For the fifth time this season, an NFL opponent has failed to taint the Philadelphia Eagles’ perfect record.
But for the fourth time this season, they sure came close.
The Eagles outlasted the Los Angeles Rams 23-14 thanks to another dual-threat showcase from quarterback Jalen Hurts. The Rams continued to claw throughout the game, their performance highlighted by the 2023 debut of wide receiver Cooper Kupp after a hamstring injury and an impressive toe-dragging end zone interception from cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon.
But while the Rams kept things interesting — the margin always within single digits and also within one possession for more than 55 minutes — the Eagles only trailed for 32 seconds on the day.
This has become a classic Eagles formula, Philly winning its previous four games by a one-score margin and this one by nine points. So it’s worth asking: Is the Eagles’ close-game victory trend impressive or concerning?
Fans of the Minnesota Vikings and New York Giants may vote the latter after seeing the mirages their own teams created last season.
Minnesota pulled off an astounding 11 of their 13 wins last season by eight points or less while the Giants’ 10 wins (including playoffs) featured nine decided by a one-possession margin. A glance at each group’s 1-4 records this season should serve as a warning of regression in a game of variability. Lucky breaks are tough to predict, and the Vikings and Giants — while deserving credit for how they capitalized — are seeing that they weren’t as close to contending as their playoff berths suggested.
The Vikings are again competitive this season. All five of their games have been decided by one score. The problem: They’ve lost four of those. The Giants have lost in more decisive fashion, in part due to injuries.
Many front office members around the league aren’t surprised that the law of averages is hitting each team. But a closer look suggests the Eagles need not fear the same regression.
How Jalen Hurts, Eagles impressed vs. Rams
It’s true that the Eagles’ results resemble the Giants and Vikings a year ago. Their processes, however, diverge.
The Vikings and Giants developed reputations as good football teams because they won one-score games. The Eagles, in contrast, are winning one-score games because they’re good.
They’re sustaining the success that brought them to the Super Bowl stage last February. They’re shutting down opposing rushing attacks and bullying defenses – yes, even Rams All-Pro defensive tackle Aaron Donald this week! – with their offensive line that’s considered the league’s best. Philadelphia is empowering quarterback Jalen Hurts to embrace his dual-threat attack in ways that routinely outwit and outplay opponents.
Hurts completed 25-of-38 passes for 303 yards, a touchdown and an interception. He distributed the ball well, helping receiver A.J. Brown, tight end Dallas Goedert and running back D’Andre Swift to each collect more than 100 yards from scrimmage against the Rams. And Hurts wasn’t afraid to use his legs, impressive in a showdown with Donald on the opposite side of the Great Wall of Philadelphia, Hurts’ vision a match for the instincts with which Donald has long terrorized the NFL. Hurts finished the day with 72 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries.
Just twice on Sunday did the Eagles really have reason for a blood-pressure spike.
The first came with 32 seconds left in the first half, after a stretch when quarterback Matthew Stafford had found Kupp for 95 yards in just two quarters. So as the Rams faced third-and-10 from the 22-yard line, they opted for a change-up. Standout rookie receiver Puka Nacua beat Eagles veteran corner James Bradberry on a back-shoulder fade for a go-ahead touchdown.
The Rams were set to get the ball to start the second half, a chance to further gain momentum.
Instead, the Eagles moved in a physical style that seemed to goad the Rams to overplay. With the help of Hurts’ legs, Brown’s arms and Rams penalties from a horse collar tackle and defensive pass interference, the Eagles cobbled together a four-play, 75-yard scoring drive to enter the half up 17-14.
The Rams never scored again. Put another way: The Eagles defense shut out Stafford, Kupp, Nacua and friends in the second half.
Los Angeles’ brightest moment of the second half was Witherspoon’s interception. On first-and-10 from the 20, Hurts targeted Brown on a back-shoulder fade that Hurts seemed to hope would hit Brown in front of the red zone. Instead, Witherspoon tracked Brown with savvy and secured the catch, and the in-bounds contact, to give the Rams a chance.
The Eagles’ defense nearly returned the favor with an apparent interception. That was overturned on review. Even so, Philadelphia allowed the Rams just one first down before forcing a punt.
This recipe can translate to more than a Week 5 win.
What close-score games do and don’t mean
When Rams head coach Sean McVay and Stafford spoke after the game about the need to improve execution and complementary football, a listener could be forgiven for dismissing the comments as cliché.
But the Eagles’ steady ability to do both things powered this win just like it has powered much of the Eagles’ success in the Hurts era. They demonstrated complementary football when the offense scored to spell the defense from the Nacua touchdown allowed. They demonstrated complementary football when the defense stopped the Rams to avoid points off the turnover-gifted possessions.
They executed on third down, converting 13-of-18 (72%) compared to the Rams’ 6-of-14 (42.8%). Suddenly, the Rams had nearly 16 minutes less to mount an attack.
The formula can translate to postseason success – even if it doesn’t translate to blowouts.
Close games have long been an NFL trademark, and especially in the last two postseasons. Seventeen of the last two years’ 26 playoff games have been decided by one score, including both Super Bowls and three of four conference championship games.
Understanding what to do when holding a slight lead or needing a boost is imperative. The Eagles are adept at bleeding the clock when they’re up and at responding when they’re down.
And the damage that one-score-win mirages is doing to the Vikings and Giants isn’t a risk for the Eagles. Minnesota and New York each tried to patch up rather than retool their rosters after their first-year head coaches racked up above-expectation win counts. Each returned a quarterback who was considered closer to average than top-tier.
Sirianni already proved he could improve the Eagles from a four-win team before he arrived a nine-win team his first year and then a 14-win group that advanced to the Super Bowl. Hurts already was in the MVP conversation last year until his injury, a conversation he only continues to look fit for. And perhaps as notable: The Eagles have created a legacy of elite offensive line play in an era while teams struggle.
The Eagles will likely win a game by double digits this season. And they probably will lose at some point this regular season, too. In the meantime, their close wins continue to build mental strength and a resilient culture that will aid them in the postseason.
The rest of the NFC should beware.