» Grading the Bills
C+ Everything was rolling for LeSean McCoy. He busted loose for one 24-yard run in the first half. He seemed one missed tackle away from the home-run shot, the shot-out-of-a-cannon run so many of these Eagles fans were accustomed to. Then, abruptly, the door slammed shut. McCoy gained only 11 yards on eight carries in the second half. His blocking broke down up front – Fletcher Cox the main reason why – and McCoy was unable to create. So there was no storybook reunion Sunday. McCoy couldn’t leave Lincoln Financial Field fast enough.
C Now that the postseason is all but out of reach, the spotlight shifts to … the quarterback. Is Tyrod Taylor the future? He rainbowed a picturesque 47-yard touchdown to Sammy Watkins in the first half, hit on routes underneath to Robert Woods and that 4.4-speed kept Philadelphia off balance. Taylor rushed for another 53 yards. But he also completed only 52.8 percent of his passes and, again, couldn’t lead a game-winning drive late. There’s a ton to love about his ubiquitous game, but there are also still nagging questions. These final three games carry much significance at the game’s most important position.
B Philadelphia went with a three-headed approach at running back – and neither Ryan Mathews nor DeMarco Murray had a run longer than 9 yards but the Eagles still converted several key third downs. On the field-goal drive to start the third quarter, Darren Sproles leaked free for 7 yards on third and 4 and Murray got 4 on third and 4. The Eagles would be better off with McCoy than this trio but this trio did enough on Sunday.
B With the Eagles driving deep into Buffalo territory, Leodis McKelvin had one of the best plays in his eight-year career. The corner leaped and ripped the ball out of tight end Brent Celek’s grasp for an interception. And Ronald Darby, after a rough start, settled in. Both corners had a pair of pass breakups. In the end, however, two splash plays proved costly – the 53-yard touchdown to Nelson Agholor (when Corey Graham got turned around) and the 41-yarder to Zach Ertz (when McKelvin went high and missed a tackle).
D- Buffalo brought back Marcus Thigpen to avoid this exact disaster. A game-changing turnover. Yet there was Thigpen muffing a punt in the second quarter. The Eagles recovered and Agholor scored three plays later. The lack of a stable return game has been a problem most of the season for the Bills. On a brighter note, Dan Carpenter hit both of his field goals – from 38 and 40 yards – after a rough outing last week.
D Penalties, penalties and more penalties. Fans on social media were not thrilled to see Rex Ryan and Dennis Thurman irate with officials on a video captured by WKBW, and for good reason. Buffalo really has nobody to blame but itself for leading the NFL in total penalties and ranking No. 2 in accepted penalties. This game, the offensive line was caught grabbing and clutching. Other games, personal fouls have been the problem. Maybe more than anything – any injury, any scheme change on “D,” any QB question – undisciplined play is why the Bills will likely stay home in January again.
» Grading the Eagles
C McCoy may be moody. His personality may not mesh with Chip Kelly. But his style sure seems like the perfect fit for this up-tempo offense. Philadelphia’s much-maligned offensive line from 2014 has vastly improved and McCoy is quicker, more explosive, more capable of doing a pinch of everything than the Eagles’ current group. Get Kelly in an honest moment and he’d even have to admit Philadelphia made a mistake in trading McCoy. His presence might have made this up-and-down team a legit contender.
B This hodgepodge group lacking star power did enough to win. Jordan Matthews tried laboring through his back injury and had only three catches. Letting Jeremy Maclin walk in free agency has mostly backfired … until Sunday. The tight end Ertz was a problem all game for Buffalo, catching five passes for 98 yards and Nelson Agholor finally resembled the receiver Philly thought it was getting with the 20th overall pick last April. He curved his route to the middle to lose Darby on the score.
A- The Eagles had trouble containing McCoy but not when it mattered. Into the second half, they effectively forced his runs back inside where linebackers and defensive backs gang-tackled McCoy. Players said they knew his running style well. They had a plan. Eventually, that plan completely shut down Buffalo’s most explosive player. And defensive end Cox (eight tackles, one sack) dominated the Bills’ best lineman, Richie Incognito, one on one. Kiko Alonso? Even the ex-Bill made some plays (five tackles).
B+ Safety Ed Reynolds was late sliding over the top on Watkins’ touchdown but earned sweet redemption on Buffalo’s final offensive drive. He read Taylor’s deep ball to Robert Woods and picked off the errant overthrow to seal the win. Top cornerback Byron Maxwell has struggled most of the season and was rocky again on Sunday, but the Eagles’ secondary was able to get off the field late. Taylor threw incomplete on three third downs before the clinching interception.
B For the Eagles, Caleb Sturgis booted kicks from 45, 41 and 30 yards, and they ended up needing every one. Darren Sproles also burned the Bills’ punt coverage for 28 yards to hand his offense the ball in Bills territory, only to have Philly’s offense go three and out. And this middleweight fight between mediocre teams turned into a field-position battle deep into the second half. For the most part, the Eagles kept Buffalo deep in its own end.
B+ Remember Thanksgiving Day? Kelly’s Eagles were embarrassed on the national stage by the woeful Detroit Lions, 45-14. This after a 45-17 beatdown to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Yet somehow, Kelly has steadied his team to win back-to-back games. Believe it or not, they’re in position to win the NFC East. He might not connect with players the way his predecessor, Andy Reid, did. But he deserves credit for saving the Eagles’ season.