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3 things we learned about the Eagles

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — All it took for the Philadelphia Eagles to claim their first victory of the season was running back Darren Sproles doing what he has always done.

Sproles accounted for two touchdowns Sunday, including a spectacular 89-yard punt return that jump-started a run of three second-quarter touchdowns in the Eagles’ 24-17 win over the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium.

Counting playoff games, Sproles’ teams are 12-2 when he scores twice or more.

“There’s so many different things he can do,” Eagles coach Chip Kelly said. “We probably still haven’t utilized him as well as we can (with) his ability to change a game as a returner (and) also as a running back.”

The Eagles and Jets combined for just 118 yards in the game’s first seven possession before Sproles extended Philadelphia’s lead to 10-0 by breaking five tackles on his way to the second longest punt return for a touchdown in franchise history.

“I saw a whole bunch of green grass,” Sproles said. “That’s all I saw.”

Bradford’s 23-yard touchdown pass to running back Ryan Mathews lengthened the lead to 17-0 before Sproles capped the second quarter outburst by the Eagles by rushing one yard for a touchdown. It was only the 10th touchdown of fewer than five yards for Sproles, who is listed at 5 feet 6.

“Didn’t hesitate when we had the ball on the half-yard line to give it to him,” Kelly said. “He’s got a knack for finding his way through.”

Sproles finished with 125 yards of total offense for the Eagles (1-2), who avoided their first 0-3 start since 1999.

“There’s just so many different things that he does really well,” Bradford said. “You can utilize him in so many different ways. I don’t think there’s a lot of guys in the league that can do that.”

The Eagles collected just five first downs in the second half but kept the Jets at bay thanks to an opportunistic defense that picked off New York quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick three times.

Cornerback Eric Rowe intercepted a pass in the end zone in the third quarter and linebacker Jordan Hicks and safety Walter Thurmond had interceptions on consecutive fourth quarter drives with Philadelphia nursing a 24-14 lead.

“We talked about it kind of being a gritty game — we knew it was going to be a gritty game,” Kelly said. “Stand toe-to-toe, take their best shot. Give them our best shot. I think everybody in all phases — offense, defense, special teams — contributed to the win.”

Mathews, who made the start with the struggling DeMarco Murray (hamstring) sidelined, gained 108 yards on 25 carries for the Eagles, who led for just two minutes and 10 seconds during their first two losses.

Bradford was 14-of-28 for 118 yards in earning his first win since Oct. 13, 2013. He missed last season with a torn ACL in his left knee.

“It’s a lot more fun to play from ahead than it is from behind,” Bradford said with a grin. “We’ve just got to figure out a way when we get those leads to continue to put drives together in the second half. Obviously that was a bit of a struggle for us today. Hopefully we can learn from this and continue to build.”

What we learned about the Eagles

1. There might be a running back controversy in Philadelphia. With struggling free agent acquisition DeMarco Murray inactive because of a hamstring injury, Ryan Mathews racked up 108 yards on 25 carries. Twenty-seven of those yards came on one play, but Mathews still looked far better and appeared to make more of an effort to deal with the Eagles’ piecemeal offensive line than Murray, who “gained” 11 yards in the first two games. Coach Chip Kelly opened his press conference by gushing over Mathews and his ability to get outside against the Jets. “I like his style in terms of how it fits with what we’re doing,” Kelly said. Kelly is famously impulsive, so it won’t be a surprise at all if Murray — the reigning NFL rushing champion — is relegated to a committee role once he returns.

2. The Eagles are no longer winless, but Kelly’s vaunted offense is still a work in progress. The bulk of Sunday’s scoring came in a 10-minute span in the second quarter and contained only one sustained drive, an eight-play, 75-yard march that ended with QB Sam Bradford’s 23-yard touchdown pass to RB Ryan Mathews. That was the middle touchdown of a burst that included RB Darren Sproles’ 89-yard punt return for a touchdown and Sproles’ 1-yard touchdown run, which capped a drive that was generated by LB Jordan Hicks’ recovery of Jets WR Brandon Marshall’s inexplicable lateral near midfield. The Eagles had as many three-and-outs (five) as first downs (three) in the second half, during which they gained just 52 yards. “It’s something we have to get better at,” Kelly said. “A lot of that falls on my shoulders in terms (of) calling plays. I’ve got to do a better job in the second half.”

3. At least the Eagles can stop someone through the air. After being picked apart in the first two weeks by Falcons QB Matt Ryan and the Cowboys’ tandem of Tony Romo and Brandon Weeden, the Eagles forced pop-gunned Jets QB Ryan Fitzpatrick to build drives in agonizingly slow fashion Sunday, when he was 35-of-58 for 283 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions. That’s 4.88 yards per attempt, down from the 7.94 yards per attempt compiled by the Falcons and Cowboys. While Fitzpatrick oversaw an impressive two-minute drive at the end of the first half in which the Jets marched 79 yards in nine plays, his second touchdown drive required 16 plays to navigate 81 yards. With the similarly quarterback-challenged Redskins and Saints on tap the next two weeks, the Eagles should get a chance to build some confidence and fix the issues of the first two games.

Etc.

–RB DeMarco Murray (hamstring) was inactive for Sunday’s 24-17 win over the Jets. Coach Chip Kelly said Murray, who was listed as questionable during the week, tried working out before the game but wasn’t cleared for the game. Murray might watch from the sideline as his job security evaporated: His replacement, RB Ryan Mathews, had 108 yards on 25 carries and a 23-yard touchdown catch. Murray had just 11 yards rushing on 21 carries in the first two games of the season.

–WR Josh Huff (hamstring) was inactive for Sunday’s 24-17 win over the Jets. Coach Chip Kelly said Huff was injured during the walkthrough on Saturday when he was added to the injury report as questionable. Huff has four catches for 39 yards this season.

–OL Andrew Gardner (right foot) was injured in the second quarter of Sunday’s 24-17 win over the Jets and did not return to the game. Gardner was hurt on RB Darren Sproles’ 1-yard touchdown run. Coach Chip Kelly did not have an update on Gardner after the game.

–S Chris Maragos (left knee contusion) did not return after getting injured in the second quarter of Sunday’s 24-17 win over the Jets. Coach Chip Kelly did not have an update on Maragos after the game. Maragos had one tackle before exiting.


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