Now the real season begins.
The Eagles are 7-1 after vanquishing the comfortable portion of their schedule with a 38-31 victory over the Washington Commanders at FedExField on Sunday.
The Eagles fought back from a 14-3 deficit, and even though they were down, it seemed to be a foregone conclusion that they would fight back and win—and it is exactly what they did.
There were, however, glaring fissures. Washington converted 7-12 third downs, when the Commanders entered the converting just 29.41% on third down, which was 31st in the NFL (only the New York Jets were worse). The Eagles suffered two turnovers inside the Washington five, giving them 13 turnovers this season (They did not turn the ball over 13 times until Week 15 last season). The Commanders also amassed 472 yards of offense.
But the bottom line is the Eagles won.
A.J. Brown set an NFL record with his sixth-straight game of 125-plus receiving yards after hauling in a 17-yard, fourth-quarter reception. During this run, Brown has made 49 catches for 831 yards and five touchdowns, averaging 138.5 yards receiving a game, 16.9 yards a catch and 8.1 catches a game.
Jalen Hurts may be moving slower than expected, and he may even be playing less than 100-percent healthy, yet he still completed 29 of 38 for four touchdowns and 319 yards.
Now, the Eagles are about to enter the gauntlet. Their next five games over the next six weeks, covering NFL Weeks 9 through 15, the 2023 Eagles will find their identity.
This stretch comes against opponents that possess a combined .692 winning percentage. It is the highest opponent winning percentage that any team will face, featuring Dallas (11/5), the Bye Week, at Kansas City (11/20), Buffalo (11/26), San Francisco (12/3) and at Dallas (12/10).
There was a mound of good, some bad and a lot of ugly defense in the Eagles’ 38-31 victory over the Washington Commanders.
Edge rusher Haason Reddick beating Commanders’ right tackle Andrew Wylie for the Eagles’ only sack of the game. The timing could not have been better. The nine-yard strip sack came on a fourth-and-five at the Washington 25 with 2:13 to play and basically capped the Eagles’ victory.
Hurts finding Julio Jones for an eight-yard touchdown down the middle of the end zone with 7:17 to play. The TD reception gave the Eagles their first lead of the game, 31-24. It came when Hurts threaded a perfect ball between Washington safety Kamren Curl and nickelback Danny Johnson.
Safety Reed Blankenship’s fourth-quarter interception with 8:02 to play. Until then, it been a rough day for the second-year safety, getting beat for a touchdown earlier in the fourth quarter, and having a communication problem that led to another Washington score. The turnover led to the first Eagles’ lead.
The Eagles’ first drive of the fourth quarter. The seven-play, 75-yard drive resulted in a tied 24-24 score when Hurts found receiver DeVonta Smith wide open on a blown coverage for a 38-yard touchdown with 8:03 to play. The Eagles were so efficient that they only had to convert one third down on the seven plays.
A.J. Brown is making an argument for NFL MVP. Every defense knows he is the Eagles’ go-to weapon, and despite safeties over the top, double teams, every conceivable gadget of added attention possible, Brown is still producing record-breaking numbers. Brown finished with eight receptions on eight targets for 130 yards and two touchdowns. But what is emerging is that the Eagles are a one-dimensional team, heavily reliant on Brown, because no one else, aside from Hurts, is rising to the level of their ability.
Smith’s rolling gift third-quarter 17-yard catch on a fourth-and-four at the Commanders’ 28. A replay showed Smith may not have caught the ball, but Commanders’ coach Ron Rivera apparently could not find his red flag to challenge the play. Two plays later, Hurts found Brown for the second time for a score and a 17-17 tie.
Britain Covey’s 25-yard punt return to start the Eagles’ second drive of the second half. It was a great boost, considering the Eagles’ offense was returning to the field after their version of the “Butt Fumble” (see below) on a failed “Brotherly Shove” attempt.
Running back D’Andre Swift’s nine-yard carry on the Eagles’ second play of the second half. It was a small moment, yet a large one, considering on that one carry, Swift gained three more yards than the Eagles’ anemic rushing game produced the entire first half. Swift later ran over Washington safety Percy Butler in the closing minutes of the game, and then added a new dimension to the Brotherly Shove with a seven-yard sweep off the play that produced the last Eagles’ TD.
A.J. Brown’s six catches on six targets in the first half for 88 yards and one amazing touchdown (see below). He was really the only thing the Eagles had going in the first half.
Brown’s otherworldly one-handed 16-yard, second-quarter touchdown catch. It could not have come at a better time—with :34 left in the half. The Eagles’ so-called vaunted defense was struggling to hold that juggernaut Sam Howell and the Eagles could have used any pick-up that could get. Brown, as he has done countless times this season, proved to be it. He bailed out Hurts by reaching up on a back-shoulder throw with his right hand, and pulling the ball into his body as he landed in the end zone—and with the Commanders’ Benjamin St-Juste draped all over him.
Hurts finding Brown for a 24-yard gain on a third-and-four at the Washington 45 on the Eagles’ third drive of the game (the Kenneth Gainwell fumble drive). On the same drive, Hurts finding Brown again for 20 yards on a third-and-11 at the Commanders’ three. The following play, Gainwell fumbled.
Hurts’ seven-yard scramble on third-and-seven on the Eagles’ second drive. Nothing, until that time, had been working for the Eagles’ offensively. Hurts extended the drive by being smart, eluding the Commanders’ pass rush and getting to the Eagles’ 35. On the same drive, Hurts finding A.J. Brown for a 12-yard gain on a second-and-five. Regrettably, the drive stalled at the Washington 33, forcing a 52-yard Jake Elliott field goal.
Safety Sydney Brown bolting through the right side of the Commanders’ offensive line through right guard Sam Cosmi (occupied by Jalen Carter) and right tackle Andrew Wylie (occupied by Reddick) for a one-yard loss on Washington’s first drive for a one-yard loss. The play came on a second-and-one at the Washington 45 and helped stop the Commanders’ opening series. Three plays later, Brown made a great open-field tackle on Dymani Brown on a second-and-five at the Eagles’ 47 for no gain. Brown later dumped Terry McLaurin on a great tackle with less than two minutes to play on second-and-10 at the Washington 25.
Nickelback Eli Ricks coming up to make the stop on Curtis Samuel for a one-yard loss on a third-and-five at the Eagle’s 47 on the Commanders’ first drive. The Ricks’ play compensated for Ricks’ earlier faux pas (read below).
The Eagles one sack against a Washington team that is on a record pace for sacks given up in a season. The Commanders entered the game giving up an NFL-high 40 sacks. There were times when Howell could have sat and had dinner in the pocket, then picked his teeth afterwards (an obvious exaggeration). But he had more time than he should have, and that translated into Howell completing 39 of 52 for four touchdowns and 397 yards.
Right guard Sua Opeta getting flagged for a false start on second-and-nine at the Eagles’ 26 on their first drive of the fourth quarter. The Eagles got out of it by, who guessed it, A.J. Brown’s 16-yard reception at the Eagles’ 38.
Safety Reed Blakenship getting beat by tight end Logan Thomas for a seven-yard touchdown and a 24-17 Washington lead. Howell stepped up in the pocket and found Thomas, with Blankenship a few steps behind, on a third-and-goal with 12:03 left to play.
The Eagles rushing for a scant six yards in the first half, averaging 1.5 yards a carry. The lack of balance limited the Eagles offense.
The Eagles’ giving up a field goal with only :34 left in the first half. The Eagles just crawled to within 14-10 on the incredible Brown one-handed catch. They had momentum going into halftime, and it was deflated by a Joey Slye career-long, Washington-record 61-yard field goal. The field goal even came after a Commanders’ false start penalty and gave Washington a 17-10 halftime lead.
Butt Fumble II. The Brotherly Shove failing on first-and-goal at the Washington one on the Eagles’ first drive of the second half. The Eagles had just benefitted from a St-Juste interference call on Brown on a fourth-and-three at the Commanders’ 32. Hurts took the snap and as he pushed forward on the tush push, the nose the ball caught the right cheek of left guard Landon Dickerson and came squirting out in the pile. Kendall Fuller came up with the loose ball.
The Eagles fumbling twice within Washington five-yard line.
Gainwell having the ball ripped out of his arms by Washington’s Kamren Curl at the Commanders’ five. The turnover was the Eagles’ 12th turnover of the season.
The Eagles’ defense on the Commanders’ third possession. A week ago, this was the same defense that was lauded for the putting the clamps on the explosive, yet banged-up Miami offense. It did not look it on this drive. Washington easily poured through the Eagles’ defense for nine-play, 75-yard scoring drive. It could have been shortened if quarterback Sam Howell did not overthrow the wide-open Byron Pringle on a first-and-10 at the Eagles’ 47. A key play came on the first play of the second quarter, when Howell hit Logan Thomas up the middle for 16 yards on a third-and-four—beating the newly acquired safety Kevin Byard on the play. The Commanders overcame a first-and-25 at the Eagles’ 30 for Howell’s 21-yard TD toss. The first-quarter stats told the story: Washington had gained 113 yards from scrimmage to the Eagles’ 49, converted one of two third downs, where the Eagles converted one of three, and almost a two-minute edge in time of possession. After one quarter, it was enough to scratch your head and wonder which team was 6-1 and which team was 3-4.
Brown and Blankenship getting their signals crossed on the Jahan Dotson 21-yard TD reception from Howell. The Eagles’ rookie defensive back, who has shown to be a reliable tackler, bit on an outside move. When Dotson cut inside, Brown was running four yards behind him. Again, as what has happened numerous times with the Eagles this season, a lack of communication stung them. Brown assumed he had safety coverage, Blankenship assumed Brown had him. Dotson ran by them both.
The Eagles’ defense on the Commanders’ second possession. Washington needed just three plays to take a 7-0 lead. On second-and-three, Robinson went right up the middle, through Fletcher Cox and Nicholas Morrow for 29 yards, to the Eagles’ 26. Cox was double-teamed by Cosmi and Wylie, Washington back-up left guard Chris Paul pulled and took out Zach Cunningham, leaving huge space for Robinson. Morrow took a bad angle and got caught inside. It was a great designed play. On first-and-10 the following play, Terry McLaurin, the bane of the Eagles’ secondary, beat corner James Bradberry in the end zone for a touchdown and a 7-0 Washington lead. The scary part about it, two days before Halloween, is how easy the Commanders made it look. Three plays, 62 yards, and less than a minute—54 seconds to be exact.
Ricks getting flagged for what really was a ticky-tack interference call on a third-and-two at the Washington 44 on the Commanders’ first drive. Ricks stuck his left arm out and hooked Samuel, who played it well.
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.