Eagles rode momentum of big — and unusual — plays
FOXBOROUGH — Seyi Ajirotutu didn't know what it would be, and he didn't know when it would come, but he figured at some point the Patriots would try something weird. He was right.
The something weird was a drop-kick from Nate Ebner midway through the second quarter, with the Patriots leading by a pair of touchdowns and the Eagles struggling to get going offensively. Ajirotutu — remembering the Patriots pulled a similar trick when they led the Redskins early last month — and his "heightened awareness," as he put it, fielded the onside kick cleanly, giving the Eagles good field position to set up their first touchdown.
It was the first in a series of significant and — when taken together, one after another after another, all in the same game — unusual plays the Eagles parlayed into a win against the Patriots, 35-28, at Gillette Stadium on Sunday.
"It's not something you expect," Ajirotutu said, accurately describing a rare drop-kick, from a defensive back/special teamer. "But with the Patriots, you can expect the unexpected.
"It turned out to be stupid on their part, in a sense, because it just gave us better field position. I understand if they got it back, OK, it would have potentially been 21-0."
Ajirotutu trailed off with a shrug and a smile. That play could have gone either way. The Patriots took a risk, and the Eagles made a play.
Then they made another play. And another. And another. For about half of the game — from the middle of the second quarter through the middle of the fourth — the Eagles outscored the Patriots, 35-0, starting with the drive after the drop-kick.
The next big play came in the waning seconds of the second quarter. Chris Maragos blocked Ryan Allen's punt, and Najee Goode returned it 24 yards for a touchdown and a tie game, 14-14.
Then came Malcolm Jenkins's 99-yard interception return midway through the third quarter. It was, in part, again the result of the Eagles doing their homework. Patriots running back James White took a pass to the Philly 1 three plays prior. New England hurried the next play — similar to the way it did against Buffalo near the goal line two weeks ago, catching the Bills way offside — but this time White got dropped for a 4-yard loss.
"If [Tom Brady] feels like the defense is slow to get back, he will hurry up to the offense and they run the same play most of the time," Jenkins said. "They try to get a quick run and catch you off guard, no matter what the personnel is, and so we were prepared for that."
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At the end of the next drive, as the Patriots stalled out in their own territory, Darren Sproles returned a punt 83 yards for another score.
Allen's boot was a line drive, Sproles explained, which gave the returner a moment to assess what was in front of him. Maragos gave him his first block — which was really just a light shoulder, getting in between Sproles and Ebner — and Sproles took off down the sideline.
The Eagles' final touchdown came after cornerback Byron Maxwell picked Brady off in the end zone a few minutes later, one of several deep, unsuccessful, and seemingly desperate heaves from the Patriots quarterback.
A blocked punt returned for a touchdown, an interception returned for a touchdown, and a punt returned for a touchdown — individually, all pretty routine plays. But to have all three executed by the same team in the same game? It's only happened three times in NFL history: by the 1992 Eagles, 2014 Eagles, and 2015 Eagles.
"It takes those things to win in this stadium against that coach and that quarterback," Philadelphia coach Chip Kelly said.
How unusual it was for the Patriots to lose this game — playing at home, coming off a loss — was not lost on the Eagles. Ajirotutu was excited to beat the Patriots for the first time in his six-year career. Tackle Lane Johnson suggested the Eagles might have taken everything a bit more seriously this week, with the Patriots being among the top teams in the league.
"This is a big win for us," Sproles said of an Eagles team that, even at 5-7, is in the NFC East discussion. "To get this win here and against a great team like this is big for us."
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