PHILADELPHIA – Yes, there were many of the same players and coaches from both teams who faced one another in the Super Bowl less than two years ago. But make no mistake – this game, in the city so closely identified with the "Rocky" boxing films, was no rematch. New England wasn't out to exact any sort of revenge from that championship bout. Its goals were more short-term, simply to climb back into the ring following its bye week and fight back from its only loss thus far in 2019, two weeks ago on the road to the Ravens.
"Baltimore's in the past now. We came [to Philadelphia]," defensive tackle Danny Shelton said afterward, "with the mindset that we've got to make plays, compete to get after the ball. I feel like we did that as a defense."
That was challenge enough for the Patriots, who saw the Philadelphia Eagles land the first punch with a 42-yard field goal on the game's opening drive. That came about thanks in large part to a pass interference penalty committed by CB Jason McCourty on the first play from scrimmage.
On their first two possessions, the Patriots couldn't move the ball and had to punt both times.
"Yeah, they're a good football team," remarked WR Julian Edelman. "Good coaching staff, good players, coming on the road, they had a bye week to prepare, just like us. We knew it was going to be a hard-fought battle. It was good to come out of here with a win."
Philly's offense, led by QB Carson Wentz, connected on several body blows to the Patriots defense's midsection. Wentz ducked out of would-be sacks a number of times, made some short throws, and his running backs landed a few jabs to march downfield. Wentz eventually found TE Dallas Goedert with a short pass in the end zone to up the lead.
Initially, referee Bill Vinovich's officiating crew ruled that CB Jonathan Jones wrestled the ball away from Goedert as the two players fell to the canvas (painted grass, technically) for what looked like a touchback interception. Yet, replay reviews confirmed that Goedert had control as he crossed the goal line and before Jones ripped the ball free. Eagles kicker Jake Elliot tacked on a PAT to make the score 10-0 early in the second quarter.
"We had a good game plan. We didn't start how we wanted to," CB Stephon Gilmore conceded during his post-game comments, "but I think as the game went on, we played how we wanted to play. It wasn't perfect, but we got a win. That's all that matters."
QB Tom Brady and the offense finally put some combinations together and got within striking distance of the Eagles' end zone, but had to settle for a 35-yard Nick Folk field goal midway through the second stanza.
Cover man Brandon Bolden then punched the ball loose from Philly's return man on the ensuing kickoff, but rookie punter Jake Bailey, New England's kickoff specialist, saw the fumbled ball slip from his grasp and out of bounds. The Patriots should have had possession comfortably in Eagles territory, but Philly maintained possession at the fumbled spot. New England's D forced a punt, though, giving the ball back to the Patriots' O around midfield.
Still, the Patriots continued to struggle offensively. They got down to the Philly 4-yard line, but three straight incomplete Brady passes forced New England to rely on Folk again for a 22-yard boot.
It looked like the Patriots had Philly against the ropes when the aforementioned Shelton strip-sacked Wentz and fellow d-lineman Lawrence Guy recovered at Eagles' 22-yard line.
"It was a play that, our DBs had great coverage, which allowed us to collapse the pocket," Shelton recalled later. "Lawrence came up with the fumble recovery and got the offense the ball back."
But the O couldn't land the decisive right hook. New England's offense just continued to look clumsy, and once more, Folk had to provide the scoring, this time with a 39-yard field goal.
An aggressive flurry of pass rush pressure by the Patriots' D ensured that the Eagles wouldn't get past midfield as the half came to a close. New England went into intermission down only a point, 10-9.
"We didn't play our best tonight, but it was enough to win," RB James White acknowledged. "We weren't scoring, weren't putting points on the board. Eventually we took the lead, and the defense had our back."
Coming out of the locker room to start the third quarter, New England finally found an offensive rhythm. At the end of a 10-play, 84-yard drive, the Patriots at last got into the end zone. Edelman, who had a slight case of the drops heretofore (three during the first half), was called on by offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels to throw a pass on what at first appeared to be a screen to Edelman.
The former college QB easily tossed a 15-yard TD to fellow wideout Phillip Dorsett, who was uncovered in the end zone because Philly's D fell for the ruse. White then ducked his way over the goal line on the ensuing two-point conversion to give New England a 7-point advantage, its first of the game.
The touchdown, just like it was drawn up in practice?
"Not necessarily," Edelman admitted in the post-game locker room, "but we got the play in and made a play. It was good to get it, good to execute. We've been practicing that play for a little while… It's fun to throw the pill sometimes."
"It was huge," White said of what proved to be the game-winning drive. "We weren't scoring in the red zone in the first half, took it down on that first drive [of the second half] and scored. Good play by Jules and Phil. Huge play for us. Got the two-point conversion. It made a difference."
A sour note to the end of that spectacular play: Dorsett suffered a head injury (generally considered a concussion) while being hit by an Eagle at the end of his touchdown catch. He was later taken to the locker room and couldn't finish the contest.
Meanwhile, on D, the Patriots kept backing the Eagles into a corner, wearing Wentz down with pressure and forcing Philly punts. New England's offense failed to capitalize on favorable field position, though, and entered the final quarter with the same 17-10 lead.
Bailey's booming and well-placed punts deep in Eagle territory contributed immensely to the field-position battle that New England eventually won.
The New England Patriots take on the Philadelphia Eagles in a regular season game at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday, November 17, 2019.
"It's fun to celebrate with my teammates down there," Bailey beamed afterward. "Got a lot of good guys on the outside playing gunner, Nate Ebner at [personal protector]… the whole punt team is full of all-stars. It helps when I have people to lean on. They're doing a great job."
The counter-punching between the two teams continued throughout the fourth quarter, though neither could land a decisive blow… until the final minute. Facing 4th-and-10 from the New England 26, the Patriots blitzed Wentz, forcing him to heave a desperate pass to the end zone, which was nearly caught by WR Nelson Agholor. However, he was well covered by CB J.C. Jackson, and the ball, which hit Agholor in the hands, if a bit behind him, ended up falling to the turf and out of the back of the end zone.
Philly would get one more possession with half a minute to go, but Wentz's Hail Mary was batted down just outside the Patriots' end zone.
"Honestly," Shelton concluded, "we just were all hungry to keep making plays and do our job. I feel like we did a great job with rallying together and finishing the game right."
"Obviously," added Edelman, "we didn't go out and put up the points we want to put up. You've got to tip your hat to their defense and our defense for bailing us out. But we had a good week of practice last week and just have to continue to do that. That's usually when it carries over to games."
This particular game, the Patriots sounded relieved to have come out on top, even if it wasn't a unanimous decision.
"It's a good football team, hostile environment," observed White. "Knew it was going to be a four-quarter football game, might come down to the last possession, like it did. So, it was everything we expected."