The Eagles beat the Jets at the own game Sunday afternoon, using a potent ground attack and turnovers on defense to hand New York its first loss in a 24-17 decision at MetLife Stadium.
The Birds created four turnovers, in contrast to just one of their own. Their offense, known the last two years for going vertical and compiling an excess of yards had only 232 (Sam Bradford was 14-for-28 for just 118 yards an one TD). But most of the Jets' stats (323 yards) came with the team desperate and down big early. And with the Eagles defense able to bail out the offense over and over again, it was enough to get the Eagles in the win column.
Here's a brief look at the three biggest reasons the Eagles avoided going 0-3 with their big win Sunday:
It's about the defense dummy
The last thing Eagles fans expected was their defense to carry them to victory. With their two best linebackers (Mychal Kendricks, Kiko Alonso) and a top defensive end (Cedric Thornton) out and the Jets defense getting all the headlines, Philly would have been content to simply hang on.
But replacements Brandon Bair (DE) and Jordan Hicks (ILB) filled in admirably as Malcolm Jenkins, Nolan Carroll and the rest of the secondary went toe-to-toe with the Jets receiving corps allowing just 47 yards (2.9 yards per rush) on the ground against the Birds' run-stoppers. Hicks made the play of his young career, snagging a tipped ball (from Bair, who had his hand on three key passes) and securing it with the Jets in the red zone late in the fourth quarter.
Eric Rowe, another rookie, caught his first career interception at the perfect time as well. A few minutes earlier the cornerback dove into the end zone in coverage on Jets' rookie wideout Devin Smith.
The final nail in the Jets' coffin, another turnover from the defense, came with the Jets driving the field, down 24-14, on a pick on the sideline by Walter Thurmond.
No Murray, no problem
After famously rushing for just 70 yards in their first two games, and losing their highly-paid starter DeMarco Murray to a hamstring injury, Ryan Mathews ran for 108 yards, caught two passes for 20 yards and a touchdown and Darren Sproles added 17 yards and 19 more in the air as well to help the Birds running backs contribute to the victory.
Mathews has 15 career fumbles, and a late fumble (his second big mistake after he dropped a sure touchdown pass on the first half) became a non-factor thanks to fabulous defense on the other end on the Hicks interception.
The play action pass was once again effective thanks to the potent running game, and the offensive line, despite losing Andrew Gardner to an injury held their own against Muhammad Wilkerson, Leonard Williams and company up front.
Darren "shifty" Sproles finally gave the Birds the big play they have been ailing for, breaking several tackles, and ankles, en route to an 89-yard punt return touchdown in the second quarter, rewarding a fantastic defensive effort to that point and giving the Eagles a 10-0 lead. The eighth special teams score since the start of last season, Philly has twice as many as the next best special teams unit in the span (the Patriots with four).
The return was a spark for the Eagles, who were able to play their style of football throughout the game. Another key special teams play helped the Eagles when Seyi Ajirotutu dove and covered an onside kick attempt with the game now just one possession away from the Jets tying.
The Eagles offense nearly gave the Jets the victory several times down the stretch but the defense was able to clinch the win with its stellar play.