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The Commanders stun the Eagles, and both teams are left with some questions to answer

Washington Commanders v Philadelphia Eagles
Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

The Eagles fail their first test of adversity this season, and now need to ace their second

The Philadelphia Eagles entered the final game of Week 10 of the NFL season as the only undefeated team in the league, heading into their game against the Washington Commanders on Monday Night Football.

They walked off the field at halftime to a chorus of boos from their home fans, as they trailed by six.

It would be the first time the Eagles trailed in the second half all season long, and it sparked a discussion on social media whether facing some adversity would actually be good for the team. Perhaps facing the test of adversity would harden Philadelphia for the stretch run.

Well, the Eagles faced that test, and they did not exactly pass.

Despite clawing back into the game, a pair of critical fourth quarter fumbles — albeit one with a fair amount of controversy — ineffectiveness on offense late in the game, and a critical penalty worked to doom the Eagles’ comeback effort, and Philadelphia fell to 8-1 on the season.

Washington, with the 32-21 victory, improved to 5-5 on the season.

Things got off to a great start for the Eagles, as pass rusher Josh Sweat got to Washington quarterback Taylor Heinicke on the Commanders’ opening drive of the game, knocking the ball loose. Marlon Tuipulotu recovered for the Eagles, and the home team was in business:

Jalen Hurts punched it in from a yard out on the ensuing possession, and the Eagles had the early lead.

Washington would respond with a touchdown drive of their own, capped off by a short run from Antonio Gibson to knot the game at seven. But the Eagles would come right back, and regain the lead on their next possession.

By pulling a page from the Urban Meyer Florida Gators’ playbook:

Then came the first of the turnovers from the Eagles, on a night where mistakes, and turnovers, would doom them. Hurts looks to attack downfield to A.J. Brown on the deep post route, and while he makes a good throw, safety Darrick Forrest makes a better play:

On this replay angle, you can see how Brown had a chance at securing the reception, but Forrest was able to rip the ball away from the receiver, completing the play for the interception.

Washington capitalized on the turnover, putting together a 16-play drive that was capped off by this short touchdown plunge from rookie running back Brian Robinson:

Don’t skip leg day, dear readers.

Washington would tack on a field goal before halftime, taking a 20-14 lead to the locker room, and kicking off that chorus of boos from the crowd.

The idea of a second-half comeback got off to a rocky start, as a three-and-out from Philadelphia to open the third quarter. That offensive ineptitude did not exactly settle the crowd and calm the nerves at Lincoln Financial Field.

To make matters even worse, Taylor Heinicke and the Washington offense went right down the field on their ensuing possession. While they settled for a field goal, the Commanders’ 14-play drive worked another 8:23 off the clock, continuing Washington’s total time of possession dominance:

By the time the Commanders’ drive was over, they had attempted 38 running plays.

The Eagles had run just 22 plays.

If you wanted adversity, Philadelphia fans, you had it by the bucketful. With 5:13 remaining in the third quarter, the Eagles trailed 23-14. For those looking at Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts as a potential MVP candidate, this was perhaps your closing argument.

Hurts and company responded.

The big play on the drive was this third-down conversion, from Hurts to speedy slot receiver Quez Watkins to move the chains on a 3rd and 6:

What stands out about this play is the poise from Hurts, who bailed from a relatively clean pocket on the previous snap. Here, the quarterback hangs in the pocket, even in the face of late pressure, and then adjusts his release point, and the trajectory, to get this throw to Watkins to pick up the first down.

Philadelphia finished off the drive on the first play of the fourth quarter. With Hurts standing alone in the backfield, he looked at a pre-snap pressure look from the Commanders, and calmly connected with the birthday boy, DeVonta Smith, on a quick out route:

Hurts does a tremendous job of again staying calm in the face of the pressure off the edge, and getting this out on time to Smith. The timing of the play is critical, as Smith is able to catch the football, and make a move on the defender in open space. The result? A touchdown to cut Washington’s lead to just two points, and perhaps some eased nerves at Lincoln Financial Field.

Those nerves were completely disappeared by the end of Washington’s ensuing possession. Facing a 3rd and 6 in Philadelphia territory, Taylor Heinicke tried to connect with Terry McLaurin on a deep shot along the left side of the field. But Heinicke did little to influence the safeties and Chauncey Gardner-Johnson read the quarterback perfectly:

The Eagles have two deep safeties on the play, and with a post route aiming for the middle of the field, Heinicke has a route at his disposal to use as bait for Gardner-Johnson. Heinicke can give a look at the post route to hold the safety before targeting McLaurin on the vertical. Instead, Heinicke stares down the vertical route, and Gardner-Johnson jumps it for the turnover.

As noted, that was Gardner-Johnson’s sixth interception of the season, keeping him atop the league.

Washington would force a turnover on Philadelphia’s next drive, albeit a fumble that came with some controversy. On a screen pass to tight end Dallas Goedert, linebacker Jamin Davis grabbed a whole handful of Goedert’s facemask. The ball was punched out by defensive lineman John Ridgeway, and recovered by Davis. The linebacker returned it for an apparent touchdown, but on review, it was determined that Goedert managed to touch Davis while the linebacker was down on the ground, ending the play.

But the facemask could not be called on the review, and Washington took over possession of the football. Their drive stalled, but Joey Sly drilled a 55-yarder, extending the Commanders’ lead to 26-21, with 7:33 left in the game.

The nerves were back at Lincoln Financial Field.

And just when it seemed like Hurts and Watkins were going to erase those nerves, the Eagles put the ball on the turf again:

Hurts makes a great read to target Watkins on the post route, and the two connect for what looks to be a huge gain. But after Watkins gets back up to try and pick up more yardage, the ball is popped out by cornerback Benjamin St.-Juste, and the Commanders recover.

Philadelphia’s defense answered the call, forcing a punt from Washington, giving Hurts and the Eagles offense yet another chance to put a drive together.

They could not. Montez Sweat got to Hurts on third down, forcing a Philadelphia punt with under three minutes remaining:

The Eagles defense had one more chance to get the ball back for their offense, and after two short runs — and a pair of timeouts from the Eagles — the Commanders faced a 3rd and 7. Offensive coordinator Scott Turner put the ball in Heinicke’s hands.

And then something unexpected happened on a night of unexpected plays:

Heinicke, realizing the was running out of options, takes a knee to give himself up and at least force the Eagles to burn their final timeout. But Brandon Graham, barreling in on the quarterback, crashes into Heinicke after he takes the knee.

The flags come flying, and the quarterback gets up to celebrate, knowing Washington has another set of downs at their disposal, and a chance to work more time off the clock.

The Commanders could not run the clock out entirely, and were forced to punt the ball back to Philadelphia, giving the Eagles one final play. But their attempt at a series of laterals failed to materialize, and Casey Toohill recovers for the defensive touchdown on the final snap of the game:

The 1972 Miami Dolphins could pop their champagne.

For both teams, Monday night’s game might raise more questions than answers, even for the victorious Commanders. Carson Wentz is set to return from his finger injury, and head coach Ron Rivera demurred earlier this week when asked who would be the starting quarterback when Wentz was available. After the game, Heinicke brushed off similar questions, stating that he approaches every game like it might be his last.

But there is a strong case to be made that Heinicke should remain under center for the Commanders. After all, Washington has won three of his four starts this season, putting them back in the playoff mix after a 2-4 start. Now, the passing game has not been more efficient with Heinicke in the starting lineup. Entering Monday night Heinicke had posted an Expected Points Added Per Play of -0.068, ranking him 34th in the league, and just ahead of Wentz’s -0.080, which placed him 36th.

Yet, it is hard to argue with the wins.

As for the Eagles, the biggest question might be this: They faced their first true test of adversity, and could not complete the comeback.

How do they respond?

Philadelphia still has a favorable schedule over the next few weeks. They take on the Jeff Saturday-led Indianapolis Colts next weekend, and the Green Bay Packers the weekend after that. But the next four games after those might tell us whether the Eagles really are the team we thought they were, or if their start was more of a mirage. Because their four games in December are a home date with the Tennessee Titans — and the idea of Derrick Henry against the Philadelphia run defense might cause some Eagles’ fans heartburn, especially if Jordan Davis is not back in the lineup — and then three-straight road games against the New York Giants, the Chicago Bears, and the Dallas Cowboys.

That could be a tough, and a physical, stretch of football.

The Bears have the fourth-best running game in the NFL, in terms of EPA/attempt. The Cowboys are right behind them in fifth, and the Giants are 11th.

Philadelphia got their first test of adversity on Monday night, and failed to complete their comeback and ace the exam.

Their second test begins right now.

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