By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun
PHILADELPHIA—Here’s something no one thought we would be saying at the beginning of this season: the Eagles (7-5) are a playoff contender with four games left.
The Eagles moved into a first-place tie with the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC East with a 24-21 victory over the Arizona Cardinals in front of a packed house at Lincoln Financial Field. It was the Birds fourth win in a row.
For the second straight game, the Eagles jumped out to a big lead only to give it up and then find a way to win it in the end. When you’re competing for a division title and a playoff spot, the only thing that matters is if you come away with the victory—even if you don’t play your best game.
“It’s the heart of this team and the character of these guys,” said McCoy, who gained 79 yards on 19 carries. “Each week we come out and play. I know it’s tough right now and every win is a must-win situation, but we just have to play ball.”
Quarterback Nick Foles had another solid performance for the Eagles. He completed 21-of-34 passes for 237 yards and three touchdown passes. Against a tough Cardinals defense, Foles found his tight ends-Zach Ertz twice and Brent Celek once for Eagles scores. Ertz caught five passes for 68 yards. Celek caught four passes 29 yards. They were targeted 12 times.
“Just thought we had some plays in there to the tight ends, get them in base personnel and then try to take advantage of that and those guys did,” said Eagles head coach Chip Kelly. “Those guys contributed and we feel like we have three that are talented and when the matchups present themselves, we can exploit it.”
The Eagles led 17-7 at halftime thanks to Foles touchdown passes to Ertz and Celek and a 32-yard field goal by Alex Henery. The Cardinals got their only score of the half on a 43-yard touchdown pass from Carson Palmer to wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald.
On the Birds first drive of the second half, they moved 80 yards in 13 plays to Foles 24-yard touchdown pass to Ertz. That gave the Eagles would looked to be a large 24-7 lead. But that was the end of the scoring for a Birds offense that was just out of sync in the second half.
“We need to play better in the second half,” Foles said. “That’s obvious. We didn’t play well. We need to help our defense out.”
Even as the defense was sacking Palmer and forcing turnovers including two interceptions and a fumble, the offense simply stalled and could not take advantage.
“We’ve got to convert and do a better job,” Kelly said. “We’ve done in a couple of games and against that stout defensive line it’s tough to line up and run the football on them. So again, it’s something we need to continue to work on and we’ve got to get better at it.”
Meanwhile, the Cardinals, despite the Eagles defense getting five sacks and forcing three turnovers, got back in the game with a pair of touchdown passes—a 23-yard pass from Palmer to Michael Floyd late in the third quarter and a three-yard pass to tight end Jim Dray with 4:45 left in the game.
Just when it looked like the Cardinals were going to come up with a fourth-quarter comeback to possibly win or tie the game, the Eagles defense did not allow a first down on Arizona’s final possession of the game.
“I like those moments, but it’s kind of a bittersweet situation because you never want to be put in those situations,” said Eagles cornerback Cary Williams, who had one of two interceptions for the Eagles. “But at the end of the day, if you are, you want to play to the best of your ability and give it your best shot in each and every down. We handled our business and continued to get better in those scenarios.”
In fact, it was the Eagles defense that set the tone for the game when linebacker Trent Cole sacked Palmer and forced a fumble that was recovered by rookie defensive lineman Bennie Logan. That turnover led to the Eagles first score of the game. The Birds got two sacks from Brandon Graham, two from Coles and one by defensive end Damion Square.
“They had a nice game collectively,” said defensive coordinator Billy Davis. “It’s a group effort and all of them, the D-line, the outside linebackers on the edges collectively they rush and collapse the pocket they take turns getting the sacks.”