Without the Eagles’ sturdy defense Sunday, there wouldn’t have been any Jalen Hurts heroics.
Time after time, the defense kept Indianapolis out of the end zone, stuffed its formidable running game and kept Hurts and the offense within a reasonable margin.
Things didn’t start out that way.
Indy took the opening kickoff and stormed down the field, going 75 yards on 10 plays. Eight of the plays were on the ground, seven by All-Pro running back Jonathan Taylor, who gained 49 yards on the drive and scored on a 1-yard run.
Coming off a defensive-challenged loss to Washington the week before, the opening drive looked and felt ominous. The Eagles were stung not only by the season’s first loss to the Commanders, but the justified criticism that accompanied it.
The Eagles (9-1) were determined to bounce back and prove their gaudy record wasn’t built on the backs of inferior opponents.
- “The first 15 plays, you see how they’re trying to attack you,” defensive end Brandon Graham said after the Eagles’ 17-16 road victory. “They was doing a good job. It was similar to what we were getting hit on. It just felt like we bowed up.”
That opening drive was about the end of Taylor’s production. He carried 15 more times for 35 insignificant yards, as the Eagles’ defense swarmed to the ball and got more than one tackler to corral Taylor, who is from Salem, N.J.
- “That’s a good offensive line,” Eagles coach Nick Sirianni said. “Jonathan Taylor’s a good back. There was not much there, at all.”
The Colts started three drives near midfield and came away with only a field goal. For most of the game, the Colts seemed as if they were one power drive away from putting the game nearly out of reach.
Indy’s final drive of first half started at its 45. Indy moved the ball to the Eagles’ 33 but no more and kicked a field goal.
Hurts was strip-sacked on the first play of the second half. Indy, ahead 10-3, took over at the Eagles’ 22. The Colts were held without a first down and had to settle for a 36-yard field goal.
An Indy touchdown there could have been devastating.
THE NEW GUYS
Ahead 13-3 midway in the third quarter, the Colts took over at its 47. That’s when a shared sack by newcomers Ndamukong Suh and Linval Joseph and a holding penalty stopped the drive.
- “Them boys looked like was ready to go, like they’ve been here a while,” Graham said. “I’m thankful for them. They kept us up through the game. They had a great attitude through the game.
- “It’s that pure excitement from being back … It was great pick-ups because they was great fits from their personalities and coming in and maximizing their role.
- “LJ, he kept saying, ‘I was just on my couch and I dreamed about this. Look at this now. I just felt like it was meant.’ It was cool to see those guys come in and make some plays.”
Late in the third quarter, the Colts drove from their 45 to the Eagles’ 32. The Eagles’ defense tightened and the Colts missed a 50-yard field goal, keeping the score 13-3.
After the Eagles cut the deficit to 13-10 on Quez Watkins’ touchdown reception, Indy fumbled on a mosh pit play, where the linemen from both teams are pushing to move/stop the ball carrier. Linebacker T.J. Edwards, who had 10 tackles, recovered the fumble at the Eagles’ 43.
- “It took a collective, all 11, especially on that strip,” Graham said. “That was a big play. That was a big drive that we stopped.”
In the fourth quarter, Indy had the ball and momentum after A.J. Brown fumbled four plays after the Eagles recovered the mosh-pit fumble.
Indy drove from its 34 to the Eagles’ 5, when Suh stopped Taylor and Haason Reddick sacked Matt Ryan with 4:52 to play. An Indy touchdown there would have made it a two-score game and probably not enough time for Hurts to orchestrate an amazing finish.
After Hurts led his team on a 75-yard drive that ended with a 7-yard touchdown run to give the Eagles their only lead, Ryan still had 1:20 to get his team into field goal range.
Graham made yet another big play, sacking Ryan to set up a fourth-and-16 from the Colts’ 33 with 39 seconds to play.
- “Sweaty [Josh Sweat] was killing them outside, so I said I’m going to bull-rush him,” Graham said.
- “I’d seen that Matt Ryan kept stepping up in the pocket and I wanted to make sure he didn’t step up. So, I went all out and bull-rushed because we needed a play. I didn’t see him … I didn’t know he had the ball.”
Ryan and the Colts were out of time and out of downs. The Eagles celebrated Hurts’ heroics and Sirianni’s emotional return to Indy, but they knew the entirety of the defense’s efforts made this victory possible.