The New England Patriots returned from their bye week with a gritty 17-10 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday. A game that featured two of the league’s better quarterbacks instead was more of a defensive battle. The Pats improved to 9-1 while dropping the Eagles' record to 5-5.
Here are three things that stood out from this game.
1. Fireworks were few and far between: The rematch of Super Bowl LII featured very few of the fireworks that made that 41-33 Eagles victory an instant classic. Instead, both teams struggled offensively while looking like shells of themselves.
Carson Wentz was still injured back in that February 2018 game, so this rematch meant nothing to him. Tom Brady told reporters this week that he's still not over the loss to Philly, but he was unable to translate those emotions into a dominant performance on Sunday.
Neither offense managed to settle into a rhythm despite multiple approaches. No-huddle didn’t bring the tempo either unit sought. Misdirection produced mixed results, as did gimmick plays. Both quarterbacks struggled with accuracy, and it showed the most on third downs. Wentz and the Eagles converted only 3 of 13 attempts on those money downs while Brady and the Patriots were 5-for-16. For the game, Wentz managed to complete just 20 of 40 passes for just 214 yards and a touchdown, and he was sacked five times. Brady, meanwhile completed 26 of 47 yards for 216 yards and no touchdowns.and the Patriots' lone touchdown came on a trick-play pass from wide receiver Julian Edelman to Phillip Dorsett.
2. Familiar needs all around: Both the Eagles and the Patriots’ offenses are struggling because of a common deficiency: talent at wide receiver. Philly’s most explosive weapon, DeSean Jackson is on injured reserve, and Alshon Jeffery was sidelined with an ankle injury. New England has yet to find a contributor to fill that void caused by Rob Gronkowski’s retirement, and we’re more than halfway through the season. Both teams have talented quarterbacks, and guys like Brady and Wentz can help elevate their supporting. But they still need targets capable of winning 1-on-1 matchups.
Edelman remains a special player, but it’s easy for defenses to focus on limiting his production when they don’t have to worry about his teammates. Dorsett left the game with a head injury, and Mohamed Sanu has yet to settle into a comfort zone. Brady had to throw balls away more often than he would have liked because guys just weren’t getting open before pressure came. We keep waiting for a new threat to emerge for the Patriots, but thus far, it hasn’t happened.
Wentz, meanwhile, missed his top targets even more. Far too often he held onto the ball too long, hoping something would open up downfield, only to get sacked. Adding to Wentz’s struggles was the head injury to right tackle Lane Johnson. Protection issues really cropped up once Johnson left the game. Wentz never could get comfortable. There were even times when he did have sufficient protection, but no one was open. There were some rare occurrences when targets did get open, but the quarterback looked jumpy and his passes sailed high or fell short.
3. The defenses deserve credit: We shouldn’t completely pin the offensive struggles on a lack of wide receiver talent. Both the Eagles and Patriots cooked up and executed effective game plans. The Patriots looked like their usual dominant selves, and they recorded their league-leading 28th takeaway on a sack-fumble of Wentz in the first half. New England’s pass-rushers overwhelmed the Philly line throughout the game. Both units did a good job against the run, and they did a nice job of limiting big plays. The Patriots has a couple of near-interceptions. Both teams can thank their defenses for keeping them in Sunday’s game.
New England’s defense is so dominant that the Patriots will have a chance to win any game they’re in. The Eagles’ defense give them a chance as well, but a loss like Sunday’s will sting. Philly held the vaunted Patriots to just 17 points and around 300 net yards. That’s usually a recipe for success. But they couldn’t get the offensive production necessary for a victory. Meanwhile, the Cowboys won on Sunday and improved to 6-4 to remain atop the NFC East.