rodney mcleod

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."

Eagles 28, Panthers 23: Carson Wentz almost flawless, but officials atrocious

Eagles 28, Panthers 23: Carson Wentz almost flawless, but officials atrocious

My thoughts from the Eagles' 28-23 win over the Panthers (see breakdown):

• Carson Wentz took a beating in this game as he was sacked three times and hit several other times.

That didn’t stop him from being nearly flawless (see 10 observations). Despite Wentz's completing just 16 of 30 passes, he was still able to throw for 222 yards and three touchdowns. He found the soft spots in Carolina's defense when he had to, connecting with eight different receivers. 

“We just have a bunch of guys that believe no matter the situation, we can win the ballgame,” Wentz said.

• Fletcher Cox returned after a two-game hiatus with a calf injury. He accounted for two tackles, half a sack, two quarterback hits and one pass defensed (see story)

Cox stated the calf injury never flared up and he gave a lot of credit to the Eagles’ training staff for getting him ready for this game.

• The Eagles’ defense had three official interceptions but should have had six. 

Rodney McLeod told me the Birds knew Carolina wouldn't be able to run the ball on them. That allowed the defense to be more creative on the back end in terms of anticipating and jumping pass routes.

• The officials were absolutely atrocious.The Eagles were penalized 10 times for 126 yards, while the Panthers had just one penalty for one yard. 

“We can't control the refs,” Cox said. “We just have to move on and play our game.” 

“Our coaches always tell us don't worry about the dropped flags, just focus and keep being aggressive,” Jalen Mills said. 

Both LeGarrette Blount and Mychal Kendricks informed me they had previously witnessed times in this stadium when the Panthers received a lot of calls. 

Luckily for the Eagles, it didn’t work this time.

Despite 27-point lead, Rodney McLeod's TD-saving tackle huge in locker room

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Despite 27-point lead, Rodney McLeod's TD-saving tackle huge in locker room

If Cardinals receiver J.J. Nelson had scored there with a minute left, nobody would have really paid attention. In the big picture? It wouldn't have mattered.

The final score would have been 34-14 instead of 34-7, and the celebration would have been just as raucous, the jubilation just as intense.

It's a play that didn't matter.

Just don't tell Rodney McLeod.

"Nothing's here for free," he said.

Here's the situation: The Eagles took a 34-7 lead over the Cards Sunday at the Linc with 2:05 left on Jake Elliott's second field goal of the game.

As the final seconds ticked away, Carson Palmer drove the Cards down to the Eagles' 29-yard-line, where on 1st-and-10 he threw a short pass near the left sideline to Nelson, who broke a Patrick Robinson tackle and made a bee-line for the end zone and appeared to score the Arizona's second touchdown of the game.

A meaningless touchdown but a touchdown nonetheless.

McLeod wasn't having any of it.

He raced over from the middle of the field and belted Nelson just as he was about to enter the end zone. Replays showed the ball not only coming loose before Nelson crossed the goal-line but also bouncing out of the end zone for a touchback.

The touchdown was overturned, the Eagles ran out the clock, and 50 years from now, when Eagles fans look back at the 2017 season, they'll see 34-7 and not 34-14.

All because McLeod made an incredible play when it didn't matter a bit.

Which is exactly why he's a guy you want on your football team.

"Man, it's just how we approach every day, every week as DB's and as a defense as a whole," McLeod said at his locker. "I know in our room, we always talking about loafing, and we stress that a lot in practice, and so a play like that, it just becomes second nature, and that's what it was.

"We hold ourselves to a high standard. We look at a loaf as a traitor in our room, so everybody holds one another accountable. I don't want to let my brothers down."

Eric Allen is the greatest cornerback in Eagles history. Buddy Ryan found him while watching tape of an Arizona State blowout loss in 1987. With the Sun Devils hopelessly trailing Cal in the final minutes, he saw Allen race down the field and knock a Cal player out of bounds just short of the goal-line, and he decided that's a guy he wanted on his team.

If you're a pro, you're not out there thinking about the score or the standings or the postgame celebration. Even up 37-7 with a minute left.

You're thinking only one thing.

Make a play.

"That was a play where Patrick, unfortunately, missed a tackle, but me and Kamu (Grugier-Hill) were there hustling to make a play, and that's what this defense is about," McLeod said.

"Hustle plays like that make up for guys missing tackles and you begin to trust one another. It's just that mentality. Never give up."

Why are the Eagles 4-1 and in first place in the NFC East with the second-best record in football?

Exactly because of that mentality.

"Just being there for my brother," McLeod said. "It's just a part of our DNA. Once you hit that field, you give 100 percent and you're all in, and that's what we were.

"It is contagious. It rubs off a lot. You come to practice, we do it each and every day. We don't take that lightly."

Robinson was kicking himself for that missed tackle, which came at the end of what may have been his best game in eight years as a pro.

Robinson was all over the field Sunday. He knocked down three passes, made four tackles, blocked a field goal and was generally mistake-free in his coverage.

Really, he played perfect football for 59 minutes. Then missed a tackle.

"I was like, 'Man, how did I give up that cheap catch? That cheap touchdown?'" Robinson said. "Then I saw the replay, and I was just so grateful for those guys to turn that into a touchback. I was so grateful they picked me up.

"But that's what it's all about. Being a team. Doing your job. We play till the last whistle. We play till it's 0-0-0, and that's what Rodney and Kamu did."

McLeod and Robinson both said they initially thought McLeod had saved a touchdown but the Cards would have a 1st-and-Goal on the 1-yard line.

Then they realized it was a touchback and the game was over.

"OK, add that to the stat sheet," McLeod said with a laugh.

The Eagles got to 4-1 by beating Eli Manning, Philip Rivers and Carson Palmer the last three weeks. That's three potential Hall of Fame quarterbacks. All three rank in the top 13 in NFL history in passing yards.

McLeod's play might not have made a difference in the standings, but it sure exemplifies exactly what this football team is all about.

"Being a team," Robinson said. "Having each other's back. That's exactly what it is."