Two years ago on Thanksgiving Day, in front of 20 million TV viewers nationwide, Mark Sanchez had a game, in fact a single play so humiliating that it has its own Wikipedia article: The Butt Fumble.
This Thanksgiving, he carved up the Dallas Cowboys like a slow-cooked turkey and rebuilt his legacy in front of an equally large audience. Sanchez was 9 for 11 for 99 yards and ran for a touchdown in the first quarter alone.
But his most important statistic was zero — the number of interceptions he threw Thursday, after clocking in at a steady two per game since taking over for injured Nick Foles. And finally, he has started keeping the ball on some of the read-option plays, starting with his touchdown on the first drive, and ending with a perfectly executed read keeper for 13 yards that he finished with a beautiful baseball slide. I hope Nick Foles was taking notes.
The rest of the offense played well, too. LeSean McCoy ripped off a 36-yard run on the fourth play from scrimmage. Riley Cooper caught pass after pass, Sproles and Maclin and Matthews picked apart the Cowboy’s suspect secondary, and Josh Huff ran (!) for 7 yards and a first down late in the fourth quarter.
But let’s not forget the defense, which played a complete and dominating game. The Eagles started by shutting down Dallas’ run game, holding league-leading rusher DeMarco Murray to 73 yards on 20 carries, with one TD and a long of only 9. The pass defense was physical and disruptive, too, with two interceptions to join one post-reception fumble recovery.
The Birds did give up some long passes, as per usual, but they held Romo without a passing touchdown for the first time in 38 games, and pressured him relentlessly.
What Chip Kelly is doing with the Philadelphia Eagles, just like what he did with Oregon, is so utterly basic and fundamental that it seems mysterious. Seth Wickersham of ESPN The Magazine put it brilliantly:
It seems like Chip Kelly is hellbent on proving that everyone else overthinks football, but he does it in a way that nobody can figure out.
— Seth Wickersham (@SethWickersham) November 28, 2014
Even without the bitter rivalry between these two teams, or the huge Thanksgiving Day national TV audience, the stakes were very high.
After all the turmoil and injuries that Philadelphia has suffered this year, the season boiled down to games #12 (on Thanksgiving), 13 and 14: two against Dallas with Seattle at home in between.
The Eagles and Cowboys entered the game tied, though Philadelphia owned the tie breaker (thanks to a better division record). Winning two of the three games would give the Birds a great chance at a bye in the first round of the playoffs, but losing twice to Dallas would have meant that the Eagles would probably miss the playoffs entirely.
Both teams played 4 days earlier, but Philadelphia’s sports science, conditioning and blitz-tempo practices gave them a clear advantage in the short week. Dallas’ defense was sucking wind even on the second drive (another Philly TD), and by game’s end they had no strength with which to muster a comeback.
Romo was blindly heaving up long passes, leading to three second-half interceptions for the Eagles (one called off on a holding penalty).
Four days before the showdown, Philadelphia dispatched the Tennessee Titans methodically. It all started with Josh Huff’s redemption. After a very tough rookie year marked by his mistakes and some unfortunate remarks to reporters, Huff ran back the opening kickoff 107 yards — an Eagles record — to crush any upset hopes the Titans might have had.
Aside from his skill at kick returns, Huff has been a first down machine, moving the sticks on four out of seven touches this year as both a receiver and runner.
There were some hopeful developments — the offensive line looked much better, especially in pass protection, and Shady broke one open for 132 yards — and some continued worries. Mark Sanchez’ early red zone success (7 for 7 in his first two games) collapsed as he scored TDs only thrice in 7 tries against Tennessee, and 1 `of 4 against Green Bay. Those troubles continued on Thanksgiving, as the Eagles were 1/5 inside the 20.
So, yeah. Two great games in a week to wash the taste of that Green Bay beatdown out of our mouths. Next Sunday is another tough test, hosting the Seattle Seahawks who suffocated San Francisco today with their defense. It should be another great game.
Featured photo: from video (NFL Rewind)
Mark Saltveit’s newest book is “Controlled Chaos: Chip Kelly’s Football Revolution” (Diversion Books, NY) has been recently released. He is the author of “The Tao of Chip Kelly” (2013) and writes on science, religion, wordplay and political scandals. He is also a standup comedian and the world palindrome champion.
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