sports 3 days ago

Eagles beat Panthers, 28-23; improve record to 5-1

The Philadelphia Inquirer — By Zach Berman The Philadelphia Inquirer

Oct. 13-- CHARLOTTE, N.C.-If any skepticism remained about the start to the Eagles' season, it should have vanished by the time Jalen Mills intercepted Cam Newton's pass in the final minutes of the Eagles' 28-23 win over the Carolina Panthers on Thursday. Or maybe the doubt disappeared on the previous two interceptions, or after any of Carson Wentz's three touchdown passes.

What cannot be disputed is that the Eagles are 5-1 and appear to be one of the best teams in the NFL, a distinction strengthened with a signature win on the road over the Panthers on a short week. Their success can no longer be qualified by playing weak opponents; the Panthers also entered the game 4-1. Six games into the season is early, but it shouldn't be dismissed as too soon for excitement. And with three consecutive home games upcoming, the Eagles will have a chance to add to their record.

Wentz finished 16 of 30 for 222 yards and three touchdowns. LeGarrette Blount led all rushers with 67 yards. Zach Ertz caught two touchdowns, and Alshon Jeffery led receivers with 71 receiving yards.

The key was an Eagles defense that forced three turnovers to help tilt the game in their favor. In the second quarter, with the Eagles trailing by seven points, Fletcher Cox hit Cam Newton as Newton released a pass. The ball floated in the air, and rookie cornerback Rasul Douglas settled underneath for an interception in the red zone. He returned it seven yards to give the Eagles possession at the 12-yard line.

Facing a fourth-and-1 at the 3-yard line, Pederson did not want to settle for a field goal. He wanted to tie the game. He relied on Wentz for a quarterback sneak to gain the first, giving the Eagles a fresh set of downs to score. It took three plays for Wentz to find Ertz in the back of the end zone to tie the game.

The tie broke after the next big turnover on the Panthers' opening drive of the second half. Patrick Robinson dove to catch ball that fluttered through Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart's hands for an interception that gave the Eagles possession at the 17-yard line. After two plays, Wentz connected with Ertz again for a 17-yard touchdown and an eight-point lead after the Eagles attempted a two-point conversions.

The Eagles almost had another interception the next possession. Rodney McLeod picked off Newton on a deep pass downfield, but it was nullified because Jalen Mills was flagged for pass interference. The Eagles were outraged by the call, which was one of 10 penalties charged to them on Thursday.

The Panthers turned the field position into points with a field goal. The Eagles responded with a field goal of their own, and the Panthers settled for another one late in the quarter, but the Eagles would not fade.

Wentz has answered the bell on third downs all season, and he didn't stop Thursday. Facing a third and 16 on the Eagles' 19-yard line, Wentz navigated through a blitz to hit Mack Hollins for a 20-yard gain. That extended a drive that finished when Nelson Agholor caught a 24-yard touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter to give the Eagles a two-possession lead.

That touchdown proved critical. The Panthers failed to snap the ball in time on a third-and-10 at the Eagles' 23-yard line, but Derek Barnett didn't hear a whistle. The rookie defensive end pulled Newton to the ground, and the Eagles were charged with a personal foul. That flag put the Panthers in position for Newton's one-yard touchdown pass to Christian McCaffrey, cutting the Eagles lead to 28-23.

That was the score when the Panthers forced a punt midway through the fourth quarter. They extended their drive by converting a fourth and 1, but Newton quickly tossed a wayward deep pass that Mills intercepted. Even though the offense could not run out the clock, the defense returned to the field and stopped Newton again to secure the victory.

The Eagles have endured injuries throughout the first six weeks, and that listed continued to grow on Thursday when linebacker Jordan Hicks left the game with an ankle injury and special teams ace Chris Maragos exited with a knee injury. They played Thursday without right tackle Lane Johnson, who was sidelined with a concussion. On the opening drive, it appeared Johnson's absence could again haunt the Eagles. Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers rushed around Halapoulivaati Vaitai to sack Wentz and force a fumble, drawing flashbacks to Vaitai's first start.

But the Eagles recovered, showing the qualities of a tough-minded team. The defense made big plays. The offense responded to every challenge. Kicker Jake Elliott was automatic. There are no trophies offered for good records in October, but Thursday should convince anyone who maintained doubts that the Eagles should be taken seriously this season.

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