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Lunch Break: Eagles exceeding expectations
It was a streak-ender and potentially a lead-changer.
Or so it seemed.
On the verge of being sacked by linebacker John Abraham in Sunday's victory over the Cardinals, Nick Foles chucked a pass high over the middle to DeSean Jackson -- "It wasn't a smart decision by me," Foles said (see story) -- and Patrick Peterson picked it out of the air for an interception.
Had the play stood, Foles' streak of touchdowns without an interception to start a season would have ended at 19, one behind Peyton Manning's league record of 20. More importantly, the Cardinals, trailing 24-21, would have taken over at the Eagles' 36 with 3:51 left in the fourth quarter.
But the play didn't stand.
"Holding, defense, No. 32. Five-yard penalty," referee Tony Corrente announced. "Automatic first down."
Cards cornerback Tyrann Mathieu was called for holding Jason Avant, and that was that. Eagles' ball, first down at their own 39. Streak and lead intact.
Bruce Arians, your thoughts?
"I don't make any comments on officials until after I watch the tape," the Cardinals' coach said.
The tape -- at least the TV replay -- showed the call was questionable, but it did look like there was a slight hold. Mathieu for a split second placed his hand high on Avant's chest to jam him -- which is legal -- but then briefly had his right hand on Avant's back. His left hand was concealed by Avant.
"I knew I got a pretty good jam on him at the line of scrimmage," Mathieu said. "From there, I just tried to get my body into his body. It was an unfortunate call, especially when Patrick made that great play.
"I didn't know what the penalty was on. Obviously I was facing the [other] direction, when Patrick caught the interception. When I turned back around, the flag was on the ground."
Mathieu was asked about the play several times, and other than saying he was surprised by it, he wouldn't criticize the call any further. He even pointed out that "it wasn't a critical point in the game" because the Cardinals forced the Eagles to punt and got the ball back.
"We just didn't make enough plays in that first half," he said.
Naturally, head coach Chip Kelly said it was "the right call." Avant explained -- and demonstrated -- why. Using one reporter as a prop, he showed other reporters how Mathieu deftly hooked Avant's hip to obstruct the route.
"That was definitely a holding [penalty] because he can't grab my waist," Avant said. "It was a Cover-zero -- he had to in order to stop me from getting the ball.
"He pulled my hip."
The Eagles also benefited from a call and non-call in the final two minutes. There was the incompletion on 4th-and-5 to Michael Floyd, who was hit by Bradley Fletcher as/before the ball arrived (see Fletcher's thoughts) and immediately looked for a flag. But like Mathieu, Floyd was diplomatic.
"The officials let us play, and the play was physical on both sides, and the officials made the calls the way they saw it," Floyd said. "We needed to do a better job moving the chains and do what we're supposed to do and not blame the officials."
Moments later, the Cards again were called for defensive holding. On 3rd-and-4, linebacker Matt Shaughnessy grabbed tight end James Casey, and the penalty gave the Eagles a first down with 1:12 left and allowed them to run out the clock.
"They held the crap out of him," Kelly said. "It was a great call. Watch it on film. He's supposed to run a route into the flat, and there was no one else left. If they didn't hold him, he would have been in the flat."
It was clearly holding, even if Shaughnessy didn't see it that way.
"He was blocking down on me, and I was fighting the pressure, pushing him to the outside, and he tried to release," Shaughnessy said. "I threw him down and then I went after the quarterback. I thought it was a sack."
Of course, all of this wouldn't have mattered much if DeSean Jackson's punt return for a TD early in the quarter hadn't been nullified by a holding penalty on ... somebody. The official didn't specify a player. The TV broadcast showed a replay isolating Kurt Coleman's takedown of Cards CB Justin Bethel. Kelly said the officials told him it was on Roc Carmichael, who was briefly tangled up with a Cardinal around midfield. According to the postgame stat book, the penalty was on Jon Dorenbos -- who as the long snapper shouldn't have been on the field.
"I'll wait till we can look at the film to see exactly what happened," Kelly said.
That holding penalty was unclear -- as holding usually is.
"The interception call was definitely a holding [penalty]," Avant said. "But in this league, we don't know what holding is anymore -- not this year. We're just going by whatever, but finally they called one in a crucial point in the game, and they called another one at the end of the game, which was holding as well. Thank God for them being able to have eyes at the end of the game."