Eagles

Alshon Jeffery strikes revenge on Bears

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Alshon Jeffery strikes revenge on Bears

As much as Eagles wide receiver Alshon Jeffery wanted to downplay Sunday's game against his former team, his actions during the 31-3 win over the Bears spoke volumes.

After Jeffery hauled in an eight-yard touchdown in the second quarter, he organized a celebration where he mimicked a bowler and his Eagles teammates were the bowling pins. Only when it came time for Jeffery to roll, he refused to let go of the football.

"Trust me, I wasn't rolling that one," Jeffery said.

Jeffery was all business before and after the contest, calling it "just a regular game," although it didn't necessarily feel like it to observers.

The Eagles seemed to make a point of throwing the ball Jeffery's way on the first play from scrimmage. That five-yard reception was the first of five catches for 52 yards and a score, all coming in the first half.

Targeted nine times, Jeffery insisted the Eagles were "working within our game plan," but everybody knew he wanted to play a role in a victory over the Bears.

“Alshon didn't say anything," Eagles wide receiver Torrey Smith said. "Sometimes it's understood, it doesn't have to be explained.”

After spending the first five seasons of his NFL career in Chicago, Jeffery was allowed to become a free agent in March, signing with the Eagles. There's little doubt this date had been circled on his calendar ever since.

“That was home for him," Smith said. "He was raised up there. I'm sure it meant something to him. Glad he was able to get a touchdown and play a big game today.”

Whatever emotion Jeffery was feeling during the Eagles' rout, it certainly wasn't mercy or pity.

A woeful Bears offense with a receiving corps decimated by injuries managed only 140 yards of total offense against the Eagles. There's no question they could've used Jeffery on the opposite side — not that he cares.

“My brothers are over here," Jeffery said. "Me and my brothers are on the same team. If I go to a different team, I'm on a new team.

“These are my group of brothers now. I'm trying to tear their ass up if you're on the other side.”

Though he probably wanted to send his former employer a message, that wasn't what was most important to Jeffery. Sunday was all about improving the Eagles' record to 10-1.

"He didn't seem too much different today," Eagles tight end Zach Ertz said. "He was focused on the win.

“That's the one thing that's stuck out about him is that he doesn't really care about his stats. There have been games where he had one catch early in the year, and he's like, 'Hey, I don't care. As long as we win, that's all that matters to me.'”

No matter what was running through Jeffery's mind this week, he remained professional and insisted this game wasn't personal. What's more, you have to believe him — to a point.

After all, with every win the Eagles amass, Jeffery's decision to flee Chicago is being vindicated.

“Nothing against those guys and what they have going on," Jeffery said. "I'm just going out and playing football and having fun.”

When Jeffery says he could've been a non-factor in a W and been perfectly satisfied, that's likely true. But when he did find the end zone against the Bears, it clearly meant something to Jeffery.

It was important enough to not carry out an end zone celebration as planned.

Can Eagles afford to keep surging Trey Burton?

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Can Eagles afford to keep surging Trey Burton?

He doesn't get that many chances. When they come, he never fails to produce.

Welcome to the world of Trey Burton, who is essentially the Eagles' third tight end but is talented enough that he could probably start for a lot of teams out there.

With Zach Ertz out with a concussion, Burton had a career day Sunday, with five catches for 71 yards and two touchdowns in the Eagles' 43-35 win over the Rams at L.A. Memorial Coliseum.

Burton's previous high was 65 yards against the Redskins last year, but Sunday's game came on the heels of a 4-for-42 performance a week earlier in Seattle. Two weeks before that, he was 2-for-41 with a touchdown against the Broncos.

Here's a list of previous Eagles tight ends with 70 yards and two TDs in a game in the last 50 years: Charle Young vs. the Saints in 1973, John Spagnola vs. the Saints in 1985, Chad Lewis vs. the Giants in 2000 and Ertz vs. the Cowboys the last day of last season.

"I just did whatever needed to be done," Burton said. "Zach was out, which we don’t like, we love having Zach in there, he makes so many plays. But somebody needed to step up and Brent and I both did what we needed to do."

Brent Celek caught a touchdown pass and Burton caught two, making this the first game in four years in which Eagles' tight ends caught three TDs. In early December 2013, Ertz had two TDs and Celek had one against the Cardinals.

Burton is a remarkable story.

Undrafted out of Florida. Didn't catch a pass until his 26th NFL game. Didn't have a touchdown until his 32nd NFL game. Didn't surpass 50 receiving yards until his 38th NFL game.

But in 20 games since Week 8 of last year, Burton has 42 catches for 426 yards and four touchdowns.

That's awfully good production for a third tight end. And he still plays fewer snaps than Celek.

"We're probably the only team in the league that can have one of the best tight ends go down and not play in a game and feel the degree of confidence that we have in the guy that's stepping up for him as far as a route runner with Trey and then with the things Brent can do," offensive coordinator Frank Reich said.

"Trey deserves a lot of credit. He's got a great skill-set and is a great playmaker."

Despite averaging only 20 snaps per game on offense (along with 20 more on special teams), Burton is 12th in the NFL among all tight ends with four touchdown catches.

Nobody on the roster has better hands than Burton, who in recent weeks has made challenging catches seem routine.

“Celek and I are just good players," Burton shrugged. "I think Zach would do the same thing if he (played vs. the Rams)."

Burton could start for a lot of teams. But he said he doesn't get frustrated at his lack of playing time or targets.

“Can’t control it," he said. "I can’t pout, I can’t be angry. I’m sitting behind one of the best in the NFL right now. Love that dude to death, extremely happy for him and Celek, all the opportunities that they get. Couldn’t be happier for them."

Then there's his contract.

Burton is playing on a one-year, $2.746 million deal he got this past offseason.

It's a deal that really reflects his value on special teams as well as a situational tight end. And it's an unusual amount of money for a backup tight end.

But the way he's played so far this year, Burton would be in line for a long-term deal worth much more this coming offseason.

Will it be here? Will it be elsewhere? Will the Eagles cut ties with Celek — who's been here since 2007 — in order to free up money to keep Burton? Releasing Celek would clear $4 million in cap space the Eagles desperately need. Or can Howie Roseman squeeze all three tight ends under the Eagles' 2018 salary cap?

Celek turns 33 next month and is still a capable blocker and receiver, but Burton just turned 26 and keeps getting better.

It would be tough to let Burton go.

Whatever is going to happen, Burton says he isn't even thinking about it.

“No, not at all," he said. "I can’t control that right now.”

The Eagles have a few months before they have to make these decisions.

And there's a first-round bye and home-field advantage to clinch at the moment.

"Trey’s a tremendous athlete," head coach Doug Pederson said. "He works extremely hard. He’s a core special teams player for us. Really, Trey hasn’t probably gotten a lot of offensive plays this year, but when he has … he’s made the most of his opportunity.

"He did that (against the Rams). Real proud of the way Trey played."

Why Bryan Braman? No Wentz means smaller margin of error

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Why Bryan Braman? No Wentz means smaller margin of error

With Carson Wentz out for the season, the Eagles don't have much margin of error. That probably explains why the club brought Bryan Braman back on Tuesday.

That and the Eagles' special teams hasn't been so special for a while. In fact, breakdowns have become an almost weekly occurrence.

Over the last five games alone, the Eagles have allowed a kick or punt return of 39 yards or more three times. We can safely assume a blocked punt returned for a touchdown against the Rams on Sunday was the final straw based on the addition of Braman, a long-time special teams ace.

Braman spent three seasons with the Eagles from 2014 to 2016, playing almost exclusively on special teams. Ordinarily an anonymous role, he gained a reputation for frequently being the first man down the field on the coverage units.

It's no secret what the Eagles were looking for when they reached out to Braman this week.

"They need help on special teams," Braman said Wednesday after his first practice back. "They know that I'm a pretty high energy guy, and they're looking forward to having some help on coverage and bringing a little bit of energy — things that I've been known for."

Braman recorded 16 special teams tackles with a fumble recovery and a blocked kick in three seasons with the Eagles. He became a free agent and signed with the New Orleans Saints in August, only to wind up on injured reserve with a hurt shoulder before the season began, then released.

Listed as a linebacker, Braman typically doesn't play on defense at all, and he's 30, so there's not much upside beyond his niche. However, the seventh-year veteran is familiar with Eagles special teams coordinator Dave Fipp and should be ready to play immediately.

"That's one of the biggest reasons they brought me back is because I know the system," Braman said. "Been in it for three years, so it's not something that they would expect to have to bring me in and let me sit on inactive."

The Eagles needed somebody to help turn around a unit that has been uncharacteristically shaky.

Since Fipp was hired in 2013, the Eagles have consistently fielded one of the top special teams units in the NFL. That's not been the case in '17, largely because of injuries to return specialist Darren Sproles and captain Chris Maragos.

Obviously, the Eagles have suffered a drop-off in talent as a result. But there's also been a certain confidence or swagger missing, as the team has been forced to rely on more inexperienced players.

"I don't know if it's more so for the attitude, kind of give the young guys direction, let them know how things are supposed to be done," Braman said.

The Eagles could maybe get away with having less than stellar special teams when Wentz was leading the offense to 30 points every week. Now, the formula for winning changes — the Eagles will likely be more reliant on running the football, sound defense, and most importantly, eliminating momentum-altering plays.

In other words, the Eagles can't afford to let special teams beat them. And with Wentz landing on IR, a spot opened on the 53-man roster, so why not address arguably the biggest problem area?

Whatever the circumstances, Braman is glad to be back in the league.

"You kind of feel homeless when you don't have a team to play for," Braman said. "I'm just happy to finally have a place to call home."