Monday, September 14, 2009

Eagles Overwhelm Panthers, But Suffer a Bad Break in the End

Philadelphia Eagles v Carolina Panthers
On a day that the Eagles defense looked like a throw back to the terrorizing Buddy Ryan units led by Reggie White, the buzz was dampened when Donovan McNabb writhed in pain with a cracked rib. The defense in midnight green collected turnovers like they were beads at Mardi Gras, turning an early deficit into a dominating 38-10 win by early in the second half.

McNabb was injured in the third quarter when he was speared in the back after he fell to the end zone turf at the end of a 3-yard touchdown scramble that stretched their lead to 28 points. Although no penalty was assessed, replays showed that the hit by Damione Lewis was late and could have been avoided. Ironically, the play occurred in the exact spot where the Eagles had been given a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for a moderate display of joy after a Brent Celek touchdown catch about an hour earlier. The NFL may need to re-examine its priorities.

The day started with a Panthers drive that lasted more than 8 minutes and culminated with an 11-yard DeAngelo Williams touchdown run. The stadium was rocking and it appeared that the Eagles were going to have a tough challenge in the season opener. For the Panthers, it quickly started to unravel from there and you could sense both the players and crowd going flat. Jake Delhomme was mercifully pulled in the third quarter after committing five turnovers, while being subjected to relentless pressure after the opening drive.

Conversely, on the Eagles side, the defense forced a flurry of turnovers, keyed by their fierce pass rush. On the day, they collected 5 interceptions, 2 fumble recoveries and a touchdown by Victor Abiamiri. Trent Cole (who forced the fumble that resulted in the touchdown) and Darren Howard led the pass rush, repeatedly disrupting Panther quarterbacks and setting up opportunities for the secondary.

Another game turning play occurred early in the second quarter when DeSean Jackson retreated to his own 15 yard line to field a punt, and then weaved through Panther defenders and raced up the left sideline for an 85-yard touchdown. This, along with Abiamiri's score, killed the buzz in the stadium and seemed to put the Panthers back on their heels the rest of the game. Many fans left at half time and throughout the third quarter as it seemed quite evident that the Eagles were not going to relinquish control of the game.

The dominating play of the defense and special teams allowed the Eagles offense to focus on ball control and taking time off the clock. They only accumulated 85 yards passing on the day, but tallied 185 yards on the ground. Brian Westbrook appeared healthy, showing elusiveness and quickness as he broke runs to the outside. LeSean McCoy also ran well in his rookie debut and should get even better as he watches Westbrook turn runs north and south. A less noticed, but important aspect of the game, was the strong play of Winston Justice, who handled Julius Peppers all day and provided strong lead blocking on running plays.

It remains to be seen what will happen with McNabb and the Eagles quarterback situation overall. With home games against the Saints and Chiefs, and then a week four bye, it is conceivable that the team will try to allow McNabb to heal over that time. Kevin Kolb will likely get the start next Sunday, but with Michael Vick eligible the following week, various scenarios could play out. It could be the beginning of quarterback controversies, or possibly the opposite, solidifying McNabb as the starter and leader.

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