Zach Ertz gets two targets in the red zone, both resulting in touchdowns for the Eagles tight end against the Panthers.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Philadelphia Eagles‘ legitimacy as contenders was in question thanks to the quality of their opponents over the first quarter-plus of the season.
They had won four of their first five games headed into Thursday night. But three of those victories came against the New York Giants, Los Angeles Chargers and Arizona Cardinals, who have a combined record of 3-12.
Idle until next Monday, when they host the Washington Redskins, they get to kick back for the weekend and enjoy their view from the top while the rest of the conference works to catch up.
The Eagles’ previous four victories came against teams that are a combined 5-14, none of whom currently has a winning record. The one good squad they did face, the 5-0 Kansas City Chiefs, beat them. Any thoughts about whether they were a product of a favorable schedule were erased with a gutty performance against a physical, first-place Panthers team coming off wins over the New England Patriots and Detroit Lions.
Operating without right tackle Lane Johnson (concussion) and third-down back Wendell Smallwood, quarterback Carson Wentz was hit often (three sacks, eight QB hits) and was a bit erratic early as the offense fought to find a rhythm. But the second-year signal-caller came up with some huge third-down throws — a season-long trend to this point — and ended with three touchdowns to zero interceptions in a big-time showing on the national stage. Tight end Zach Ertz was on the receiving end of two of those scores. He now has four touchdowns on the season, matching a career high.
Defensive tackle Fletcher Cox returned after missing the previous two games with a calf injury and made his presence felt in a big way. He bulldozed through guard Trai Turner to hit Cam Newton mid-throw and force a first-half interception that led to six points. Cox finished with two quarterback hits and a half-sack. Jim Schwartz’s unit knew it had its hands full with the multi-faceted attack featuring Newton, rookie running back Christian McCaffrey and a pair of imposing receivers in Kelvin Benjamin and Devin Funchess, and crammed to get ready in the limited time available. The key was generating three takeaways, all Newton interceptions.
The Eagles were playing with house money in a sense. Well positioned in a adversity-struck NFC East, a loss in Carolina wouldn’t have been viewed as a crusher. In pulling out a victory, the chip pile grows, as do expectations for what this team can do in Year 2 of the Wentz-Doug Pederson era.