Jay Gruden

Eagles survive 'worst' start to a game Lane Johnson's ever seen

usa-carson-wentz-eagles-redskins.jpg
USA Today Images

Eagles survive 'worst' start to a game Lane Johnson's ever seen

The Eagles wound up beating the Redskins in convincing fashion on Monday night, but for the first 27 minutes, the mood at Lincoln Financial Field was tense.

"We started off horrible," Eagles tight end Zach Ertz said postgame. "Everything hit the fan at the beginning of the game, that first drive."

The opening possession felt like a bad omen. Already trailing Washington 3-0, the offense managed to draw four penalties before it could even run four plays. The Eagles had backed themselves into 2nd-and-31 from their own 4-yard line when quarterback Carson Wentz capped off the series with an interception.

The offense proceeded to look sluggish on its first four drives. Wentz completed 2 of 7 passes for 24 yards with two sacks and the pick, and the Eagles were down 10-3.

Then Wentz hit rookie wide receiver Mack Hollins with a 64-yard bomb, and suddenly, the Eagles were in business.

"Mack Hollins, the guy comes in off the bench, has a 60-yard touchdown pass," Ertz said. "The guy's going to be a really good football player."

The touchdown to Hollins with 3:19 remaining in the first half set off a chain reaction. The Eagles' defense forced a quick three-and-out, and Wentz was able to lead the offense back down the field on a six-play, 70-yard scoring drive.

Ertz reeled in the four-yard touchdown, and in a matter of three minutes, the entire complexion of the game was permanently changed.

"We had some momentum going, and they completed the big one down our right sideline there," said Redskins coach Jay Gruden. "That was a big play.

"You feel like you're going to go into halftime in good shape, but then they had the two scores and they're up by seven going into the half, so that was a big turnaround for them."

But the big turnaround actually started before the touchdown to Hollins — and it began on the other side of the ball.

At one point in the second quarter, it felt as though Washington was on the verge of taking a commanding lead. Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins made a pivotal stop on a 3rd-and-1 pass to Jordan Reed, tackling the tight end short of the sticks and getting the ball back to his offense.

Earlier in the game, rookie defensive end Derek Barnett shut down another Redskins drive around midfield with a sack on 3rd-and-8. Washington ended the first half with 195 yards of total offense but only 10 points.

The ability of the Eagles' defense to limit the damage afforded Wentz the opportunity to snap out of his funk.

"They started out pretty hot," Jenkins said of Washington's offense. "They came out swinging, but the game was 3-0.

"Our offense got going, started making some big plays and took care of the football. Defensively, we got some stops, the momentum kind of swayed to us, and we never gave it back. We answered every shot that they gave us."

The decision by Eagles coach Doug Pederson to go uptempo on the Hollins scoring drive proved to be a shrewd move as well. Up to that point, the entire offense had managed 35 total yards.

"It was just a way of finding that rhythm, which is something we've done the first couple months of the season," Pederson said.

"I think it's good to get the big guys rolling a little bit. Some of the quick throws, Carson — the ball is out of his hand, and we can run the hurry-up. We kind of were misfiring a little bit up to that point, and that got us on track."

The Eagles never looked back. They would find the end zone again to open the third quarter and go ahead 24-10, and the outcome was never in serious jeopardy after.

"It definitely gave us momentum," Eagles linebacker Nigel Bradham said of the scoring outburst. "Momentum coming into halftime, and momentum coming out of halftime to go back out there and score again.

"We knew that the Redskins' offense had pretty much given us their best shot that first half. They were pulling out all kind of different plays that we haven't seen, scheme-wise. We just came back in at halftime and got ready. We knew they were going to try to run some of the same, similar stuff and we were ready for it."

It was just the latest example of the character of this Eagles squad. Nobody panicked. Nobody was worried. Players and coaches stepped up and worked together to snap out of the slumber.

That's the kind of resiliency the Eagles have shown all season, which is why even during those tense opening series, it never truly felt like the game was in danger of getting away from them.

"It was early in the game, so we were just going to stick to our guns and stick to the game plan and be patient with the run game, and we felt like things would click," Pederson said. "It's just again the trust and the guys knowing everything was going to be fine.

"They did it again tonight. Offensively, they'd come off the field and (say), 'We're okay, we got it. We'll just make a couple adjustments and go back out.'"

Given the way the game started — with four penalties in three plays — at the very least, the Eagles showed they don't believe in omens.

"It's probably the worst way to start a game that I've ever seen," Eagles right tackle Lane Johnson said. "It just seemed like flags were everywhere.

"We weathered the storm. It wasn't pretty, but that's what good teams do."

Eagles notes, quotes and tidbits: Lane Johnson returning after concussion

ap-lane-johnson-eagles.jpg
AP Images

Eagles notes, quotes and tidbits: Lane Johnson returning after concussion

It turns out it wouldn't have mattered if the Eagles played the Panthers on Sunday instead of Thursday. Lane Johnson would still have missed the game. 

The veteran right tackle didn't clear the NFL's concussion protocol until last Monday. But he'll be back in action on Monday night against Washington. 

For Johnson, the Panthers game was the 11th game he's missed since the start of the 2016 season after he missed 10 last year because of his PED suspension. Watching the game last week was an all-too-familiar feeling. 

"I didn't like it," Johnson said. "I didn't like it at all, to be honest with you. As much time as I've been away from this building the last two seasons. I feel fresh, feel rejuvenated and ready to get back out there."

Johnson watched Thursday night's game at his house with his wife, but he didn't watch the whole thing. He watched some, took a break, and then watched the end. He said he knew the Eagles were going to win. 

Halapoulivaati Vaitai started the game in Johnson's place and did OK. After a horrendous start, Big V settled in and played fairly well. Johnson was impressed and thinks Vaitai is "becoming the player he's meant to be." Johnson remembered things didn't click for him until around his ninth NFL game. Thursday's was Big V's seventh career start. 

Vaitai played OK, but the Eagles are clearly much better with Johnson in the lineup and they'll need him this week as he'll see plenty of veteran pass-rusher Ryan Kerrigan. 

The concussion Johnson suffered in the first half against Arizona was the first of his career. The Eagles pointed out a couple of plays where it could have happened but Johnson didn't remember when it happened. He just knew he didn't feel right when he went into the locker room at halftime. Unless the concussion happened on the last play of the half — it didn't look like it — Johnson played concussed for at least some of that game. 

It took about a week for Johnson to feel normal again. 

"I'm fresh," he said. "I think I'll be a different animal. That's all I'll say." 

The great escape
Malcolm Jenkins is a busy man. Between all the work he does to fight against social injustice, running his foundation and owning a clothing store, he has a pretty hectic life. 

But when he gets to the NovaCare Complex all Jenkins has to worry about it football. 

"When I step into this building, this is my escape from everything else," he said this week. "Life is kind of hectic outside of these walls but here, this comes easy. It's one of those things that I put a lot of time in this building, watch a lot of film, work hard out there on the field and the weight room. This has become easy for me. This has become the peaceful part of my week." 

Jenkins is 29 now, but his play hasn't dropped off even a little bit. He's still one of the most important pieces of the Eagles' defense. 

In typical fashion, Jenkins has played all 384 defensive snaps this season. He's the only player on the Eagles' defense to be in for every play.  

"I feel like I'm having a solid season," he said. "Obviously, statistics aren't very alarming but I'm not missing any plays. I'm getting guys lined up. It's just one of those things where I think everybody is concerned about their role in the team. As long as we're winning, I'm happy." 

Let's get physical
During his conference call with Philly reporters this week, Washington head coach Jay Gruden made a somewhat surprising confession. He thinks the Eagles were more physical than his team in Week 1. He also said that's the only time it's happened to his team this season. 

"I think it's just always a physical hardcore matchup that's fun to watch," Gruden said. 

That's a pretty big compliment to the Eagles and their front office. Howie Roseman always talks about the importance of building a team in the trenches and that's been the hallmark of the team this year. They've been good on the line on both sides of the ball. 

Quote of the Week 1: “We’re made different this year. We have a different character makeup in that locker room, and nobody’s going to ever settle for anything less than greatness." — Carson Wentz (see story)

Quote of the Week 2: "I think a lot of people get caught up in these numbers. I think there's too many fantasy football players in the world." — Gruden on Alshon Jeffery's impact with the Eagles  

Quote of the Week 3: "I was there. Joe Jurevicius on a jerk route. Took it 80." — Gruden on the last game at the Vet. He was there. 

Random media guide note: Steven Means' favorite meal is cereal. He enjoys Frosted Flakes and Cinnamon Toast Crunch.  

Jay Gruden 'very upset' Eagles were able to land Carson Wentz

usa-jay-gruden-carson-wentz-eagles-redskins.jpg
USA Today Images

Jay Gruden 'very upset' Eagles were able to land Carson Wentz

Washington head coach Jay Gruden has faced Carson Wentz just three times so far.

That's all he needed to think Wentz is special.  

"I think he's progressed at a rate as fast as anybody I've seen really," Gruden said on a conference call with Philly reporters on Thursday. "His ability to make plays in the pocket, his ability to stay in the pocket in the face of a rush and still deliver balls accurately, his command of the offense. 

"I think he's already proven this short in his career that he's one of the top quarterbacks in the league, quite frankly, and he's going to be for a long time. And I don't know how he got to Philadelphia. And I'm very upset about that." 

Wentz is 1-2 against Washington in his first three games, but that first win came in this season's opener on the road. In that game, Wentz completed 66 percent of his passes for 307 yards, two touchdowns and one pick, for a passer rating of 96.8. 

And Wentz has gotten even better since then. He's now the favorite in Vegas to win the NFL MVP. 

When asked how daunting it might become to face Wentz twice per season for the foreseeable future, Gruden pointed out that it's similar to the Cowboys and Dak Prescott. Then he pointed out they still have to face Eli Manning twice per season. 

"Every week it seems like we're playing against an excellent quarterback and knowing that Wentz is going to be there for a long period of time just puts a few more gray hairs on my head," Gruden said. "But love the competition and it's our job to get after him and make him uncomfortable." 

While Wentz is clearly the Eagles' quarterback of the future, things are a little cloudier in Washington, where Kirk Cousins is in his second year of playing on a franchise tag. 

Gruden said the "intent" is to have Cousins for the long-term, but it's already been a long saga and there's still no deal in place. 

Cousins has had a crazy career path. He began as Robert Griffin III's backup after being taken three rounds later in the same draft in 2012. But he won the starting job and he's started every game for Washington the last three seasons. 

Thursday, on a conference call with Philly reporters, Cousins said he thought there was a good chance the Eagles were going to draft him in 2012. He felt that way after meeting with Howie Roseman and Andy Reid before the draft. But instead, the Eagles took Nick Foles 14 spots ahead of him. 

After watching the Eagles rotate quarterback since then, Cousins doesn't have any hard feelings. 

"I think the Eagles have ended up with the guy that they want," Cousins said. "I think they're really excited about Carson Wentz and for good reason. They're one of the best teams in the league on third down, and some of the plays he's making off-schedule are very special. I think they're very content and I'd like to think the Redskins are as well. Hopefully, it can make for a great rivalry that a lot of fans can get behind and get excited about, hopefully, for many years ahead."