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October 12, 2017

Final observations: Eagles 28, Panthers 23

The Eagles had to battle the Carolina Panthers and an officiating crew at the same time, and they ended up emerging victorious anyway. Philadelphia's 28-23 victory came down to the game's final moments, which is exactly what you'd expect in a battle for control of the NFC.

The Good

•  It started and ended for the Eagles with their defensive front. With Fletcher Cox back in the mix, the Eagles did not allow Carolina to get absolutely anything going on the ground – unless your name was Cam Newton.

Anytime you can force a team to get all their rushing yards with their quarterback, even with a talented runner like Newton, that's a win for the defense. Carolina couldn't credibly set up play-action throws all night, and it made it a lot more difficult for them to get any sort of rhythm going.

The final tally for Carolina's running backs: one total rushing yard between three backs. That is a dominant performance from Philadelphia's front seven.

•  This is one hell of a play by Patrick Robinson:

As I mentioned in the first half breakdown, Robinson just continues to make huge plays, and this one helped the Eagles start the second half on the front foot.

• The Eagles had already banged through an extra point and made it 17-10 when the Panthers were called for a penalty. Referee Pete Morelli originally announced the penalty would be applied on the kickoff, but Doug Pederson was not satisfied to take the single point when he could go for two points near the goal line.

There were a lot of critics of the move — nobody likes to take a point off the board—but it paid off, and LeGarrette Blount muscled his way through the teeth of Carolina's defense for two points. Score one for Big Balls Doug.

•  Nigel Bradham probably played his best game of the season, short week be damned. He was there on pass breakups, he was in the backfield on run plays, and most importantly, he was there on a couple monster tackles in the flat, saving points on several different occasions.

The one that will get the most attention is his stop of Christian McCaffery, which allowed the Eagles to hold the Panthers to a field goal early in the second half.

But he made similar tackles at different stages of the game, hauling down Newton late in the first half to keep the clock running and the quarterback in bounds. On a play that left him writhing in pain on the ground, Bradham launched himself to prevent the first down, and he succeeded, putting his body on the line for those last few inches.

He trailed Mychal Kendricks in the total tackles department, but you'd be hard-pressed to find a game where a single player had more impact tackles than Bradham did against the Panthers. Heck of a performance.

•  This is about as perfect of a throw as you are ever going to see.

Wentz buckled under pressure a few times on Thursday night, sailing throws well over the heads of his receivers. But when he was on, he was really on, and Wentz continues to look like a quarterback who can lead the Eagles deep into the playoffs one day, perhaps sooner than you'd think. It wasn't his most efficient evening (16/30 for 222 yards), but Doug Pederson will take the three big touchdowns and run with them back to Philadelphia.

• The Nelson Agholor redemption tour keeps on rolling. He got matched up with Shaq Thompson on the opening play of the fourth quarter, and Agholor reminded everyone why he was sought after coming out of USC.

Thompson had absolutely no chance once Agholor got the ball in his hands, and neither do a lot of opposing defenders these days. Now that he's a reliable pass catcher — at least for the time being — his natural gifts have been given a chance to shine, and Eagles fans are coming around on the guy they were busy writing off as recently as this offseason.

There were more than a few of us who were wrong on this one, so there's no shame in admitting it.

•  The Eagles need to get more from Derek Barnett, but his first career sack came in a huge moment late in the game.

Go get a few more of those, kid.  

The Bad

•  Newton hung a deep ball early in the second half, and Rodney McLeod read the play beautifully to snag an interception. Everything was coming up Eagles, and they were about to have a chance to put real distance between themselves and the Panthers.

Not so fast. Jalen Mills took an absolutely ridiculous pass interference penalty, nullifying the play. It was a bit of a ticky-tack call, to be fair, but it's the sort of penalty there's just no need to take. Mills knows his help is coming and in a position to make a play, and all he needs to do is keep running alongside his guy. Instead, he takes a cheapie and allows Carolina to move into Eagles territory.

It was hard to hold it against Mills for too long, because he came up with what ended up being the game-clinching interception with three minutes remaining in the game. I guarantee a lot of Eagles fans had this thought running through their minds when they saw him haul it in:

•  Alshon Jeffery probably got interfered with on a deep ball from Wentz midway through the third quarter. And while some Eagles fans will focus on the poor officiating (which I don't blame you for), this is the sort of play a No. 1 wideout is expected to make.

That goes double for a WR like Jeffery, whose specialty is supposed to be catching balls in traffic and outmuscling smaller corners on the outside. Penalty or not, you expect better out of him. The Eagles' overall productiveness in the passing game has overshadowed Jeffery's lack of production, but this is the guy you want Wentz to be able to go to in a tough spot. So far, they have yet to develop that chemistry.

•  The Eagles absolutely whiffed when they had a chance to run out the clock late in the fourth quarter. A nice run from Blount gave them second and manageable, and after Carolina used their final timeout, the Birds were sitting pretty.

A blown block from Zach Ertz and a failed third-down conversion later, and the Panthers had the ball back with time to march down and win the game. They even had the free "timeout" offered by the two-minute warning, which is inexcusable given the situation.

The worst part of all? Wentz had multiple wideouts open on the play that basically could have killed off the game, but he never took his eyes off Ertz.

Again, Wentz had another good game, but he's going to regret this series big time when he runs it back on film. 

The Ugly

•  There was no real explanation for this one coming out of halftime, but it is not good news for the Eagles.

Hicks' only real problem historically has been staying healthy, and being ruled out immediately to start the half does not bode well for his availability moving forward. Keep an eye on this one, because the only good news is the Eagles have 10 days between now and their next game.

•  The referee crew from this game should be embarrassed. Whenever there was a 50/50 call that could go in favor of Carolina, it did, and eventually, it becomes hard to ignore that even if you're a neutral party. Though you might think cries about the officiating were just sour grapes, national analysts joined in on the complaints, highlighting the inconsistency in the way the game was called all evening.

I mean seriously, look at how bad this disparity was at a point midway through the game's final quarter.

There's just no way that is what a fair share of penalties from this game would look like. If not for the Eagles playing through and overcoming it, the officials are the story from this one, and they were a big enough part of it as it is. There are weeks when the officials are just bad, but this crew was bad and inconsistent. That's the absolute last thing you want as a player.

And by the way, this isn't the first time a Pete Morelli crew jobbed the Eagles.