third down, thanks to an Eagles’ penalty on the drive. The 14-play drive was the longest of the season for Washington.
Morrow getting flagged for holding on the Commanders’ first possession. His one blemish. The penalty came on a third-and-11 at the Eagles’ 15, when Morrow held Samuel cutting across the middle at the nine. Confusion came when officials wrongly called linebacker Zach Cunningham for the hold, though no one was around Cunningham to hold. Morrow clearly impeded Samuel’s progress by putting out his left hand and grabbing a piece of his jersey. The penalty gave Washington new life, and the Commanders turned the opportunity into a touchdown.
The Eagles’ defense on Washington’s second drive of the game. At this point, Bieniemy seemed like he was toying with Desai’s defense. The Commanders ripped through the Eagles’ defense once again, converting one third down and moving 75 yards over 12 plays in 3:21 for a 14-7 lead. Howell, looking like Montana Jr., completed three of four for 56 yards. Howell finished the half completing 13 of 17 for 161 yards. He was patient, read his progressions quickly and threw accurately. Washington had 192 yards of total offense in the first half and 14 first downs. The Commanders held the ball 17:17 to the Eagles’ 12:43 in the half.
Joseph Santoliquito is a hall of fame, award-winning sportswriter based in the Philadelphia area who has written feature stories for SI.com, ESPN.com, NFL.com, MLB.com, Deadspin and The Philadelphia Inquirer/Daily News. In 2006, he was nominated for an Emmy Award for a special project piece for ESPN.com called “Love at First Beep.” He is most noted for his award-winning ESPN.com feature on high school wrestler A.J. Detwiler in February 2006, which appeared on SportsCenter. In 2015, he was elected president of the Boxing Writers Association of America.