Eagles defense, Jordan Matthews pound Panthers in lop-sided victory

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It was a Monday night melee.

The Eagles thoroughly made the Panthers go back to Carolina in their minds during a three-phase and all-around 45-21 victory, forcing five turnovers, sacking Cam Newton nine times and scoring on the ground twice, through the air twice, and on special teams once just for good measure. They also scored a defensive touchdown.

More important than the impressive margin of victory is what it does to the standings, putting the Eagles back in first place (7-2), a half game ahead of Dallas.

Mark Sanchez (20-for-37, 332 yards) was solid in his first start since 2012, finding a new favorite target, rookie Jordan Matthews. The two would hook up seven times for 138 yards and two touchdowns in the game. Sanchez also showed some prowess in the red zone. He is now 7-for-7 in the red zone as quarterback. Brent Celek also returned to prominence in the passing game, collecting 118 yards through the air.

The run game never got off the ground, with LeSean McCoy’s struggles resembling those earlier in the season. He had 12 carries for just 19 yards and the Birds had 37 rushing yards as a team.

But it didn’t matter. Despite being dominated in time of possession (37:58-22:02), the Eagles defense made the Panthers suffer while on the field. Connor Barwin had 3.5 sacks, Brandon Graham had 1.5 and Trent Cole, Fletcher Cox, Vinny Curry (who also caused a fumble) and Mychal Kendricks each had one against a banged up Newton.

Sanchez and the Eagles did not turn the ball over.

The Eagles continued their league-leading takeaway streak on the second play from scrimmage recovering a DeAngelo Williams fumble (forced by Casey Matthews). It was converted into a 39-yard field goal four plays later after Sanchez and the Birds’ receivers failed to get on the same page.

Turnover No. 2 came seconds later when Cary Williams picked off Newton’s first pass of the game. This time, the Eagles scored a touchdown on a eight-yard Darren Sproles run to cap off a four-play, 43-yard drive and put Philly up 10-0 just three and a half minutes into the game.

The Panthers hung tough and put together a long-scoring drive to respond to the Eagles’ quick start with a one-yard Jonathan Stewart (Chip Kelly’s first running back at Oregon) run putting Carolina on the board 10-7.

The offense didn’t even need to take the field for the next touchdown, a 65-yard punt return score by Sproles to give the Eagles another 10-point lead.

The Eagles started the second quarter with the ball and drove 91 yards for a touchdown. Matthews and Sanchez got together four times in the drive for 73 yards, including a 13-yard touchdown.

The Eagles bumped their point total to 31 points before halftime thanks to the Panthers’ third turnover, a pick-six to Bradley Fletcher (his first career touchdown) with just over two minutes remaining in the second quarter. Just for good measure, Nate Allen added a Newton interception of his own at the tail end of the second quarter. All told, the Eagles forced four turnovers and five sacks in the first 30 minutes.

Fletcher would go on to have the game of his career, making four tackles, breaking up five passes and of course, his interception returned for a touchdown.

In the second half, the Eagles caused their fifth turnover and two plays after Graham’s fumble recovery LeSean McCoy punched in a one-yard touchdown run.

Later in the fourth, Matthews’ career night continued with an 18-yard touchdown catch, putting Philly up 45-7. Kelvin Benjamin scored two touchdowns in the fourth in garbage-time to cut into the lead 45-21.

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