It Ain't Over Yet: Eagles Hold On to Lead, Keep Playoff Hopes Intact

It Ain't Over Yet: Eagles Hold On to Lead, Keep Playoff Hopes Intact

And the nightmare ends... at least for a couple weeks.

The Eagles jumped all over Redskins during the first half of Sunday's game in our nation's capital, scoring on four consecutive drives to amass a 20-point lead. They wouldn't score again the rest of the afternoon, but the defense played surprisingly well, doing just enough to withstand a John Beck-led fourth quarter comeback. With their 20-13 victory, the Birds head into the bye week with a 2-4 record, and for the time being have put themselves back in the postseason conversation.

Juan Castillo's defense set the tone early on, a huge departure from recent weeks. Kurt Coleman intercepted Rex Grossman on Washington's first drive, one of the safety's three picks in the game. Michael Vick led the offense on an 82-yard drive, capped with a 7-yard touchdown on a tight end screen to Brent Celek -- who by the way had a big role in the game plan.

Following a three-and-out, the Eagles marched right down the field again, and would eventually find themselves on the goal line. They would not be denied today though, as LeSean McCoy took the handoff and bounced it outside for an easy six, capping a 72-yard possession.

Philadelphia would stall in the red zone on their next two series, but Alex Henery picked up a pair of field goals to extend the lead to 20. However, those finishes proved to be a sign of things to come.

The Eagles could not score in the second half. They moved the ball inside the 20-yard line on their opening possession, but Vick's pass intended for Celek was deflected, and collected by O.J. Atogwe on the 1. Vick was then nicked up on the next series, and Vince Young promptly threw an INT in relief. Vick returned and the offense moved into scoring position, but failed to convert a 4th and 2 from the Skins 32, an area many teams might have opted to go for three. Finally, a pair of drives ended with punts.

Thankfully the defense was up to the task. Grossman was pulled after throwing his fourth interception of the game, and replaced by Beck, a career backup. Ryan Torain managed just 22 yards on 10 carries, as the defense held Washington to a paltry 42 yards on the ground. The pass rush is clearly missing something without Trent Cole, but Mike Patterson and Darryl Tapp each came up with a timely sack.

It was a solid effort all around that indicates they may be starting to gel on the other side of the ball. Coleman obviously played at a high level, and Nate Allen added a pick of his own in his second consecutive strong performance, perhaps solidifying the defensive backfield finally. They did allow 94 yards receiving to tight ends, but most of those came on screens and short swings rather than down the field.

Meanwhile, the offense continues to give an uneven effort, even if there was a lot to like here. LeSean McCoy carried 28 times in a contest where the Birds dominated the time of possession, racking up 126 yards and the score. Maclin was the top receiver with five catches for 101 yards, while Vick had a steady day with 237 yards in the air and another 54 on the ground.

Most importantly, they protected the ball. After turning it over 14 times over the previous four games, it was only the two picks today -- one of which was Young. However, they continued to shoot themselves in the foot in the red zone, coming away with touchdowns on two of five trips. That needs to get turned around, as we're not sure this defense will hold some of their more offensive-minded opponents to 13 points.

But for today, a win is a win, and there were plenty of positives to take away from this. They protected the ball. They played defense. They limited bone-headed mistakes. Now the Eagles have the bye to continue fixing the things that are still broke, get some key players healthy, and gear up to make the postseason run we all expected.

Yes, a postseason run. If they play more like they did today, that dream is not so far-fetched.

Tranquillo Barnetta will not return to Union next season

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USA Today Images

Tranquillo Barnetta will not return to Union next season

Tranquillo Barnetta is going home.

In an abrupt announcement on Tuesday, the Union declared that the skillful Swiss attacking midfielder will not renew his contract with the club and will return to Switzerland following the 2016 season to play for his hometown club, FC St. Gallen.

According to MLS Players Union, Barnetta’s exit will free the Union of $687,500 next season.

“The entire soccer community here was so welcoming and I’m so thankful to everyone at Philadelphia Union for making me feel so appreciated,” Barnetta said. “Playing in front of my friends and family and making plans for life at the end of my career where I want to live is a force I can’t resist.”

Although the timing of the announcement is a surprise, the move isn’t one. With Alejandro Bedoya now in the mix, currently playing out of position in a box-to-box midfield role, the Union will replace Barnetta with Bedoya at the center attacking midfield spot. It’s a position that Bedoya is comfortable in, playing there with his previous club, FC Nantes.

Bedoya played for the injured Barnetta in the center midfield spot last Saturday and scored his first goal of the season in a 1-1 draw with Toronto FC.

But even with Bedoya ready to take over, the Union will miss Barnetta. Since joining the Union in 2015, Barnetta, 31, has been one of the better possession playmakers in MLS, scoring six goals and seven assists in 37 games.

“Tranquillo has been a key piece in what we’re trying to build here in Philadelphia but we appreciate his decision to return to Switzerland,” said Union sporting director Earnie Stewart, whose club has three matches left in the 2016 season, and will likely make the playoffs. “We look forward to continuing to push for the postseason.”

As Eagles enter bye, Doug Pederson aims to thwart complacency

As Eagles enter bye, Doug Pederson aims to thwart complacency

The Eagles are 3-0. They’re alone atop the NFC East and have been the biggest surprise of the young NFL season.

Doug Pederson’s message to his team: You haven’t done anything yet.

Although the Eagles are riding high, Pederson doesn’t want his team to change its outlook or hard work. That’s what teams have to worry about once they’ve found some success.

“The biggest thing is complacency,” Pederson said Monday. “You think you've arrived. You think you are all that. When that creeps in, that's when you get beat. It's my job not to let that creep in. I've got to keep the guys focused and grounded. I told them this week they're going to travel and go home and people are going to pat them on the back and say how great they are.

“But next Monday, I'm going to tell them, ‘Hey, we're back to work. We're 0-0. This is Game 1 and let's go.’ That's just the way it has to be. You are building for one ultimate goal and that's a few weeks down the road. That's what you are trying to get to. But you can't get there unless you take care of the next opponent. It's my job to keep them focused that way.”

Being 3-0 (they’re one of five 3-0 teams) gives the Eagles a head start, but it certainly doesn’t guarantee them a playoff spot. This is the ninth 3-0 start in franchise history. They’ve made the playoffs just five times in the previous eight. And they recently missed the playoffs after starting 3-0 in 2014 under Chip Kelly.

In NFL history (before this season), there have been 276 teams to start with 3-0 records. Of them, 200 (72.3 percent) have made the playoffs.

“We just have to approach it the same, one day at a time,” Pederson said. “That's the way this business goes. You are on top of the world one minute, and you can be at the bottom of the heap the next. Just got to keep things even-keeled and can't get too high, can't get too low. Approach it the same. Like I mentioned earlier, you can't substitute for hard work. That pays off on Sundays. We just have to stay the course. Again, a lot of football left.”

While the Week 4 bye comes pretty early, the Eagles have a couple key players who will use the time to get healthy. And Connor Barwin pointed out that the bye is coming about closer to the halfway point between when the team started its tough training camp and the end of the season.

Pederson told his players to use the week to get away from football and free their minds. Meanwhile, Pederson and his coaches will use the extra time to self-scout and prepare for the final 13 games of the regular season.

With a first-year head coach and a rookie quarterback who was thrust into action a week before the opener, expectations outside (and perhaps inside) the building were tempered.

The Eagles aren’t an underdog anymore.

“We kind of enjoyed flying under the radar, but obviously a win like this against a team like the Steelers will open some eyes around the league,” Malcolm Jenkins said. “For us, nothing different. We’ll keep our preparation the same. We’ll stick our heads down and focus on the work day to day and understand what’s gotten us to 3-0.”

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