The swaggering, undefeated, big men on campus Eagles were run over on the first drive of Thursday night’s game by the 1-5-1 Houston Texans.
The Texans moved the ball with speed and efficiency, looking exactly like, well, the Eagles. Houston drove 75 yards on nine plays and scored a touchdown — the first time it scored on its first possession all season.
Did these teams switch uniforms?
For the double-digit underdog Texans, this was the kind of start that gives you oxygen. It gets them thinking, maybe we can pull off this upset, despite steep odds.
At the very least, the Texans’ opening drive told you this was going to be a competitive game. No blowouts here.
The Eagles were pushed around and nearly run aground. In the end, what got them here, got them over the finish line — pressure on the quarterback, an interception and a red-hot passing combination.
When it was over and the focus could return to the Phillies-Astros World Series game, the Eagles survived, 29-17, to improve their record to 8-0. This is the first Eagles team to start a season 8-0.
“These Thursday night games are always tough,” Eagles coach Nick Sirianni said. “However you gotta get it done, you gotta go it done.”
This was not the Eagles’ finest hour in a season of accomplishment. They came in on short rest, played down to an inferior opponent, and didn’t lose. On this night, not losing was more than acceptable. Without their best stuff, they had enough.
The play that changed the game was another interception by safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson, who was acquired at the end of training camp.
- “That catch shifted the game and our momentum,” Sirianni said. “It wasn’t an easy catch.
- “He’s looking at me, like, you need to put me on offense. We got some good wideouts so I don’t know if we’re there quite there yet. But I’ll know he’s going to catch it.
- “Speaking as an offensive coach, that’s what you fear — that when you make a mistake, a guy can make you pay. We have a bunch of those guys out there in the secondary and Chauncey is definitely one of them.”
With the score tied at 14 in the third quarter, Gardner-Johnson’s league-leading fifth interception came on a diving catch and the Eagles were in business at the Houston 17. Remember, Gardner-Johnson switched positions when he arrived in Philly, going from nickel back to safety.
The interception was available because of pressure on Texans quarterback Davis Mills, who stepped into a broken pocket and forced a pass over the middle. Mills made the game’s worst decision when he tried to complete that pass.
Two plays later, homecoming king Jalen Hurts hit A.J. Brown — they connected for three touchdowns last week — for a 17-yard touchdown and the Eagles led, 21-14.
Miles Sanders was a beast on the ground even as he wasn’t the best running back on the field. Sanders gained 93 yards on 17 carries with a touchdown.
Tight end Dallas Goedert had eight receptions — all of them crucial, it seemed — for 100 yards and a touchdown.
Hurts was his solid, impressive self — 21-of-27 for 243 yards and two touchdowns.
RUSHING DEFENSE WEAK
The Eagles’ run defense wasn’t impressive. The defense’s weak link is against the run; they are ranked 15th. The Texans’ rushing offense is ranked 26th but rookie Dameon Pierce had 88 yards on 13 carries, running hard through tacklers in the first half.
Add an impressive first half by Mills and it made sense that the half ended tied at 14. Mills was 8-of-9 for 90 yards and two touchdowns.
Pierce finished with 139 yards on 27 carries, and looked good doing so. He looked like the best running back on the field.
Meanwhile, Hurts was 14-of-18 in the first half for 176 yards. He connected with seven different receivers. He also lost the Eagles’ first fumble of the season when former teammate Steven Nelson sacked him from his secondary position.
GAME BALL TO HARGRAVE
Eagles defensive tackle Javon Hargrave, who played mostly at nose tackle was a handful all game. He had seven tackles and three sacks. Hargrave has five sacks in the last two games.
Hargrave was a force, charging up the middle and getting in Mills’ face. Sirianni said Hargrave got one of the two game balls — the other going to owner Jeff Lurie.
At the end, the Eagles didn’t look like the Super Bowl contender the pregame shows were breathlessly talking about.
“Being 8-0, sweet, right?” Sirianni said. “It beats the alternative of being 7-1 or 6-2. We know that our goal wasn’t to go 8-0. Our goal was to take one game at a time. That’s our goal.”
The Eagles didn’t score many style points but they got out of Texas with a win. After all, this was a business trip.