There’s just no quit in this Eagles defense.
On the road after a short week, the Eagles forced quarterback Cam Newton into arguably his most vexing game of the season.
Newton came into Thursday’s game on a hot streak, riding on consecutive 300-yard, three-touchdown games. That all ended when the Eagles stepped on the field.
The defense absolutely stifled the Panthers’ run game forcing Newton to throw the ball a career-high 52 times with a season-low 53 completion percentage. They forced Newton to use his legs more than he’s had to all season, carrying the ball 11 times. The pass rush pulled off nine quarterback hurries and two sacks, including a half-sack by rookie Derek Barnett. And for the third consecutive game against Philadelphia, Newton threw three interceptions as the Eagles return home 5-1 following a 28-23 victory.
“I feel like we were a lot more mentally prepared than our opponent,” said linebacker Nigel Bradham, who had 10 tackles in the win. “We knew everybody was watching. We didn’t want to be one of those teams that played bad on a short week. We pretty much just kept that focus and we knew we had to come out hard and be physical.”
The pressure certainly came early and often. In the first quarter, the defense yielded just 28 yards of total offense. In the second, Newton managed to get a 16-yard rushing touchdown – his team’s longest run and only rushing touchdown of the game. But when Newton wasn’t scrambling away from the defense he was pressured into passes that the Eagles capitalized on.
Veteran cornerback Patrick Robinson and rookie cornerback Rasul Douglas both earned their second interceptions on the year. The two takeaways set up 15 points for the offense. Douglas’ interception came midway through the second quarter when he nabbed a pass thanks to pressure from defensive tackle Fletcher Cox. The offense took over and Carson Wentz found Zach Ertz for the team’s first touchdown of the night.
Robinson’s pick came at the start of the second half when he dove for a bungled pass that went off the fingertips of Jonathan Stewart. Robinson’s play set up another Ertz’s touchdown to give the Eagles the lead that they would not relinquish.
“Be aggressive, but don’t give up the deep ball,” Douglas said of the team’s approach. “Make a team drive 100 yards, 90 yards, 80 yards, but don’t let them get it all on one play. We play aggressive and just try and make plays.”
Then there’s second-year Jalen Mills who struggled all game long with penalties. He was called for two pass interference calls. Both led to field goals for the Panthers while one also negated an interception by safety Rodney McLeod. Mills never hung his head and turned his play around when got his hands on Newton’s third interception of the night giving the Eagles the ball back with two minutes to go.
“We made it hard for him for sure,” Mills said of Newton. “That’s our job. Make it hard for the opposing teams’ quarterbacks and get those three-and-outs and turnovers and put the offense on the field.”
The defense is making strides each time it takes the field. Entering the game as the road team with just four days to prepare, the defense’s focus and resolve were superb on Thursday night’s big stage.
“We lined up and played football. On a short week, as great of a coordinator as Jim Schwartz is, he’s just like, ‘Hey, you guys go play. You guys go eat.’ A short week presents a lot of challenges but I think we did a great job with it,” defensive end Chris Long said.