Eagles

Brandon Graham's forced fumble 'took the life out' of the Bills

Brandon Graham's forced fumble 'took the life out' of the Bills

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Stop me if this sounds familiar: Brandon Graham came up with a huge forced fumble for the Eagles on Sunday. 

OK, this one wasn’t in the Super Bowl, but it was a pretty important situation in the 2019 season. 

With 2:00 left in the first half of the Eagles’ 31-13 win over the Bills, Graham knocked the ball out of Josh Allen’s hand on a QB keeper and then he recovered the fumble too. 

“It was big. It was really big for us,” Fletcher Cox said. “We always talk about when we have a running quarterback, when they try to run the ball, just try to get it out. It was a tempo-setter. That just kind of took the life out of them early in the game.”

At the time of that forced fumble, the Bills had a 7-3 lead and were probably going to go into halftime with that lead because the Eagles’ offense had struggled to get anything going. But this turnover gave Carson Wentz and the Eagles’ offense the ball on the Bills’ 24-yard line. Five plays later, Wentz hit Dallas Goedert for a 5-yard touchdown pass to give the Eagles a lead they didn’t lose again. 

Graham’s play was the turning point of the game and maybe the season. 

“That was huge,” Wentz said. “Any time the defense can create a turnover, that’s huge. And then obviously for us to take advantage of the good field position, to take advantage of the momentum, that’s really what we try and do every time we step on the field. We try and control the ball offensively, but when the defense can create a turnover, we've got to capitalize, and we were able to do that today.”

On the strip, Graham said the Bills checked to that QB keeper and he heard Nathan Gerry yell, “Power! Power!” So Graham just came across the face of his blocker and got his hand on the ball to knock it out. 

While Graham certainly understood the importance of the play, he said he really didn’t do anything too special. 

“I just poked at the ball,” he said. “That’s all I really did.”

Graham finished Sunday’s game tied for a team-high six tackles, one sack, two TFLs, and the forced fumble and fumble recovery. Through eight games, Graham has five sacks. After a slow start to his 2019 season, Graham is now on pace for his first-career 10-sack season. 

A big reason the Eagles won on Sunday was because their best players played well. That included Graham and Cox, who has also started to come on really strong in recent weeks. Cox had 1½ sacks on Sunday and now has 2½ in his last two games after getting shut out in the first six weeks of the season. Cox’s sack in the first quarter was a strip sack, but the Bills recovered.

Graham made sure he was able to fall on the ball after his own forced fumble and it became the biggest play of the game and of the season to date.  

“We got that one,” Graham said, “and didn’t look back after that.”

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Eagles waive DT Bruce Hector and DB Prince Smith

Eagles waive DT Bruce Hector and DB Prince Smith

The Eagles on Friday released two players, including a defensive tackle who played in 11 games over the last two years and a Philadelphia native trying to make the team as an undrafted rookie.

The moves, along with the additions of Vinny Curry and Marcus Green, leave the roster right at the 80-man training camp limit.

The team released defensive tackle Bruce Hector and cornerback Prince Smith, an undrafted rookie who played at New Hampshire.

Hector originally made the Eagles as an undrafted rookie free agent out of South Florida in 2018. He bounced up and down between the active roster and the practice squad three times and played in eight games, with 82 defensive snaps and 19 more on special teams. 

Hector, 25, was with the team in last year’s preseason but was traded on Aug. 22 to the Cards in exchange for safety Rudy Ford. But when the Cards released him nine days later, he rejoined the Eagles on Sept. 1 on the practice squad. 

He had two more stints on the practice squad and two on the active roster last year, playing 53 defensive snaps and 20 special teams snaps in three games. He was active for the Seattle playoff game and got five defensive snaps and seven on special teams.

After cutting ties with Hector, the Eagles have six defensive tackles remaining on the roster - Fletcher Cox, Malik Jackson, Hassan Ridgeway and Anthony Rush, who were all with the team last year, Steelers free agent Javon Hargrave and undrafted rookie Raequan Williams.

Smith grew up in Philadelphia and played high school football at Imhotep Institute Charter in West Oak Lane. He signed with the Eagles on April 30, just after the draft.

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How does Zach Ertz rank himself compared to Kittle and Kelce?

How does Zach Ertz rank himself compared to Kittle and Kelce?

His Madden rating dropped. His ranking among the top 100 NFL players plunged. He didn’t make all-pro. He caught 28 fewer passes than a year before.
 
Zach Ertz, who has more catches than any tight end in NFL history after seven seasons, is largely seen as No. 3 in the league these days behind George Kittle and Travis Kelce. 
 
Ertz laughs about all of it, and if there’s a sense he’s declining as a player, he sure doesn’t share it. Neither do the numbers.
 
“I do consider myself in that upper echelon of guys, in that same tier with all those guys,” he said on a Zoom call Friday. “I don’t mean any disrespect, but I think a lot of guys in this building feel the same way about me. I’m never in the business of comparing people. I think all three of us are at the top of our games, and I think we’re all perfect in the offense that we play in, honestly. I think we all have unique skill sets. We’re all very different, with some similarities. But overall I don’t think my game is any less than any of their games.”
 
Kelce is an incredible down-field threat. Kittle is a remarkable blocker. But Ertz just keeps putting together Pro Bowl season after Pro Bowl season.
 
And in the two years that Kelce, Ertz and Kittle have all been regular starting tight ends, Ertz has more catches than either of them.
 
You can argue that Kittle or Kelce is the best tight end in football, but you can’t argue with Ertz’s seven-year body of work.

It's unprecedented.
 
It includes the biggest 4th-down conversion in Super Bowl history, a 4th-quarter game-winning catch in the Super Bowl, an NFL-record 116 catches in 2018. 
 
He’s one of only four tight ends with six straight 700-yard seasons and one of only three with five straight 70-catch seasons.
 
He’s not even 30 yet, but he’s already 13th in NFL history among tight ends with 525 catches.
 
Just 68 catches out of 8th.
 
“The goal when I was a rookie was to (be) in the Hall of Fame,” he said. “I sat with my trainer growing up training for the combine and he said, ‘What are your goals when you get into the NFL?’ And I said, ‘I want to be a 1st-round draft pick and I want to go to the Hall of Fame.’ Unfortunately, I was not a 1st-round draft pick - three picks later - but I came to the best situation for me here in Philly. But the Hall of Fame goal is always something that I’ve strived for.”
 
Every eligible tight end that’s caught 600 passes is in the Hall of Fame. 
 
Ertz is 75 short, and he’s 29.
 
Four more seasons averaging 75 catches puts him behind only Antonio Gates, Jason Witten and Tony Gonzalez. Pending what Kelce does.
 
“You talk about accomplishments, you talk about progress, it’s never something in my opinion you look at as you’re playing,” Ertz said. “It’s always the next season. How can you become a better football  player, how can I become a better teammate? Even when we won the Super Bowl, that next offseason my mentality didn’t change and I broke the record for catches. My mentality didn’t change. It’s always, ‘How can I be better this year than I was last year?’"
 
“I feel the best I ever have going into Year 8. I don’t think I’m slowing down by any means. Doug and my tight ends coach (Jason Peelle) said last year was my best year as a pro that they’ve seen. So overall I’m excited with where I’m at. The end goal will never change. I’m just fortunate and blessed to even have my name in those conversations this early in my career.”
 
What about his contract?
 
Ertz has two years left at $6.6 million this year and $8.25 million next year. What if the Eagles get into cap trouble? What if Dallas Goedert continues to establish himself as an NFL top-10 tight end? What if Kittle’s forthcoming deal redefines tight end salaries?
 
Who knows what the future holds, but Ertz is clear about one thing.
 
“From the moment I got here as a rookie … my goal was to be like Kobe Bryant or Jason Witten, play for one organization their entire careers,” he said. “I’ve made that known. I’ll let my agent and Howie (Roseman) handle the rest, but I know for sure I want to be here the rest of my career.”

Is he Kittle? Nope.

Is he Kelce? Nah.

But he's Zach Ertz, and that should be good enough for every Eagles fan.

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