Wentz, Eagles prove themselves as NFC contenders
The Philadelphia Eagles continued their impressive start to the NFL season, holding on for a 28-23 win over the Carolina Panthers.
While Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz threw three touchdown passes, Carolina's Cam Newton was intercepted three times.
Newton's third pick, with just over three minutes remaining, sealed the Eagles' victory. Newton badly overthrew Russell Shepard and was picked by Jalen Mills at the Eagles' 16-yard line.
The Eagles went three-and-out and punted before the two-minute warning, but the Philadelphia defense held on the ensuing drive.
Newton, who was brilliant the last two weeks in road wins over the New England Patriots and Detroit Lions, was 28 of 52 for 239 yards with a touchdown and the three interceptions. He also ran for 71 yards and a touchdown as Panthers running backs Jonathan Stewart, Fozzy Whittaker and Christian McCaffrey combined for just oneÂ rushing yard on 13 carries. McCaffrey did have 10 receptions for 56 yards, but a fourth-and-one pass with one minute, 22 seconds remaining skipped into him at midfield.
After trading field goals in the first quarter, the Panthers scored the game's first touchdown thanks to three incredible plays. The scoring drive was initially set up by McCaffrey's 25-yard punt return to the Eagles' 43-yard line. Kelvin Benjamin then kept the drive alive with a diving 14-yard catch at the 16.
Newton ran it in from there as a lane opened up and he went past Eagles rookie cornerback Rasul Douglas for an easy touchdown.
Douglas got some revenge on the next Panthers possession. Fletcher Cox, out the last two weeks with a calf injury, hit Newton as he was throwing. That resulted in a fluttering ball that Douglas snatched out of the air at the Panthers' 12-yard line.
After LeGarrette Blount was stopped a yard short on third-and-three from the five, Wentz picked up the first down on fourth-and-one with a quarterback sneak. That set up a one-yard pass to tight end Zach Ertz to tie things at 10-10.Â
Another Newton interception led to another touchdown pass from Wentz to Ertz, this time from 17 yards out. Newton was picked off for a third time, but Rodney McLeod's interception was negated by an Eagles pass interference penalty. The 40-yard penalty moved the Panthers to the Eagles' 25-yard line to set up Graham Gano's 20-yard field goal.
The Eagles answered with a field goal of their own, a 48-yarder by Jake Elliott with 8:02 remaining in the third quarter.Â
The Eagles did not run with much consistency against the Panthers and it was Wentz carrying them. He completed 16 of 30 pass attempts for 222 yards with three touchdowns and zero interceptions. He also ran for 25 yards on six carries as Blount ran for 67 yards on 14 carries.Â
Thursday'sÂ clincher was Wentz's dart to a wide-open Nelson Agholor, who sprinted untouched into the end zone for a 24-yard score.
The Eagles (5-1) now have a commanding lead in the NFC East. They already own division wins over the second-placed Washington Redskins (2-2) and the winless New York Giants (0-5). Thursday's win also gives them a tie-breaker over the Panthers, which could be important for play-off seeding.
With his three touchdowns in Charlotte, Wentz now has 13 touchdown passes on the season with just three interceptions. It is a huge improvement from last season when Wentz finished his rookie campaign with just 16 touchdowns and 14 picks. If Wentz continues to play well and the Eagles defense can create turnovers, as they did against the Panthers, the Eagles could be looking at a bye in the first round of the NFC play-offs.
The Panthers (4-2) lost more than a game Thursday as Pro Bowl linebacker Luke Kuechly left late in the first half with a concussion. He was replaced by David Mayo, who played well, but the Panthers will miss Kuechly and hope his latest concussion is not a career-ender for the 26-year-old. The six-year veteran has missed nine games over the last two seasons because of concussions.