PHILADELPHIA — The Philadelphia Eagles went from hot to cold on offense, and then did just enough to earn a narrow win over the New England Patriots on Sunday in their regular-season opener. Four days later, they seemed headed for more of the same.
“Sloppy” was how coordinator Brian Johnson described the operation of his Week 1 offense, with the first-year play caller including himself in the assessment. The sloppiness continued in the first quarter Thursday night, when the Eagles faced the Minnesota Vikings at Lincoln Financial Field. Philadelphia converted just 1 of 5 third downs, turned the ball over on an interception and failed to cash in on two fumble recoveries for any points.
You would have never expected the eventual offensive eruption that helped the Eagles to a 34-28 victory. Philadelphia finished with 430 yards of offense and at one point led the Vikings by 20 points.
Everything changed early in the second quarter, thanks to a somewhat unlikely hero and two of the Eagles’ strongest units.
The Eagles turned to running back D’Andre Swift, the Philadelphia native who went largely overlooked with just one carry for 3 yards against New England in Week 1. They also put the game on the backs of their offensive and defensive lines, the units in which the front office has invested most heavily and consistently. After that, the Eagles finally found a rhythm.
It started with a 16-play, 75-yard offensive drive that featured 13 runs — including nine by Swift for 45 yards — and was capped by the Eagles’ signature Jalen Hurts goal-line sneak. It continued with a disruptive defensive showing that bottled up the Vikings rushing attack, hurried quarterback Kirk Cousins frequently and finished with a total of four takeaways.
And the train kept on rolling: Swift rushed for a career-high 175 yards and a touchdown on 28 attempts to spearhead a 259-yard rushing day for the Eagles (2-0) as a whole.
— Philadelphia Eagles (@Eagles) September 15, 2023
But this wasn’t just any game for Swift. This was his homecoming game, only his second as an Eagle, after spending his first three seasons with the Detroit Lions. Thursday was his first time playing at Lincoln Financial Field, located just 5 miles from St. Joseph’s Preparatory School, where Swift rushed for more than 1,500 yards as a senior. And in the stands Thursday night were 30 family members and friends, eager to see their guy shine in the City of Brotherly Love once again, following his trade during NFL Draft weekend.
Swift didn’t know what his workload would look like, especially after his rather limited use at New England. Johnson did say that he needed to do a better job of getting him involved. Regardless, Swift prepared the same way and intended to make an impact whenever he got his opportunity.
“Was I frustrated?” Swift said. “No. We got the win (in New England). I wouldn’t say frustrated. … I prepared just to be ready for whenever he called my number. I know what I’m capable of.”
The offensive line paved the way for Swift’s production, but multiple linemen said he found creases that made them look better than they were.
There was a clear momentum shift during that 16-play drive, where the Eagles’ inside zone runs began to wear down Minnesota’s defensive linemen. And Philadelphia — and Swift — appeared to only get stronger.
The Eagles capped the second quarter with a forced fumble at the goal line, as safety Terrell Edmunds knocked the ball from wide receiver Justin Jefferson’s grasp as he tried to extend the ball toward the pylon. Philadelphia was awarded a touchback that six plays later resulted in a 61-yard Jake Elliott field goal.
The defense then forced another fumble on a strip sack by defensive end Josh Sweat deep in Vikings territory, and two plays later the Eagles scored again.
The lead then ballooned to 27-7 with 10:54 left in the third quarter after Hurts connected with DeVonta Smith for a 63-yard touchdown pass with the Vikings keying so heavily on the run.
Two blown coverages in the Eagles’ injury-riddled secondary did lead to a pair of second-half Vikings touchdowns. But the game never felt close, thanks to the authoritative nature in which the Eagles took over in the second and third quarters, and the way in which they sealed the victory with another long, run-heavy fourth-quarter possession. It never felt close with the way the Eagles were dominating in the trenches, and with the way Swift and his teammates were running at will.
When the Vikings cut the lead to seven midway through the fourth quarter, the Eagles went back to Swift, calling his number on seven of the eight plays of the 75-yard scoring drive. That included a 43-yard run by Swift and shortly after was capped by a 2-yard touchdown with 4:16 left on the clock.
After getting stopped short of the goal line twice earlier, Swift said he was “most definitely” determined to score.
“I knew that was my last opportunity to get it or the next play called was going to be the QB sneak,” he said, laughing.
Even then, Swift knew he had enjoyed a productive game, but he didn’t know he had set a career high for rushing yards and carries. His previous career high for rushing yards was 144 — against the Eagles last season.
Swift said he probably hadn’t had that prolific a performance since his high school days.
“It would’ve been against La Salle,” Swift said, referring to St. Joseph’s Prep’s rival.
The Eagles knew D’Andre Swift as a teenager. They finally brought him home
For much of training camp, the focus on Swift had been whether he could contribute as a receiver out of the backfield for the Eagles. But Swift had always viewed himself as capable of being a workhorse back, even if plans seemingly called for the use of a backfield platoon.
He wasn’t the only one who saw himself as capable of a larger role, however.
“It wasn’t anything that I didn’t know,” Hurts said about Swift’s performance. “He’s a great talent, a great player and a great person and teammate. He took advantage of the opportunity that he had and he had a career day. … It was a hell of a job and we needed it from him.”
After a summer that featured plenty of debate about the diminished importance of running backs, Swift showed his value to the Eagles for one night, and perhaps well beyond.
(Photo of D’Andre Swift, No. 0: Mitchell Leff / Getty Images)
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