By Peter Brennan
It was approaching 11:30 in Philly last night as the Eagles-Packers game in Green Bay began resembling a heavyweight title fight.
Both teams had their advantages and disadvantages — the Packers passing game and the Eagles run game.
Missing was defense.
As in, the Eagles couldn’t defend against QB Aaron Rodgers and his receivers to save themselves.
And, just like that, they saved themselves and their season.
Rodgers, already with 422 yards passing and just three yards away from a game-tying touchdown, dropped back and fired for Marquez Valdes-Scantling in the end zone. But cornerback Craig James, playing his second snap of the night after replacing the injured Avonte Maddox, got his hands on the ball and popped it into the air.
Nigel Bradham intercepted the ball with 20 seconds left, preserving the Eagles’ 34-27 win. The Eagles improved to 2-2 by beating the undefeated Packers at Lambeau Field.
“I’d seen (the ball) go up, and I’m like, ‘I gotta go get it,'” Bradham said. “Craig was playing great coverage. He was able to get his hands on the ball.”
The Eagles had fallen behind by 10 points in the second quarter before clawing their way back in. Then they went back and forth with the Packers up until the final, frantic seconds.
Twice in the fourth quarter, they prevented the Packers from scoring when Green Bay was inside the 10 yard line. The first time, the Eagles stopped the Packers after they had a 1st-and-goal from the 1.
Curiously, the Packers tried four straight passes, all of them falling incomplete.
“Resilient, resilient team,” Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz said. “Unfortunately, we’ve been plagued with some injuries on both sides of the ball … Resilient bunch. That’s kind of what we knew. We knew we had a lot of depth and ability, but the resiliency was good to see.”
The Eagles had to have the game or else they would have faced a 1-3 record at the season’s quarter mark.
“It’s huge,” Wentz said. “The difference between going 2-2 and 1-3 is huge in this league, especially for us on the road, short week, coming in here. That’s big for our confidence, for sure.”
The Eagles’ offense had to go toe to toe with Rodgers and the Packers in order to do it. They did so, but in a different way.
Instead of relying on Wentz’s arm, they did it behind a running game that racked up 176 yards. Jordan Howard had 87 yards rushing and 2 touchdowns rushing. He also had a 20-yard TD reception.
Rookie Miles Sanders added 72 yards on 11 carries.
“He brings the power and I kind of bring the speed,” Sanders said.
Then he added: “We wanted to pound the ball the whole game. That was the mentality the whole game … We knew they struggled with the rushing game, so we knew from the jump that we were going to come in and pound the ball.”
Wentz orchestrated everything. He completed 16 of 27 passes for only 160 yards. But he threw three touchdown passes and had a passer rating of 113.2.
The Eagles needed all of it.
In addition to Maddox, cornerback Sidney Jones left the game in the second quarter and didn’t return. Ronald Darby injured his hamstring against the Lions and didn’t suit up.
But Maddox’s injury was the most unnerving. He took a brutal hit to the helmet by teammate Andrew Sendejo as the Packers got to the Eagles’ 7 yard line with 1:06 remaining.
Maddox was down on the ground for several minutes before getting lifted onto a stretcher with the entire Eagles team standing nearby for support.
Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins said Maddox was moving his hands and feet and laughing on the stretcher.
Maddox was taken to a local hospital for observation after the game. There was no word on his condition.
Long before that injury, the Eagles had to overcome so much, beginning with Rodgers and wide receiver Davante Adams, who finished with 10 catches for 180 yards, with 107 of those yards coming in the first quarter alone.
Quickly, the Eagles were down 10-0, the fourth straight game in which they trailed by double digits.
Slowly, they started coming back. Sanders’ 67-yard kickoff return enabled the Eagles to start at the Packers’ 34, and Wentz hit Alshon Jeffery for a 6-yard TD. Then the Eagles took the lead after Wentz’s 3-yard TD pass to Dallas Goedert.
Derek Barnett added a strip-sack with 1:53 left in the first half that Brandon Graham recovered. That gave the Eagles the ball at Green Bay’s 17 yard line. It was just the third sack for the Eagles this season and first by a defensive end.
Howard capped that drive with a 1-yard run with 59 seconds left for a 21-13 lead.
But Rodgers doesn’t need much time as he moved the Pack down the field, completing a pass for 31 yards to Geronimo Allison to the Eagles’ 19 with 17 seconds left. He then hit Allison again for the TD with 9 seconds left.
Still, the Eagles had a 21-20 lead at halftime. They made it 27-20 on Wentz’s 20-yard TD pass to Howard.
Green Bay came right back on Rodgers’ 14-yard TD pass to Jimmy Graham before the Eagles retook the lead on Howard’s 2-yard run.
Then they held on for dear life.
“We just fought hard,” Graham said. “We stayed together … We could have wavered so many times, but we didn’t. We went out there and we hung together.”