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December 10, 2017

Final observations: Eagles 43, Rams 35

Eagles NFL

A rollercoaster afternoon in Los Angeles ended with one big win and a much bigger loss. Despite pulling out a major victory over the Los Angeles Rams, the Eagles will head back to Philadelphia with their minds on the health of their signal-caller, after a vicious hit knocked Wentz out of the game late in the third quarter.

The FINAL SCORE victory is nice, but it'll be tough to focus on that now.

The Good

• It's not often you get to thank the officials for bailing the Eagles out, but they got an absolute gift midway through the third quarter that changed the game. A third-down throw to Alshon Jeffery was broken up by Trumaine Johnson, but after Johnson got in Jeffery's grill following the play, the Eagles had new life.

After some more dumb penalties taken by both sides, the Eagles were forced into a massive fourth-down play inside the five-yard line. Rather than settle for a field goal, Doug Pederson mashed on the gas pedal, and his No. 1 wideout made what could be the play of the year for Philadelphia in the end zone.

The drive may have come at a cost for Philadelphia, after Wentz took a vicious hit in the endzone on a touchdown that was called back. It's not entirely clear whether that throw was even intended for Jeffery in the first place.

But this is why you paid him big money to stick around over the next few years. When the chips are down, the Eagles need to know they can count on their playmakers to come up large. Jeffery kept the game alive just when it looked like it was slipping away for Philadelphia.

•  Chris Long, who is effectively playing for free this season, made an absolutely monstrous defensive play when the Eagles needed it most.

That was just about the only impact play Philadelphia's defense made all day, but it turned out to be enough. The Eagles picked up a field goal on the ensuing drive, which put them up two with 3:46 to play in the game.

It was not a good day at the office for the otherwise excellent Eagles defense. But sometimes it comes down to one guy stepping up and making just one play at a pivotal moment to save the day. Long has been an emotional and vocal leader for this Eagles team, and this is by far the most important thing he has done in an Eagles uniform.

With momentum on their side, the Eagles killed off the game on the next defensive series, forcing LA into a three-and-out. A desperation play with :01 left on the clock was all the Rams had to salvage the game, and Philadelphia's defense closed the door with a defensive touchdown by Brandon Graham.

•  Nick Foles was a noticeable downgrade from Wentz in the passing game, but he came up with a humongous throw with the game on the line. On third-and-eight and Philadelphia in need of a conversion, Foles hit Nelson Agholor on the money and kept the ball out of LA's hands.

The Eagles are going to need a lot more of these in order to stay at the top of the NFC pack.

• I know we'll all be dwelling on the negative after this game, but it's worth celebrating this team winning the NFC East crown with time to spare. Key contributor after key contributor has gone down this year, from Jason Peters to Darren Sproles to Carson Wentz. Through it all, the Eagles keep finding ways to get over the line, and it's hard not to admire that mental fortitude.

There's a lot of work left to be done. Still, very few people thought this Eagles team was capable of what they've accomplished already, and everyone from Howie Roseman on down can feel proud. With three games left to play, the Eagles still have the fate of the conference in their hands.

The Bad

• Todd Gurley is a very good player and one of the best at his position around the league. The Eagles made him look like Bo Jackson in Tecmo Bowl at times.

On LA's first drive of the second half—the very first play, actually—the Eagles had Gurley stopped in the backfield for a loss. A series of poor excuses for tackles later, and Gurley had not only turned it into a positive play, he ran for double-digit yards and picked up a first down.

Poor tackling plagued the Eagles all afternoon, and there was a lack of discipline shown by players at every level of the defense. Malcolm Jenkins got faked out of his shoes in the first half, lineman got blown by on several occasions, and linebackers flailed their arms at players like Gurley.

Frankly, the Eagles didn't execute well in any phase of the game except for offense. Special teams, which has been a strength under Dave Fipp, had their moment of infamy too, allowing a blocked punt to go for a touchdown on a poor decision by rookie Corey Clement.

The Eagles did more than enough to win the game on offense. 31 points against the Rams would have been a great performance for a full game, and Philadelphia accomplished that in less than three quarters. For a team with Super Bowl aspirations, that sort of production should get it done.

The Ugly

• As important as the outcome of this game is, it almost doesn't matter. The bigger story coming out of Philadelphia's battle with Los Angeles is Wentz suffering a knee injury, the seriousness of which we still don't know at this point in time.

Wentz suffered the injury on the touchdown drive that put Philadelphia in the lead with just over a quarter to play, and unfortunately, it came on a play that was wiped out due to a Lane Johnson holding penalty. You love the guy's fearlessness, but sometimes he needs to learn to keep himself out of harm's way.

All due respect to Nick Foles, but the Eagles are in major trouble if Wentz misses any extended time. There is no way to duplicate his ability to buy time in the pocket and extend plays with his legs, to say nothing about his ability to throw the ball and make pre-snap adjustments at the line-of-scrimmage.

Even in the limited time Foles spent on the field Sunday, the difference from Wentz to his backup was striking. There's nowhere near the same zip on his throws, and though Wentz's accuracy can be inconsistent, he's in a completely different ballpark from Foles. Alshon Jeffery had a chance for a jump ball in the midway through the fourth quarter, and Foles just sailed the pass out of the end zone.

Without getting too far ahead of ourselves, this is not a Super Bowl team without Wentz. Frankly, it might not be a team that can win a playoff game without him. Get ready for a bumpy ride.

• This is not a sentence any Eagles fan wants to read:

When you're down to your third option at left guard, who also happens to be playing next to your backup left tackle, you're going to have problems. And the Eagles certainly did in the second half, with Los Angeles punishing their vulnerability on the left side of the line.

The offensive line, which was a major strength for most of the first half, was an absolute mess. Aaron Donald absolutely went to town on that side of the line, and not even penalties could stop the Rams from getting to the quarterback.


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