Undefeated Eagles won a tough extra time win over the Commanders
This is how you know Eagles fans are not really all that concerned about their team’s early-season perceived struggles: Hundreds of them, most wearing their new Kelly green throwback jerseys, left minutes before Sunday’s game was even decided by a 54-yard Jake Elliott field goal, heading to their cars or a post-game bar, when the Eagles were still gutting out their 34-31 overtime victory to remain undefeated.
The Commanders handed the Eagles their first loss of the season in 2022, and that they came so very close to doing it again was little consolation. Ron Rivera, who had earned the moniker Riverboat for his penchant for high-risk plays, went the safe route, and opted to kick the extra point to send the game to overtime, rather than try for a two-point conversion that would have won the game outright. His team had already executed a perfect two-minute drill, slicing through the Eagles defense with one Sam Howell pass after another. The Eagles looked exhausted. Why not try for two and the win?
“They were gassed,” Rivera said of his own team. “It was a long-ass drive.”
It was that. And the resilience of the Commanders, and Howell in particular — who had been whipped by nine sacks from the Buffalo Bills last week — indicated that the NFC East might not be done with the Commanders, who are 2-2, quite so easily this season. Rivera noted that the Commanders had had some good drives this season, but to do it against the Eagles, with a game on the line, was impressive. And then he pounded his fist on the lectern.
“There’s no moral victories,” Rivera said. “We’re going to learn from it and I think this is going to help us going forward.”
For the first month of the season, the Eagles have followed each victory with a vow that they are still a work in progress. This victory won’t change that narrative, or the fretting of Eagles fans, or the — almost certainly correct — confidence among some that everything is going to be just fine, so fine that a traffic jam is a viable alternative to waiting for the Eagles to win. Most of the concern until Sunday was centered around Jalen Hurts, and the sputtering start to the passing game. Worry no more, Hurts threw for 319 yards, two touchdown and no interceptions. This was the best defensive front the Eagles had faced and they still ran for 104 yards. Even on Sunday, the Eagles had to be patient before the offense opened up, with Hurts starting the day with short passes on the opening drive and then hitting A.J. Brown on a 59-yard bomb and again for a 28-yard touchdown in the third quarter.
“I think tension and pressure build character,” Hurts said after the game. “We needed a game like this for us. I think a win like this does so much for the spirit of a team because winning is not easy. Winning is hard.”
The Eagles defense would likely agree. The unit was uneven, struggling early to get home on the pass rush (Howell was sacked five times), and allowing Howell to throw for 290 yards. This was the first game of the season in which they ceded more than 76 yards rushing (the Commanders had 107). Still, the Eagles held the Commanders without a point in the third quarter, when the Eagles mounted their rally, and they had the ultimate lucky break when Commanders receiver Terry McLaurin appeared to catch a pass from Howell on third down on the first possession of overtime. But McLaurin landed on Reed Blankenship’s left forearm — the bright red marks near his elbow attested to it — which prevented him from landing in bounds and extending the drive. Instead, the Commanders had to punt. And they never got the ball back.
Not much has been easy for the Eagles through four weeks. Hurts got called for intentional grounding on the game-winning drive, eliciting another long groan in the stadium, one of 11 penalties that nearly undid the Eagles. And it was a taunting call on Brown following his late-game touchdown that gave the Eagles a brief lead, which gave the Commanders favorable field position to start their game-tying drive. But the Eagles need to be battle-tested for a brutal stretch of games that begins in three weeks after winnable games against the Rams and Jets. Then, starting in mid-October and stretching for nearly two months, are games against the Dolphins, Commanders again, Cowboys, Chiefs, Bills, 49ers and the Cowboys again.
It is telling that after the game, Brown acknowledged he can’t make mistakes like the taunting penalty. It was Hurts who told him on the sideline that he can’t do it. That refining of the details is a form of progress that the Eagles are working on, too. They are far from a finished product, but the finish line for one of the league’s most talented teams is far off.
“I would love to blow a team out,” center Jason Kelce said. “But I’ll take it. A win’s a win. We’re not playing our best ball right now, but we’re still finding ways to win games.”