PHILADELPHIA — It’s probably not an ideal night for the Patriots offense when the biggest throw comes from a player not named Tom Brady, but ideal wasn’t in the cards in Sunday night’s 17-10 victory against the Eagles, so the Patriots settled for what they needed to do to win.
They got what they needed on the first drive after halftime, their only touchdown drive of the game and the last time either team would score, after Josh McDaniels gathered the group during the break and said it was time to go up-tempo. For 4:11 of elapsed time and for 84 yards, the Patriots got going and got into the end zone and did enough to hand the game back to the defense and go home with a win.
“It was huge,” said James White. “We weren’t scoring in the red zone in the first half and took it down that first drive, scored.”
The Patriots had crawled back from 10-0 defecit to make it 10-9 by kicking field goals, but needed to make something happen. They got the ball to start the second half and picked up the pace, rushing to the line without huddling on six of the drive’s 10 plays:
Brady, eight yards to Mohamed Sanu. Six rushing yards up the middle for Rex Burkhead. Brady, 10 yards to Phillip Dorsett.
White said he could feel the Eagles defense getting winded, a welcome change from early on when it was the Patriots defense enduring long drives out on the field.
After Dorsett’s catch came the first of two big plays that made the drive, a screen on first-and-10 to Rex Burkhead that went for 30 yards.
“I was just trying to find an open spot on the screen, it’s kind of a funky look there,” Burkhead said. “Tom did a great job of just kind of flicking it to me and I turned around and saw my old Nebraska buddy, [Eagles linebacker] Nate Gerry right there in my face so I just tried to get away from him as fast as possible.
“It was during our up-tempo, no huddle scheme there, so I was just trying to make a play.”
Burkhead put a move on Gerry, got space and had to be chased down after the big gain. After that play, the Patriots huddled on the next few plays, slowed down for a spell and got some hard-fought yards — a pass to Sanu that went for one yard, another to Dorsett that went for eight, a 7-yard run up the middle for White that converted a third-and-1 to keep things alive so they could go back to no-huddle.
At that point, the Patriots were at the Eagles’ 14-yard line and in the red zone where they’d been struggling, and have struggled often this season. They knew they had a trick play they could use, a double pass from Brady to Julian Edelman to Dorsett, they’d been working on in practice for a few weeks. When, after two negative plays, they were facing third-and-11, they went for it.
The Patriots ran a different trick play — a tossback where Brady targeted Dorsett deep — unsuccessfully in the first half, but this one was set up to succeed earlier on the drive by the screen to Burkhead.
When Edelman began the play in the backfield, then moved out laterally to catch the sideways pitch from Brady, the Eagles defense rushed forward, thinking it could be seeing a similar play.
“Guys were hustling to the ball thinking it was a screen, but it was a double pass,” said Philadelphia safety Malcolm Jenkins. “It was a good play by them.”
Edelman took the pitch and threw a dart to Dorsett in the back of the end zone. Touchdown.
The play was not without cost, as Dorsett took a big hit from Eagles cornerback Rasul Douglas and suffered a head injury on his TD catch, ending his night.
The touchdown put the Patriots ahead, and White ran up the middle against a winded Eagles’ defense for the 2-point conversion to make it 17-10, the game’s final score.
The scoring toss, by the way, improved Edelman’s career passing numbers to 4 for 4 for 90 yards, 1 touchdown and no interceptions and a perfect 158.3 passer rating.
“He made a good decision and puts his quarterback rating up there pretty high. I am sure he’ll have to ice his shoulder down this week, massage it and everything else,” quipped Bill Belichick, who said afterward Edelman had a couple options on the play but that he made the right read. “It was a great play by Julian.”
Edelman, who was a bit sour after the game, probably because the key plays he made were interspersed with miscues, wasn’t as excited about the play but he did acknowledge he enjoyed the chance to use his arm.
“I just do what the coaches ask of me. It isn’t like I’m going to the coaches and saying, ‘Yo, let me throw a ball.’ I guess it’s cool to do,” Edelman said. “They trust me to go throw the ball and it’s fun to throw the ball sometimes.”
Fun, and in that moment, necessary.