Nick Foles and Riley Cooper celebrate a first-quarter touchdown in the Eagles' 31-20 win over the Buccaneers. (USA Today Images)
TAMPA, Fla. -- The ball sailed through the air, leaving Nick Foles’ right hand and spiraling deep downfield before settling into the hands of Riley Cooper 47 yards later for a touchdown in the third quarter.
And just in case there were still questions about his ability to hit the home run, Foles did it again in the fourth, finding DeSean Jackson in the left corner of the end zone for a 36-yard connection.
Two myths were shattered Sunday as the Eagles stormed out of Raymond James Stadium with a 31-20 win over the Buccaneers -- the one that Foles isn’t dynamic or strong-armed enough to lead Chip Kelly’s offense and the one that the Eagles can’t run effectively without Michael Vick at quarterback.
If LeSean McCoy didn’t keep Tampa’s defense honest by rushing over 100 yards for the third time this season, the play action wouldn’t have been set up for Foles, who threw three touchdowns and ran for another in his first start of the season.
Foles, who swashbuckled the Bucs last year at the buzzer to lead the Eagles to a nail-biting win in the same stadium, powered the Eagles (3-3) to their second straight win and helped the team get back to .500 as it gears up for an NFC East showdown against Dallas.
It was an important victory for Foles given the uncertain status of Vick, who missed the game with a hamstring pull. If Vick can’t go, Foles will get the ball. If Vick can go, there will be questions about whether or not Foles deserves to start anyway (see story).
Sure, the Eagles have won consecutive games against teams that are now a combined 0-11, but they came to Tampa (0-5) relying on their backup quarterback against the NFL’s eighth-ranked scoring defense and with the Bucs coming off the bye week.
They also trailed 17-14 at the break, making this win their second straight when either down at halftime or in the third.
Foles, who passed for 381 yards last year against Tampa, completed 22 of 31 passes for 296 yards, the third-highest passing total of his career. He’s now thrown for 677 yards in two games against the Bucs.
More importantly, Foles led the offense to touchdowns in two of three red-zone trips, running in the first one from four yards out and hitting Jackson for a 12-yard TD. Jackson now has red-zone touchdowns from Foles in two straight games, and Foles has led the Eagles to touchdowns on four of six red-zone trips this year.
Split it between Cooper and Jackson. Cooper had his long-awaited breakout, catching four passes for a career-high 120 yards and catching a career-long touchdown pass of 47 yards. Jackson went for 64 yards on six catches and caught two touchdowns -- his first career multi-TD reception game -- increasing his touchdown total to five. He had six total the past two seasons.
Tampa Bay’s offensive line didn’t do a great job, especially with its discipline. Too many penalties stunted some of the Bucs’ drives.
Rookie safety Earl Wolff played his best game to date. He played a lot of snaps as Patrick Chung injured his shoulder again, and Wolff made a breakup in the end zone on a pass to Bucs wideout Tim Wright that would have put Tampa up, 24-21, in the fourth. Wolff had a breakup in the end zone last Sunday against the Giants.
Darrelle Revis said he’d be able to guard Jackson but was beaten by the Eagles’ wideout on the 12-yard touchdown in the second. Although he recovered a fumble, Revis didn’t make any impact plays in pass defense.
Left tackle Jason Peters suffered a shoulder injury in the third quarter and left the game. About 10 minutes later, his return status was said to be unknown. Allen Barbre replaced him, and the Eagles went ahead, 21-17, on Foles’ touchdown bomb to Cooper. Peters returned and played as an extra tight end.
Chris Polk injured his shoulder on special teams in the first quarter and went back to the locker room for X-rays before being deemed out for the rest of the game. Chung, starting for the first time since suffering a shoulder injury against Kansas City on Sept. 19, was in and out of the game with shoulder problems.
Did you know?
McCoy’s first-carry fumble snapped his streak of carries without a lost fumble at 123. His last one before Sunday’s had come last Nov. 18 against the Redskins in the first half of Foles’ first career start.
CB Shaun Prater, CB Jordan Poyer, OT Matt Tobin, OT Dennis Kelly, DE Damion Square, TE Emil Igwenagu, TE James Casey.
The Eagles play their first home game since Sept. 19 on Sunday against the division-rival Cowboys. The Eagles are 2-0 in NFC East competition. The Cowboys and Redskins play tonight at 8:30.