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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — A win that saved the season.
The Eagles went into Buffalo Sunday and scored 31 points against the NFL’s No. 3 scoring defense, grinding out 222 yards and three TDs rushing in a commanding 31-13 win over the Bills.
So the Eagles are back to 4-4 after losing by 18 in Minnesota and 27 in Dallas. They’re only half a game and a tiebreaker behind the idle Cowboys. Most importantly, they have life at the midpoint of the season.
Let’s get right to our 10 instant Eagles observations.
1. There was a lot working against the Eagles this past week, and you don’t need me to recap everything, but between off-field distractions, back-to-back lopsided losses, a third straight road game and a top-3 Buffalo defense, not to mention some rainy and windy conditions at New Era Field, they had a lot to overcome Sunday. The most encouraging thing to come out of this win was just that it shows that the locker room is still together, and Doug Pederson still has his players’ attention. To come into this building and find a way to beat a 5-1 Bills team after everything that’s happened? Just a huge character win.
2. The Eagles ran the ball well the whole game, but that 8 1/2-minute drive to open the fourth quarter was just massive. The Eagles ran the ball on 11 of 14 plays and put the game away by running right at the heart of one of the NFL’s best defenses. And they did it without Miles Sanders, who was out with a shoulder injury. Pederson kept feeding Jordan Howard and he responded with 96 forceful rushing yards on 23 carries. Just kept moving the chains. And the offensive line, which wasn’t great the whole game, was huge on that drive. The Eagles’ running game has been up-and-down this year, but this was a statement drive to seal a crucial road win over a quality opponent.
3. Brandon Graham’s strip sack and recovery of Josh Allen’s fumble deep in Eagles territory just before halftime was the play of the game. The Eagles were able to capitalize and take an 11-7 lead at a point when yards were very hard to come by for the offense. That was the first of two Graham sacks, and he now has 6.0 sacks in his last four games after recording 4.0 in his previous 20 games. I had my doubts about bringing Graham back for a 10th season, especially with $27 million in guaranteed money at 31 years old. But he’s playing at a high level right now. His effort is non-stop and it’s paying off lately.
4. A huge play in this game was Ronald Darby’s pass breakup on the Bills’ 4th-and-10 from the 29-yard-line late in the third quarter. With the Eagles up 24-13, they needed a stop, and Allen’s pass to John Brown was on target, but Darby — in his first action in a month — got a hand in front of Brown and batted the ball away. No way that play gets made while Darby was out.
5. He got hurt soon after, but Sanders’ 65-yard touchdown run was an eye-opener. This is a guy who had 42 yards combined with a 2.2 average his last three games. He just absolutely exploded — behind a Howard block — and when he’s in the open field, he’s unstoppable. The issue has been getting him to the second level. But this is only his eighth career game, and to record the Eagles’ longest rushing TD in seven years was impressive. Pederson reduced Sanders’ role the last few weeks but didn’t entirely stop using him, and his belief in the rookie from Penn State paid off. Sanders still needs to do this consistently, but his ability in the receiving game (3-for-44 Sunday) and this explosion in the running game is a dangerous combination.
6. The Eagles’ defense really needed a performance like this. After the last two weeks? They had to be great Sunday. The Bills don’t have a particularly high-powered offense, and Allen still made more plays in the passing game than you would have liked, but the Eagles held Frank Gore to 9-for-34 rushing and the Bills netted just 253 yards of offense. Most importantly, they kept the Bills from getting any big plays both with Gore in the running game or Brown in the receiving game. Buffalo didn’t have a 30-yard play.
7. I thought a really key moment for the defense was late in the third quarter, when Boston Scott’s fumble on a kickoff gave the Bills the ball at the Eagles’ 43-yard-line with the Bills down 11. How many times have we seen the defense buckle in that situation when the Eagles really needed them to stand up tall? This time, they came up huge, stopping the Bills on that Darby fourth down, and the game was essentially over after that.
8. In all, the Eagles ran an incredible 40 times for 218 yards. That’s their most rushing yards since they had 256 in Dallas in 2014, and their most carries since they had 42 against the Chargers in L.A. in 2017. To do that against this defense after struggling to run the ball with authority much of the season is enormous. Running the ball does so much. Keeps the defense off the field. Wears down the opposing defense. Gets the offense into a rhythm. Keeps pressure off Carson Wentz. They’ve got to be able to run it effectively more consistently, but this was one heck of a performance.
9. Wentz was efficient throwing the ball on a blustery day — 17-for-24 for 172 yards with a TD and no interceptions — but he really made an impact with his athleticism. On that key 8 1/2-minute drive in the fourth quarter, he converted a 3rd-and-5 with a 13-yard scramble and then ran 11 yards on a 3rd-and-10. Then he rolled out as if to run, drawing defenders, and threw to a wide-open Dallas Goedert for a first down. Nobody was going to put up big passing numbers on a day like this — not in these conditions, not against this opponent — but Wentz was in command from start to finish and made big plays whenever he had to, especially on third down. Encouraging day for Wentz.
10. Looking at the big picture, the Eagles really salvaged their season with this one. At 4-4 in a division where nobody has played consistently well and with the Cowboys still having to come to Philly in December, there’s no reason they can’t win the NFC East. But they have to find a way to play like this week in and week out. They have to be consistent. They can’t go out and get blown out two weeks in a row. The Eagles really righted the ship with this one. It’s a win that inspires confidence in this team and this coach. The schedule doesn’t get any easier with the Bears, Patriots and Seahawks. But for this win to really mean anything, they have to keep fighting the way they fought Sunday.