Doug Pederson

Carson Wentz levels up, places himself in elite QB tier after statement win

Carson Wentz levels up, places himself in elite QB tier after statement win

CHARLOTTE — This one meant more to Carson Wentz. Because of how many challenges he overcame. And how many challenges the Eagles overcame.
 
Wentz led the Eagles to their fourth straight win Thursday night, and nothing came easy for him in the 28-23 win over the Panthers at Bank of America Stadium (see observations).
 
Wentz got hit. Wentz got sacked. There were drops. There were penalties. There was a short week, a deafening hostile crowd, and, yes, there were officials who did not seem very interested in seeing the Eagles win (see story)

You name it, the Eagles were up against it. You name it, Wentz overcame it.
 
"It feels good, and I think it says a lot about the guys in this locker room. We stayed together the whole game," he said. "They did some good things defensively, some different pressure looks that we haven't seen.

"That's tough on a short week, but we found a way to win a close ballgame, and that's ultimately what we struggled with last year, winning on the road and winning close ballgames. We've done that successfully these first six games."
 
Wentz got battered early, got his sea legs in the second half and finished strong. 
 
He completed only 16 of 30 passes — just 53 percent — but threw three touchdowns and had no interceptions, and made big throw after big throw in the second half as the Eagles warded off every Panthers' comeback bid. 

The Eagles scored on three of their first four second-half drives, including a third-quarter TD drive in which Wentz was 5 for 5 for 90 yards and overcame a 2nd-and-25 and a 3rd-and-16.

"That was huge," Wentz said. "That was a huge drive. You never want to be in 3rd-and-16 and Carolina ... made it tough on us, but we found a way to convert that one and then had the big play shortly thereafter (37 yards to Alshon Jeffery) and just kept our foot on the gas and found a way to get in the endzone there."

That TD gave the Eagles a 12-point lead, and Wentz capped it with a 24-yard touchdown pass to Nelson Agholor.
 
"That's the one thing about this kid — he's so tough mentally and physically," Pederson said. "He just stays in there and battles and still, his eyes are down the field. He doesn't let (getting hit) get to him. 

"He's a great leader of this football team even in his second year. Guys really respect the way he plays. It's exciting to see from your quarterback."
 
Wentz just keeps getting better, and it's easy to forget that he's only 22 games into his NFL career.
 
"He is a big quarterback, and he is fearless," Panthers cornerback James Bradberry said. "I saw him take on one of our linebackers and a safety down there by the goal line. You could tell he was trying to will his team to win."
 
These last two weeks, Wentz has thrown seven touchdowns and one interception. He threw 16 TDs all last year.
 
He's fashioned a passer rating of 90 or higher in four straight games — only two shy of the franchise record — and his 99.6 passer rating is eighth-highest in the league.
 
Wentz has a game in hand but is now tied with Aaron Rodgers with an NFL-best 13 touchdown passes. He had 16 all last year.
 
The last two weeks, Wentz has blossomed. He's got seven TDs, one interception, 526 passing yards and passer ratings of 128.3 and 110.7.
 
The Eagles are 5-1, winners of four straight, and their 24-year-old quarterback is a legitimate MVP candidate.
 
Wentz has won games before, but this felt different. This felt like a young player genuinely elevating himself into the pantheon of elite NFL QBs.
 
"You saw glimpses of it when he was in college, obviously, with the championships and the success that he had," Pederson said. "You just look at his whole sports life and the success he's had — you just never know though until you get them in your building and you start coaching them to see exactly what you've got.
 
"That goes with any player, but the quarterback position is so important in this league and that's one position that you've got to get right and he's the right player for the Philadephia Eagles."
 
With his win Thursday night, Wentz improved to 12-10 in his career (and 7-1 in his last eight starts). One more win ties Donovan McNabb for most wins by an Eagles quarterback in his first two years in the league. 
 
With 10 games to go.
 
McNabb is the greatest quarterback in Eagles' history, but after the Eagles beat the Cards at the Linc five days ago, he said he won't have any team records left in a decade.
 
"He's going to break all of them," McNabb said.
 
Wentz and his teammates aren't due back to the NovaCare Complex until Tuesday, so they have a few days to actually enjoy this one before starting preparations for the Redskins.
 
"It feels great," Wentz said. "That was a hard-fought win. On the road, on a short week, on primetime TV. So to come out of it 5-1 and to know that we're at home the next couple of weeks, that's big for us."

Because they won, Eagles able to laugh off unfairly officiated game

Because they won, Eagles able to laugh off unfairly officiated game

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Eagles were able to joke about it. They were able to laugh off the laughable disparity in penalty flags on Thursday night. 

Because they won. 

Despite the historic lopsided margin in penalty yards on Thursday Night Football, the Eagles were able to leave Bank of America Stadium with a 28-23 win over the Panthers. 

But after the game, as the Eagles sat in the visitor's locker room, they didn't feel like they just beat the Panthers. They felt like they beat the refs too. 

"That was crazy, man," defensive tackle Tim Jernigan said. "I don't know. The only thing we can do is be resilient, man, keep fighting. And just try to keep fighting through. You don't know what you're going to get thrown at you in this game."

The Eagles were penalized 10 times for 126 yards on Thursday night. The Panthers were penalized one time for one yard. The Panthers were flagged a couple more times but both penalties were declined by the Eagles. 

Still, the disparity was historic. 

It was the first time in NFL history one team had over 120 penalty yards while the other had less than 10.  

"Ten to one," head coach Doug Pederson said with a smirk after the game. "Hey, it’s part of the game. We’ve got to do a better job. We’ve got to clean it up. Can’t have 10 penalties."

On Friday morning, Pederson said they will send clips to the league to seek clarification, a process they go through every week. 

Thursday was the first time since 2007 the Eagles had been penalized for that many yards in a game and their 126 penalty yards were 12th most in franchise history. It was the first time since 2015 one of their opponents had just one penalty. 

"We felt like a lot of those were ticky-tack, or weren’t good calls," safety Malcolm Jenkins said. "For us, adversity is nothing new for us. We just kind of strap up and keep playing, and hunker down. We continue to play aggressively, that is the biggest thing. We don’t want that to take away our aggression, or our ability to make plays. So we just go to the next play." 

Coming into Thursday, the Eagles were well aware of which officiating crew would be throwing flags in Charlotte, Jenkins said. They likely knew them as the same crew that hit them for 14 penalties and 111 yards in Detroit last season, while flagging the Lions just twice for 18 yards. 

In fact, the last four times Pete Morelli's crew has officiated an Eagles game it's been away from Lincoln Financial Field. The disparity in penalties is shocking. In those last four games, dating back to 2013, Morelli's crew has hit the Eagles with 40 penalties for 396 yards. Eagles opponents have been penalized eight times for 74 yards. Pederson said he does think the league is aware of the disparity. 

For fairness' sake, the last Eagles home game Morelli officiated came in 2012, coincidentally against the Panthers. The Eagles were flagged five times for 30 yards in that one, while the Panthers were hit with six for 101. But two wrongs don't make a right. Especially not on Thursday night when the Eagles seemed to be on the wrong end of many calls. 

"Coach hinted that they called a lot of OPI but they actually called a lot of DPI tonight," safety Rodney McLeod said. "It was tough. Maybe Carolina had a little bit of help tonight, them being at home. But we were able to overcome it; that was the most important part."

Amazingly, the Eagles were able to overcome it on Thursday night and they have actually won two of those last four Morelli-officiated games. 

Four of the Eagles' 10 penalties came on defense and gave the Panthers a new set of downs. It can be tough for a defense to regroup after those types of penalties, especially when they're questionable, but the Eagles were able to do that on Thursday night. 

"It is hard. Penalties always extend drives," McLeod said. "That's what we always talk about. The cornerbacks got some tough calls tonight but they stayed at it. They didn't flinch, not one bit. They stayed aggressive and were able to make some big plays down the stretch for us."

One of the questionable calls on Thursday came in the first quarter when running back LeGarrette Blount was hit with an unnecessary roughness after it looked like he finished his block to the whistle. At least that's what the Eagles argued. Blount said he wasn't given an explanation as to why he was flagged and didn't think he did anything to deserve it. 

In the fourth quarter, rookie Derek Barnett was hit with an unnecessary roughness when he took down Cam Newton on third down. Actually, it was a dead ball foul because the Panthers didn't get the snap off. Barnett said he kept going because he never heard a whistle. It didn't matter; the flag came out anyway. He was offered no explanation of why. 

"We didn't hear no whistle," Barnett said. "We would have stopped if we heard the whistle."

Three plays after the Barnett penalty, Cam Newton hit Christian McCaffrey for a 1-yard touchdown to cut into the Eagles lead, 28-23. 

It could have been a killer penalty, and it might have seemed like it at the time, but the Eagles rebounded. They won the game despite the penalty flags. They're 5-1 and have the best record in the conference. 

That's why they were able to joke about it after the game. 

"I didn't agree with those calls but at the same time, we're 5-1," Jalen Mills said, "so I don't really have nothing negative to say."

Fletcher Cox back to his dominating ways as Eagles win showdown

Fletcher Cox back to his dominating ways as Eagles win showdown

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Last June, the Eagles handed Fletcher Cox a six-year, $102.6 million extension. 

He was worth every penny on Thursday night.

After missing two games with a calf injury, Fletcher Cox wasn't just active for the Eagles' 28-23 road win over the Panthers (see 10 observations). He was dominant. 

"S---, it felt good," his fellow defensive tackle Tim Jernigan said. "It felt like he's back to his normal self. Dominating, doing what he do."

Cox came into Thursday night as a game-time decision — he had missed two straight games and hadn't played since leaving the Giants game — but after testing out his calf during pregame warmups, the Eagles decided to play him. 

If Cox was healthy enough to play, he was going to play in Thursday's battle of 4-1 teams. 

"He was playing," head coach Doug Pederson said. "There was no way I could sit him tonight. This was too important of a game."

With Cox's help, the Eagles improved to 5-1 and have the best record in the entire NFC. Without Cox, that would have been much harder on Thursday night. 

The Pro Bowl defensive tackle finished with two tackles, half a sack, two quarterback hits and one pass defensed (see breakdown). More importantly, he was an absolute force inside. The same force the Eagles have come to expect from him over the last few years. 

"It felt good just to be back out there, to be back with my teammates," Cox said. "Felt pretty good and went out and finished the ballgame, which was the most important thing."

Cox's biggest play of the game came in the second quarter when the Panthers were clinging to a 10-3 lead. On 3rd-and-5, Cox looked like he had Carolina right guard Trai Turner on roller skates. Cox pushed the 315-pound guard like he was a bundle of feathers right into Cam Newton's lap. 

That forced a bad throw that was intercepted by Rasul Douglas (see rookie report). The Eagles scored a touchdown seven plays later to tie the game at 10-10. 

"I just bulled the guard into the quarterback's lap and went after the throwing arm," Cox said. "I actually thought it was a strip but I turned around and saw Rasul get the ball. Every play is a big play, especially plays like that."

Cox thought he got a strip sack, while Chris Long was on the field and thought he got a good enough jump to maybe get a sack of his own. 

But Cox beat him to the quarterback.

"Of course, Fletch is just bullying the guard," Long said, "And he's just that type of game-changing player. He can absolutely alter every play on the field."

Cox was a big reason why Newton threw three interceptions on Thursday and he was a big reason why the Panthers had just nine rushing yards that didn't come from their quarterback. 

The thing is, the Eagles' defensive line actually played pretty well in the last two weeks without Cox. Beau Allen filled in and did a fine job. Jernigan started to play at another level. And the rotation seemed to work. 

But they didn't have Cox. And he's almost impossible to replace. 

"He's so dominating in there, pushing the pocket, run and pass, and it was great to have him out there tonight," Pederson said. "He's another one of those leaders on the team that you lean on. He battled through his injury, put that aside for the team tonight and did an outstanding job."