For the first time since Week 1, we had a Thursday night game between two playoff contenders unfold with the Philadelphia Eagles traveling to Carolina to take on Cam Newton and the Panthers. And it didn’t disappoint.
Despite some sloppy play on offense and whole host of Eagles penalties, the game was about as drama filled as they come. In the end, Philadelphia moved to 5-1 on the season with a 28-23 win over the now 4-2 Panthers.
Here are the biggest winners and losers from this week’s Thursday Night Football game.
Winner: Fletcher Cox, defensive tackle, Philadelphia Eagles
After missing the past two games with a calf injury, Cox was dead set on playing Thursday night. And once he was listed as active, we all knew the Pro Bowler would make an impact. It happened in the second quarter with his Eagles down 10-3.
Cox absolutely bull-rushed Panthers guard Trai Turner, putting the recently-extended lineman on skates, en route to getting to Cam Newton. It led directly to a Rasul Douglas interception, culminating in a touchdown strike from Carson Wentz to Zach Ertz.
It’s one of those game-changing plays that Cox has made throughout his career. It’s also what has led to him to being one of the highest-paid defensive linemen in the NFL. Yeah, dude is definitely worth the cash.
Loser: Jonathan Stewart, running back, Carolina Panthers
Taking on an Eagles defense that ranked second in the NFL against the run heading into Week 6, it was obvious Stewart wouldn’t have a lot of running lanes. Though, his indecisiveness coupled with struggles from Carolina’s offensive line led to an absolute stinker of a performance.
In the first half, with Carolina looking to develop the run, Stewart put up negative-five yards on four attempts. He had a long of one yard, while losing ground on his other four attempts. It was just a downright horrendous early-game performance.
Then, in the third quarter, Stewart dropped this easy screen pass from Newton. It led to an Eagles interception, and ultimately a go-ahead score. All said, the veteran running back put up negative-four yards on eight attempts in a dumpster fire of a performance.
Winner: Zach Ertz, tight end, Philadelphia Eagles
Ertz entered Thursday’s action having put up 32 receptions for 387 yards and a 77 percent catch rate in five games this season. Despite this, he flew under the radar due to putting up only two touchdowns. The former second-round pick matched that total in the first 31 minutes of Thursday’s game against Carolina.
It started with a one-yard strike from Carson Wentz in the second quarter, a play that saw the Panthers line cornerback Daryl Worley up against Ertz. Why? Well, we’ll never know. And following Cam Newton’s second pick of the game, Ertz caught this 17-yard strike from Wentz to put the Eagles up.
Loser: Cam Newton, quarterback, Carolina Panthers
There’s definitely a lot more to simply having Cam as a loser Thursday night. His first interception came after Trai Turner was bull-rushed right into him, leading to a turnover on a batted pass. Then, in the third quarter, Jonathan Stewart dropped an easy screen pass. It landed into the hands of Eagles cornerback Patrick Robinson. Really, neither of these picks are on Newton.
The third pick from Newton on the night was most definitely his fault. Then on Carolina’s final drive with a chance to win the game, Newton threw what seemed to be about 10 inaccurate passes. We’re not too sure where he was aiming, but the bad Cam of earlier this season came out in a big way.
You make your breaks. And the Panthers, led by Newton, absolutely failed to do that Thursday night against a four-win team. Yeah, he put up this dazzling rushing touchdown. But the rest of the way, it seemed that he was off. Newton also has to do a better job protecting himself, as it’s apparent the Panthers’ offensive line is unable to do that.
Winner: Alshon Jeffery/Nelson Agholor, wide receivers, Carolina Panthers
With their quarterback being pressured throughout the evening, both Jeffery and Agholor stepped up to make big plays in a huge second half drive. Dealing with single coverage on the outside, Jeffery picked up 37 yards on an absolute strike from Wentz. It was a great job of the quarterback seeing the coverage pre-snap. It was a better job of Jeffery gaining separation down the field.
For his part, Agholor followed up last week’s tremendous performance with another solid outing. He caught 4-of-7 passes for 57 yards, including this touchdown early in the fourth quarter to give Philadelphia a two-score lead. Jeffery and Agholor combined for 57 percent of Philadelphia’s receiving yards on the night.
Loser: Offensive lines
Both offensive lines were absolutely disastrous on Thursday night. Without starting right tackle Lane Johnson in the mix, Philadelphia allowed the Panthers to hit Wentz a grand total of eight times. The second-year quarterback, who needs to also realize when to take a hit, was sacked three times in the win.
On the other side, the Panthers’ offensive line didn’t do Newton any favors. We talked about Trai Turner’s disastrous play earlier, but it was the entire unit that came up small in front of Cam. He was hit a total of 24 percent of the time he dropped back to pass.
This most definitely isn’t good news for a quarterback that actually entered Thursday looking 100 percent healthy for the first time since off-season shoulder surgery.
Winner: Carson Wentz, quarterback, Philadelphia Eagles
The overall numbers weren’t great for Wentz. He completed just over 50 percent of the 30 passes he threw. The second-year quarterback also missed high on multiple attempts. But considering he was under pressure the entire night, Wentz came up absolutely big.
For the most part, Wentz did a tremendous job recognizing pressure. He also showed savvy at the line in understanding what Carolina’s defense was scheming prior to the snap. Couple that with a relatively mistake-free performance, and we have a quarterback that’s definitely taken that next step. With three touchdowns and zero picks on the night, Wentz leaves Week 6 having put up a 13-to-3 split on the season. Tremendous stuff.
Loser: Eagles’ penalty issues
It might not have come back to bite the team on Thursday night, but this needs to be fixed in short order. Philadelphia was penalized a total of 10 times for 126 yards in the game. For comparison’s sake, Carolina was penalized once for a single yard.
A pass interference penalty in the third quarter negated what would have been Newton’s third interception of the game. Meanwhile, multiple penalties on offense took first downs away from the team.
In no way is this nitpicking. At 5-1 on the season, Philadelphia has taken the next step to contention status in the NFC. But the margin for error isn’t huge here. It needs to fix these penalty issues. Period.