The Philadelphia Eagles traveled to Lambeau to take on the Green Bay Packers to open the NFL’s Week 4 slate Thursday night.
It was as much of a must win as the Eagles could have at this early point in the season. Meanwhile, Green Bay entered the game at 3-0 and playing tremendous football on defense.
As most expected, this was a highly entertaining and competitive game between the two NFC rivals. In the end, Philadelphia might have salvaged its season with a stirring 34-27 win over the Packers.
Green Bay’s offense finally got going through the air, but first-year head coach Matt LaFleur struggled calling plays. On the other side, Eagles tight ends stepped up with their wide receivers injury ravaged.
The backdrop to this game was NFL officials still not understanding what qualifies as pass interference. That dramatically shifted the tide in Philadelphia’s favor.
These are among the biggest winners and losers from the Eagles’ seven-point victory over Green Bay on Thursday night.
Winner: Eagles offensive line
Green Bay headed into Thursday night’s contest ranked No. 3 in the NFL with 12 sacks. Most were worried that a good Eagles offensive line might struggle with this new-look Packers pass rush. In no way did that come to fruition. In the first half alone, Carson Wentz was hit just once and didn’t get sacked.
Led by Jason Peters and Lane Johnson, pass protection held up big time as the game progressed. It helped Philadelphia take a seven-point lead on Carson Wentz’s third touchdown of the game. The Eagles were then able to use a combination of Jordan Howard and Miles Sanders (187 total yards) to play the time of possession game. In an outing that the Eagles needed desperately, their offensive line stepped up big time.
Loser: Matt LaFleur
We’ve been giving LaFleur a little bit of a pass during the early stages of the season. He’s teaching a brand-new offense to Aaron Rodgers and Co. One quarter of the way through the Packers’ schedule, we can’t be as easy on the first-time head coach. Whether it was failing to go for it on fourth-and-short inside Philadelphia’s 20 in the first half or a desperate attempt to get a running game going, LaFleur continued to fail at every turn.
Aaron Rodgers was dominating an injury-depleted and talent-stricken Eagles secondary in the first half. He had gone for well over 200 yards. In Green Bay’s two series to open the second half, it started with failed rush attempts. That’s not the way you’re expected to attack weaknesses in the NFL. While Green Bay went pass happy out of necessity later on to keep the game close, LaFleur’s play calling through the first 40 minutes of the game was atrocious.
Winner: Davante Adams
It did not matter who was covering Adams Thursday night, the Pro Bowl receiver had his way with a thin and talent-depleted Eagles secondary. Adams caught a whopping eight passes for 158 yards on 10 targets in the first half alone.
Adams continued to make sweet music with Rodgers before leaving the game to injury in the second half, finishing with a career-high 180 yards while catching 10-of-15 targets. It was yet another dominant performance from one of the game’s most underrated receivers.
Loser: Packers pass rush
Green Bay was hoping that this free-agent duo would set the tone early Thursday like it had over the first three games. After all Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith had recorded a combined 7.5 sacks heading into Week 4. At least initially, that did not happen.
The two combined for exactly one quarterback hit and zero sacks. Wentz had a clean pocket throughout the game. He was not sacked a single time. This represented a major disappointment from a revamped Packers defense led by coordinator Mike Pettine. And while Za’Darius Smith was limited to injury, others failed to step up behind him.
Winner: Eagles tight ends
With injuries at wide receiver, we all knew that Wentz was going to be relying on his tight ends in this game. The likes of Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert represent the best tight end tandem in the entire NFL.
While Philadelphia’s receivers were struggling to do anything of substance, this duo caught 9-of-11 targets for 81 yards and a touchdown. The Eagles are going to need this production from the tandem moving forward.
Loser: Aaron Jones
With Jamaal Williams forced to leave early in the game following a dirty hit from Eagles defensive end Derek Barnett, the onus was going to fall squarely on Jones to provide some balance. As noted above, LaFleur was relying on this studly young running back to do just that.
Jones failed at every turn. When all was said and done, the third-year back put up 21 yards on 13 attempts. It seems to be yet another example of the Packers’ offense failing to click on all cylinders. It’s also another example of the team’s running backs letting Rodgers down big time.
Winner: Aaron Rodgers
This former Super Bowl MVP was finally back at the top of his game Thursday against the Eagles. Rodgers absolutely shredded a questionable pass defense to the tune of 34-of-53 passing for 422 yards. Rodgers did struggle in a goal-to-go situation with his team down seven midway through the fourth quarter.
His game-ending interception late in the fourth quarter was more on receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling than anything else. All in all, Rodgers had himself a heck of a game. He’ll need to continue this once LaFleur actually finds the right mix on offense. if so, the Packers might be unstoppable moving forward.
Loser: Officials still have no idea what they’re doing
It’s getting pretty ridiculous on this front. If the NFL had no real plans to let its officials overturn pass interference calls, then why did the league give coaches an ability to challenge them? That reared its ugly head twice Thursday night.
Eagles tight end Zach Ertz was wrongfully flagged for offensive pass interference on a touchdown in the first half. The goods news? Officials on hand in Green Bay overturned the initial call. That’s the way the instant replay system is supposed to work.
Unfortunately, what we saw in he third quarter led to even more confusion. Aaron Rodgers threw down field to Marquez Valdes-Scantling on third down. It’s clear that Avonte Maddox interfered with the receiver. A flag was not thrown. Matt LaFleur and Co. challenged. Despite the obvious nature of the defensive penalty, officials decided to go with the original call on the field. Green Bay punted. The Eagles scored a touchdown on their next drive to take a seven-point lead. That ended up being the difference in the game.
Winner: Miles Sanders
Eagles head coach Doug Pederson made sure to note that Sanders would not be benched after fumbling the ball twice in last week’s loss to the Detroit Lions. It just didn’t make sense to sit the rookie second-round pick given the talent that he boasts. Pederson knew that full well.
It paid off almost immediately. With Philly down 10-0 and facing a 1-3 start right in the face, Sanders took a kickoff and returned it 67 yards. That set up the Eagles’ first touchdown of the game and change the entire dynamic. Sanders would later add a 30-yard run in the third quarter. The Penn State product finished the evening with 149 all-purpose yards. This was the best performance of Sanders’ career right when the Eagles needed it.
Loser: Eagles receivers
With DeSean Jackson sidelined, it was hard to watch Philadelphia’s receivers go up against a vastly improved Packers cornerback group. The likes of Alshon Jeffery, Mack Hollins and Nelson Agholor combined for four catches and 51 yards on 12 targets.
No matter what happens with Jackson’s injury moving forward, the Eagles might want to think long and hard about adding another receiver before next month’s NFL trade deadline. This unit has been brutal since Week 1.