Eagles turn to Corey Clement, not Blount or Smallwood, to run out the clock

CARSON, Calif. — Corey Clement carried the football three times for 12 yards on the Eagles' final drive.

Doesn't sound like much, does it?

Until you consider that all three of those carries went for first downs.

With 6:44 to go and the Eagles clinging to a three-point lead against the Chargers Sunday, it wasn't explosive LeGarrette Blount who converted all the key third downs and it wasn't Wendell Smallwood whose number Doug Pederson dialed up.

It was the undrafted rookie from Glassboro, N.J., who five weeks ago didn't even know if he was going to make the team.

"It means a lot," Clement said. "It shows the growth that I've shown from being undrafted to a guy they can rely on on third down. 

"It's a piece that I want to hold onto, and as for the rest of the season goes, I just hope for a bigger role. Not just on third down but as the weeks go on, I hope my role increases."

Clement's final numbers were pedestrian. Ten carries for 30 yards. But his performance was anything but.

Philip Rivers' touchdown pass to Hunter Henry with 6:44 left Sunday brought the Chargers within three points at 26-24. The Chargers had tons of momentum. Their last four drives netted 265 yards, 13 first downs, a field goal and two touchdowns.

The Chargers fans at StubHub Center were getting fired up — all 17 of them!

The Eagles' task was to run out the clock for nearly seven minutes and not let Rivers back on the field.

Let's face it: If the Eagles punted the ball back to the Chargers, there's a good chance they lose that game.

"Some of the toughest plays in football are the four-minute situation," Zach Ertz said. "When the other team knows you're going to run the ball."

But this has developed into a very good rushing team, and the Eagles showed it on that final drive.

It began at the Eagles' own 25-yard-line, and Clement got the ball three times on the drive, moving the chains each time.

He ran six yards on a 2nd-and-2 from the Eagles' 33, he ran two yards on a huge 3rd-and-2 with 3:55 left just inside midfield, and then he ran four yards on a 3rd-and-1 with 2:22 left at the Chargers' 42-yard-line.

Two LeGarrette Blount runs netted one last first down, the clock ran down to 0:00, and the Eagles had themselves an impressive West Coast road win.

Even without Darren Sproles, the Eagles rushed for 214 yards against the Chargers on the heels of their 193-yard performance against the Giants.

The 214 rushing yards is their most in three years, and this is the first time they've run for 190 or more yards in back-to-back games in six years and only the third time since 1995.

"We wanted to get the run game established as quickly as possible," Clement said. "We have to thank Coach Pederson for even giving us a chance to showcase the run game today. We tried not to let him down in that aspect." 

Blount was the powerhouse, with 136 yards on just 16 carries. Smallwood added 79 net yards of offense and a touchdown. And Clement? All he did was help the Eagles run out the clock with three powerful carries with the game on the line.

Clement said running backs coach Duce Staley told him repeatedly in the wake of Sproles' season-ending knee injury that his role would expand.

"'Lock in, be ready,'" Clement said when asked what Duce's message was. "Duce probably reassured me during the week and before the game at least five times, 'Be ready, stay in your playbook, stay on your toes, your role is definitely going to increase.' 

"With Sproles being down, that was a signal that I was going to have a bigger role on third down and that I was going to be vital and be a key part of this offense and helping us stay on the field."

The last Eagles running back to rush for three first downs in the final seven minutes of a game, believe it or not, was Dion Lewis, who did it on the final day of the 2011 season in a 34-10 win over the Redskins.

What does it mean that Clement — an undrafted rookie — has earned the trust of his coaches and teammates this quickly? To be the man in such a huge situation?

"Definitely reliability and just showing that I'm not going to flinch at anything," he said. "Definitely big-time game, big-time moments. It's a great feeling and I definitely have to thank the offensive line for creating those holes that I ran through."

Last week, Clement had the longest TD run by an undrafted rookie for the Eagles in 61 years. This week, he got the rock in three crucial late-game situations.

In a crowded backfield, he's finding his way.

"The guy's made plays since he got here," Ertz said. "He's stood out not just on offense but on special teams as well, and he's definitely carved out a role for himself.

"With Darren going down, the other running backs had to step up and they all did today."