The Eagles went to 8-0 for the first time in franchise history on Thursday night, after a harder-than-it-looked 29-17 victory over the feisty Houston Texans at NRG Stadium.
It looked a little dicey until safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson dove for a third-quarter interception, breaking up a first-half tie.
Jalen Hurts completed 21 of 27 for 243 yards and two touchdowns, and tight end Dallas Goedert hauled in a game-high eight passes for 100 yards and a touchdown.
Defensively, tackle Javon Hargrave had his best game as an Eagles, with a team-leading seven tackles and three sacks.
The Eagles had problems with Houston’s punishing tailback Dameon Pierce, who gained 139 yards on 27 carries. It was the second time this season the Eagles permitted a runner to rush for over 100 yards, and first time since former St. Joe’s Prep star and Detroit Lions’ tailback D’Andre Swift bolted for 144 yards against the Eagles in the season opener.
As a team, the Texans rushed for 168 yards, averaging 5.3 yards a carry.
Davis Mills shredded the Eagles’ defense on Houston’s first drive and didn’t do much more after that. He finished with just 13 completions on 22 attempts and two interceptions.
There was some good, along with a good dose of bad and ugly in the Eagles’ 29-17 victory over the Houston Texans.
Gardner-Johnson’s NFL-leading and career-high fifth interception on a third-and-six at the Houston 17 changed the game with 8:13 left in the third quarter. Two plays later, Hurts found A.J. Brown for a 17-yard touchdown and a 21-14 Eagles lead.
Eagles’ coach Nick Sirianni showing great confidence early on by going for the touchdown on the Eagles’ first series. The mammoth 18-play, 91-yard, 8-minute, 4-second drive ended on a Miles Sanders’ two-yard scoring run.
Left tackle Jordan Mailata’s block on Houston defensive end Rasheem Green on Sanders’ two-yard TD run. Mailata just steered Green where he wanted to go, creating an open door for Sanders to walk into the end zone.
On a third-and-nine at the 50 with just under 11:00 in the half, Hargrave’s six-yard sack on Mills forced a Houston punt. The Eagles took their first lead on the following possession. Hargrave had his second sack when he grabbed Davis for a four-yard loss with 9:03 to play and the Eagles ahead, 29-17. He finished the night with a third sack for a nine-yard loss at the Eagles’ 21.
On the Eagles’ third drive, Sanders exploding for a combined 38 yards rushing, which set up Kenneth Gainwell’s four-yard touchdown that gave the Eagles their first lead. Receiver Zach Pascal provided a nice down-field block on Sanders’ 13-yard run, and Mailata created a gaping hole by kicking out Houston’s Mario Addison on Sanders’ 25-yard gain. Left guard Landon Dickerson reached the second level to block linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin.
Dickerson’s block on Houston linebacker Christian Harris on Gainwell’s touchdown.
On a third-and-eight at the Houston 20 on the Eagles’ opening possession, Hurts hitting Goedert for a 16-yard gain and the second third-and-eight first down conversion. The Eagles converted each of the three third downs they faced in their opening drive.
On a third-and-eight at the Eagles’ 46 on their opening possession, the Eagles got away with tackle Lane Johnson jumping offsides and somehow the officials missed it. Fortunately, A.J. Brown didn’t miss Hurts’ nine-yard completion that converted another third down for the Eagles.
On the Eagles’ first drive, Hurts hitting Quez Watkins with a six-yard pass on a third-and-six at the Eagles’ 21. It got the Eagles going after a bad start.
Goedert caught a game-high eight passes for 100 yards and a touchdown. His four-yard TD pass from Hurts put the Eagles up, 29-17, with 11:22 to play.
Linebacker Haason Reddick batting away a pass on a first-and-10 at the Eagles’ 12 with 3:03 left to play.
Cornerback James Bradberry’s interception at the Eagles’ three with 2:03 left to play.
With 12:09 left in the half, Hurts fumbling away the ball at the Houston 35. Center Jason Kelce may have made a rare mistake, snapping the ball while Hurts was unaware it was coming. The miscommunication negated a strong drive and was the first lost fumble (and third overall turnover) the Eagles had this season.
Linebacker Shaun Bradley getting nailed for a holding call on the ensuing kickoff after the Texans scored on their first drive. The flag pushed the Eagles back to their nine on their first drive.
Bradberry completely losing Texans’ receiver Phillip Dorsett on a first-and-10 at the Eagles’ 40. Davis hit Dorsett with a 32-yard pass to the Eagles’ six. Dorsett ran right by Bradberry. Two plays later, Houston scored.
Cornerback Avonte Maddox’s missed tackle on Rex Burkhead on the Texans’ first drive, on third-and-five from the Eagles’ 46. Davis hit Burkhead on a short pass to the right with Maddox converging on him. Burkhead simply sidestepped him and prolonged the drive. Maddox later missed Chris Moore on a second-and-14 at the Houston 21 in the third quarter. Maddox’s whiff turned into a 25-yard gain, which later led to a Ka’imi Fairbairn 30-yard field goal with 1:15 left in the third quarter.
The Eagles’ defense on the Texans’ first drive of the game. It was the first time Houston scored on its first possession this season. Pierce made himself known pounding through the Eagles for 23 yards on four carries, and the Eagles enabled Mills to look like the second coming of Joe Montana, allowing him to complete four-of-four for 50 yards, including a touchdown. It was a nine-play, 75-yard drive and the Texans made it look easy.
Safety Marcus Epps missing the tackle on Pierce’s second-quarter, 36-yard run, which set up Houston’s tying score. Pierce ran right through Epps, and through cornerback Darius Slay. The play set the Texans up at the Eagles’ 27 at the two-minute warning. Three plays later, Houston tied the score at 14-14. Pierce had 88 yards rushing by halftime.
After a very strong first half by Mailata, the left tackle got beat badly—twice—by 34-year-old defensive end Jerry Hughes, who sacked Hurts for minus-15 yards on two of the Eagles’ first three plays of the second half. The smaller Hughes simply beat Mailata with his speed. Mailata had a rough second half. He was later called for an illegal man downfield penalty, wiping out a 15-yard Goedert catch.
Hargrave’s roughing call with 10:38 to play. It came on a second-and-eight at the Houston 27.
Joseph Santoliquito is an award-winning sportswriter based in the Philadelphia area who has written feature stories for SI.com, ESPN.com, NFL.com, MLB.com, Deadspin and The Philadelphia Daily News. In 2006, he was nominated for an Emmy Award for a special project piece for ESPN.com called “Love at First Beep.” He is most noted for his award-winning ESPN.com feature on high school wrestler A.J. Detwiler in February 2006, which appeared on SportsCenter. In 2015, he was elected president of the Boxing Writers Association of America.