LOS ANGELES – It was put-up-or-shut-up time for the Eagles defense and they knew it.
A unit that had played so well most of the season, a unit that had come into Sunday’s critical game against the Rams as the sixth-best scoring defense in the NFL, was on the ropes.
The Rams came out in the second half and wiped out a 10-point Eagles lead by scoring on their first two possessions and adding another touchdown on a blocked punt.
The Eagles got back to within one on a 41-yard Jake Elliott field goal with 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter. But with quarterback Carson Wentz out with a knee injury, the defense had to step up.
“At that point in time in the game, we knew the defense had to go out and win the game,’’ defensive tackle Fletcher Cox said. “We knew it was our time to create a turnover and put the offense in position to score and close the game out.
“We always talk about it. We have to get turnovers. We got one and it was the biggest one of the day.’’
With 8½ minutes left, veteran defensive end Chris Long sped around the Rams’ backup right tackle, Darrell Williams, who was subbing for injured Rob Havenstein, and knocked the ball out of quarterback Jared Goff’s right hand.
Safety Rodney McLeod picked up the loose ball and returned it 9 yards to the Los Angeles 25. The turnover set up Elliott’s third field goal of the day, a 33-yarder with 3:50 left, that gave the Eagles the lead for good.
“That was the play of the game,’’ Cox said of Long’s strip. “They had a seven-man protection on the play, and all I saw was Chris steaming around [Williams].
“In my head, I’m thinking, ‘Get him, Chris. Get him.’ The quarterback never turned and felt him and Chris knocked the ball out of his hand.’’
“We had to make a play there,’’ defensive end Brandon Graham said. “For one play, they put the backup in and we found him. Chris and I had talked about it. Once the tackle [Havenstein] went down, it was an opportunity. And Chris went out and made that play. That’s what sparked everything.’’
The Rams would get the ball back with 3:45 left, which was plenty of time to retake the lead. But sparked by Long’s play, the Eagles forced a three-and-out.
Linebacker Nigel Bradham stopped running back Todd Gurley, who had been a thorn in the Eagles’ side all afternoon, for a 3-yard loss. Then Cox caught Goff when he tried to scramble out of the pocket, holding him to a 3-yard gain. On third down, the Eagles got pressure on Goff and forced an incompletion.
The Eagles came into the game with the league’s top run defense. But Gurley gave them fits. He finished with 96 yards on 13 carries. He had 30- and 21-yard runs.
“They got him outside and made the corners and safeties tackle,’’ Graham said. “They wanted to get him out on the edge. They did a good job of that.
“I feel I could’ve done a lot better job of preventing that. Sometimes in the run game, there are certain scheme blocks that I feel I can play a little more aggressively. But overall, I thought we did good on our adjustments.’’
After eight losing seasons with the Rams, Long won a Super Bowl with the Patriots last season. But he wasn’t nearly as integral a part of their defense as he’s been with the Eagles.
He is one of the defensive leaders and, despite his age of 32, has been playing better as the season has gone on. His strip Sunday was his third forced fumble and fourth sack of the season.
“They were doing a good job of play-action passing all day,’’ Long said. “Boots [bootlegs], play-action. Todd [Gurley] played a helluva game, which made it easier for them to drop back and throw.
“I just had a good read on the set and stayed at it. Our coverage was good, so he hung on to it. I just put my hand on the ball.
“It was a great feeling the way we finished. Because it had been such a turbulent day. We had given up a lot of yards and big plays and didn’t play our best game on defense. But we said if we’re worth our weight here, we have to make a stop’’
With Wentz likely lost for the season, Long and the rest of the Eagles’ defense is going to have to make a lot more stops. They are going to have to carry a bigger share of the load and they know it.
“We always say next man up,’’ Graham said. “Hopefully, it’s not serious. But Nick [Foles] came in and made some plays to help us win.
“We’re going to make sure that [the defense] turns it up even more to help him going forward.
“Tonight, we just did our job a little better [in the fourth quarter]. They made some plays. Those boys did good today. We knew going in it was going to be a fight. We kept fighting and stayed strong and came together in the fourth quarter and stopped them when we had to.’’
Put up or shut up.
“Our offense had our back all day,’’ Long said. “They were really resilient.
“Our defense didn’t play our best football by any means. They were moving the ball on us. We knew we had to make a couple of stops.
“I don’t remember the sequence as far as when we knew Carson wasn’t going to be able to come back. But we just did a good job of not flinching and realizing Nick is a perfectly good quarterback.
“If we were worth a damn on defense, we had to make a stop. Because we hadn’t done enough all day. We owed it to the offense and got a stop, created a turnover and Nick and the offense and Jake did a great job of cashing it into points.’’
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