Strange day for the Eagles defense. Really solid first half, spoiled by a Nick Foles fumble that the Houston Texans recovered on the Eagles’ 5, and a Texans touchdown drive at the end of the half, aided greatly by penalty calls.
No points surrendered in the third quarter, great three-and-out defensive performance after a Foles interception, Eagles rolling along, up 29-16, when rookie running back Josh Adams fumbled and Houston recovered at the Texans’ 45 with 5 minutes, 21 seconds remaining in regulation.
Then the defense went to pieces.
It was reminiscent of the Carolina loss or the Tennessee loss. A defense that had been playing well suddenly couldn’t get off the field in the final minutes.
After the fumble, a 20-yard Deshaun Watson touchdown pass to running back D’Onta Foreman, playing in his first game of the season after coming back from an Achilles’ tear.
Then a bad Eagles three-and-out, leading to only the second Cameron Johnston punt of the game. And suddenly, the middle of the field was wide open for Watson, who’d entered the fourth quarter with 164 passing yards.
Third-and-11 from the Eagles’ 34, Watson found wide receiver Vyncint Smith in the back of the end zone, Smith just barely getting his legs to the turf before he slid out of the end zone, Eagles corner Rasul Douglas helplessly making the “incomplete” sign behind him.
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It was Smith’s only catch of the game, and when Ka’imi Fairbairn added the extra point, the Texans led, 30-29.
“I felt like we were playing good defense, up until that point,” Douglas said after a flawless Eagles final drive and a Jake Elliott field goal saved the day. “I just got to do a better job of making a play on it. He made a good catch. That was a good throw, too.”
The Eagles have seen the Rams and the Texans come back on them the last two weeks, tightening games that seemed about to become runaways. But maybe it’s worth remembering that Watson is really good, and that the Rams and the Texans are division leaders. These easily are the Eagles’ most impressive victories of the season.
“I had a talk with Deshaun Watson after the game,” Douglas said. “I said, ‘Man, how you make that throw?’ He said, ‘I was just trying to put some air on it.’ Real good throw ... That’s football.”
Douglas said he was confident his offense would get a touchdown or field goal when it got the ball back with two minutes remaining.
“We got a lot of faith in those guys, just like they’re got a lot of faith in us,” Douglas said.
Defensive tackle Tim Jernigan, who returned from a three-game absence because of back spasms, said: “We been here before. It ain’t nothing new to us. It’s kind of been how our season has been this year … It felt good to get the win. For me personally, it felt good to be out there and be a part of the solution. … It just felt good to play football.
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Pro Bowl right guard Brandon Brooks, a Texan for the first four seasons of his career, took special pride in the game-winning drive, and on the Eagles' giving up a single sack against one of the league’s best defensive fronts.
“That game is almost up there with the Super Bowl, for me. Just the way things ended up in Houston, and coming here,” Brooks said. “That was all the juice I needed.”
The Eagles have never lost to a Houston-based team. They were 7-0 against the Oilers, and are 5-0 against the Texans.
The Eagles lost left tackle Jason Peters to a quadriceps injury on the first drive of the game. Peters was evaluated in the medical tent for a few minutes before returning to the sideline, where he watched the remainder of the game wearing a baseball cap.
Halapoulivaati Vaitai replaced Peters. He was inconsistent and was flagged for a holding penalty that nullified a touchdown.
Peters has started every game this season, although Sunday was the fourth game in which he has missed substantial time because of an in-game injury.
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After the Eagles took a 13-9 lead in the second quarter, coach Doug Pederson kept his offense on the field for a two-point conversion. The extra point would have given the Eagles a five-point lead. But the Eagles’ data favored the two-pointer.
“I wanted to go up six at that point, so that’s really the option there,” Pederson said.
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The Eagles failed to convert when Nick Foles was sacked by Texans pass rusher Jadeveon Clowney, who dragged Foles to the ground by the face mask. There was no flag, leaving the ordinarily mild-mannered Foles irate.
“That is not what I normally do, but I also know that [referee] John [Parry] and I did talk later,” Foles said. “It is hard for them to see every angle and I understand that. I was a little upset and I shouldn’t do that, but I was fired up a little bit.”
Pederson said the Eagles did not receive any explanation on the field. The Eagles will take a look at the play and send it to the league office Monday. The Eagles benefited from an earlier marginal roughing call on J.J. Watt. A roughing call on the Eagles' Brandon Graham also seemed innocuous.
Jordan Hicks returned after missing four games with a calf injury. Hicks started at middle linebacker and finished with five tackles and one pass deflection.
The Eagles' inactives were quarterback Carson Wentz (back), linebacker D.J. Alexander (hamstring), defensive tackle Bruce Hector, cornerback Sidney Jones (hamstring), offensive lineman Matt Pryor, offensive lineman Isaac Seumalo (pectoral), and cornerback Chandon Sullivan.