The Eagles must learn to put teams away
Brent Celek celebrates his second-quarter touchdown reception in the Eagles' 24-21 win over the Cardinals. (AP)
If December games are supposed to be a test for the Eagles and young quarterback Nick Foles, consider this exam passed.
Foles tossed three more touchdowns and broke a franchise record for most passes without an interception, and the defense produced three turnovers as the Eagles won 24-21 over the red-hot Cardinals at the Linc.
Chip Kelly won his first post-bye week game and the Eagles, winners of two straight at the Linc after a 10-game home losing streak dating back to last year, won their fourth straight game to keep pace with the Cowboys for first place in the NFC East (see 10 observations).
Arizona had won four straight games coming into the showdown under first-year coach Bruce Arians and had scored at least 27 points in each game, including a 40-11 win last Sunday against the Colts.
Even with a second-half offensive slump -- 26 yards on their last four drives -- the Eagles rung up the fourth-most points this season against Cards defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, who was the Eagles’ defensive coordinator for all of 10 games last year.
The Eagles have now scored 24 points in each of their past four games, each one started by Foles, who wasn’t officially named starter until last week.
Foles turned a strip-sack by Trent Cole deep in Arizona territory into a first-possession touchdown pass to Zach Ertz and led a nine-play, 78-yard drive in the second quarter that ended with a 1-yard TD pass to Brent Celek with 19 seconds left. Foles then marched the offense 80 yards on 13 plays to start the third quarter and hit Ertz on a 24-yard touchdown post that inflated the Eagles’ lead to 24-7.
But the Eagles have had problems holding big leads all year, and they did again. Their next three possessions netted minus-one yard and they went four straight drives without scoring a point. The Cards got touchdown passes from Carson Palmer to Michael Floyd and Jim Dray to get within three and had the ball at their own 10-yard line with slightly more than two minutes to play.
The Cards also had Palmer, who can be pinpoint accurate on one pass and scattershot on another. He badly missed a wide open Andre Roberts on 3rd-and-5, then had his fourth-down pass to Floyd broken up (somewhat illegally) by Bradley Fletcher.
Foles, who had three straight games with 104.3 passer ratings or better, turned in another Folesian effort. It’s looking more and more like he’s the real deal. In his first meaningful December game, he completed 21 of 34 passes for 237 yards and tossed three touchdowns. His 112 passer rating made it four straight over 104.3 overall and fourth in six starts.
The big thing for Foles, once again, was limiting turnovers. In the third quarter, on a 16-yard completion to Ertz, he tied Michael Vick’s franchise record of 224 straight passes without an interception (set in 2010).
On the next snap, an incomplete pass, he broke the record. He’s also thrown 19 touchdowns to start the year without an interception and is one away from tying the NFL record set earlier this year by Peyton Manning.
Meanwhile, Palmer’s bid for Comeback Player of the Year took a big hit. Palmer, whose 15 interceptions were third-most in the NFL and most by a quarterback who doesn’t play in New York (or New Jersey), had managed to go two straight games without an interception but was picked off twice and fortunate to have some other hurried passes not intercepted.
He completed 24 of 41 passes for 302 yards and three touchdowns but was also picked off twice -- by Nate Allen and Cary Williams -- and lost a fumble. His 85.6 passer rating was his lowest since Oct. 17 against Seattle.
Give it to Eagles tight ends. Celek and Ertz combined for nine receptions, 97 yards and all three touchdowns. Ertz, in his 12th professional game, notched his first two-TD game (Celek, a seven-year vet, still doesn’t have one in the regular season). Celek caught his fourth touchdown of the season after having just one last year.
Cards tight end Rob Housler, who had at least four catches and 51 yards in each of his past three games, had just three receptions for 21 yards and dropped a wide-open 3rd-and-4 pass in the first quarter.
Give it to outside linebackers Cole and Brandon Graham, who each had two sacks. Cole, who has four sacks in his last two games, now has 76 career sacks to tie him with Clyde Simmons for second-most in franchise history. Graham picked up his first multiple-sack game since he picked up 2 1/2 against the Bengals last year on Dec. 13.
Cards safety Tyrann Matheiu, who’s had an impressive rookie season, looked like a third-round steal entering the game. He allowed Ertz’s first touchdown and was trailing on Celek’s 1-yard TD catch before the half. His defensive holding in the fourth negated a Patrick Peterson interception in Eagles territory.
Reserve linebacker Najee Goode and reserve wideout Jeff Maehl each went back to the locker room in the first quarter, Goode for a hamstring injury and Maehl for a head injury. Maehl didn’t return.
Did you know?
Allen’s first-quarter interception was his first since the 2011 season finale. This was his 25th start since that game.
S Earl Wolff, QB Matt Barkley, CB Curtis Marsh, RB Matthew Tucker, LB Emmanuel Acho, OT Dennis Kelly, OT Matt Tobin (see story).