PHILADELPHIA − There were so many things that the Eagles had to overcome Sunday in order to remain the only undefeated team in the NFL.
There was Doug Pederson's emotional return, a driving rainstorm, a plethora of injuries that claimed five players including three key starters.
And, oh yeah, a brutal start in which Jalen Hurts threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown as the Eagles fell behind by 14 points.
Yet the Eagles overcame all of it, beating the Jacksonville Jaguars 29-21 on Sunday behind a punishing running game led by Miles Sanders, who had a career-high 134 yards, and a punishing defense led by Haason Reddick, who had two strip-sacks of Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence.
In all, the Eagles forced Lawrence into five turnovers (four lost fumbles and an interception).
"We showed what type of football team we are, most importantly, to each other," wide receiver A.J. Brown said. "When our backs were against the wall, through adversity, we answered back."
That's because the Eagles never panicked, not when they were down 14-0 late in the first period, when the rain-soaked fans started booing.
"We found a way, we didn’t flinch, we persevered," said Hurts, who finished 16 of 25 passing for 204 yards. "We were unwavering with how we played. Nothing was able to deny us. I’m so proud of how this team played, how we handled the conditions outside. You have crosswinds going 20-30 miles per hour.
"It’s in the 50s and it’s raining sideways. (But) we were pretty efficient in everything that we did. That’s a great team win."
The Eagles rushed for 210 yards against the NFL's stingiest defense. The Jaguars came into the game allowing an average of 55 yards rushing per game. The Eagles had more than doubled that amount by halftime, with 112 yards.
The Eagles kept pounding the ball in the second half, running 50 times in all, as the rain and the wind intensified.
All of which enabled the Eagles to improve to 4-0 for the first time since the 2004 team started 7-0. That team went to the Super Bowl.
This team, who knows?
"It was a grinder of a game," center Jason Kelce said. "We talked about it all week, about perseverance, keeping your head down, keep moving forward and finding a way to get your job done each play."
They had to do it in the worst of circumstances. The Eagles' first possession ended with Hurts' interception, when his pass to Zach Pascal deflected off Pascal's arms right to Andre Cisco who ran it back 59 yards for a TD. On that series, left tackle Jordan Mailata left with a shoulder injury, replaced by Jack Driscoll, making his NFL debut at left tackle.
Star cornerback Darius Slay left with a forearm injury on Jacksonville's opening series and didn't return, replaced by Zech McPhearson.
Soon enough, Lawrence threw his first of two TD passes to Jamal Agnew, and just like that, Jacksonville led 14-0.
Later in the game, right guard Isaac Seumalo left with an ankle injury and didn't return, replaced by Sua Opeta.
Then the Eagles got back into the game with two crucial plays. The first came when they stopped the Jaguars on 4th-and-3 from the Eagles' 34. Lawrence fumbled the ball and Fletcher Cox recovered at the 42. The Eagles eventually scored as Hurts converted a 4th-and-goal from the 3 by bouncing off a defender and just getting over the goal line.
Hurts' mindset on that play?
“Get in. Make a way," he said. "Nothing more than that."
The Eagles tied the game on Sanders' 10-yard run. Then they took the lead after Lawrence fumbled a snap at the Jaguars' 35, which Reddick recovered with 3 minutes remaining in the half.
Kenny Gainwell eventually ran 10 yards for a touchdown with 26 seconds left in the half. Just like that, the Eagles were in front for the first time.
Then the Eagles kept running on offense, and causing turnovers on defense.
James Bradberry's interception led to Jake Elliott's 28-yard field goal. Reddick then strip-sacked Lawrence and recovered the fumble at Jacksonville's 24. That led to Sanders' 5-yard TD run for a 29-14 lead.
The Jaguars got to within 8 points on Lawrence's 8-yard TD pass to Agnew. Then Reddick forced another strip-sack, and the Eagles were finally able to exhale.
"The reason you are here is because you are built to be able to handle adversity," Eagles coach Nick Sirianni said he told his players. "Not every game is going to be pretty. It’s going to be muddy sometimes. And it was muddy right there."
Eagles break 2nd half drought
It took the entire third quarter, and even into the start of the fourth quarter before the Eagles ended their second-half scoring drought.
The Eagles technically broke the drought with 2 seconds left in the third quarter when Jake Elliott kicked a 43-yard field goal. But the Jaguars' Tyson Campbell was penalized for running into Elliott, giving the Eagles a first down at the Jaguars' 13.
Elliott might have been hurt on the play. So when the Eagles' drive stalled, Elliott came on to kick a 28-yard field goal with 13:42 left, giving the Eagles a 23-14 lead.
"Jake took one for the team," Sanders said.
A Giant addition
Bradberry had another strong game with his interception of Lawrence. That tied Bradberry with Slay for the team lead in INTs with two. The Eagles signed Bradberry in June after the Giants surprisingly released the 2020 Pro Bowl cornerback.
When Bradberry was asked about his play after the game, Slay chimed in from the locker next to him:
“They're asking the wrong question," Slay said. "The right question to ask is how the Giants let you walk out of the building. That’s the question you gotta ask.”
Bradberry was then asked for his response.
"You gotta ask the Giants that," he said.
Eagles inactives: Starting CB sits out
The Eagles ruled out starting slot cornerback Avonte Maddox for the game. Maddox suffered an ankle injury in practice on Thursday. Josiah Scott replaced Maddox, often going against Jaguars leading receiver Christian Kirk, who lines up in the slot.
Kirk was held in check for most of the game, finishing with 2 catches for 60 yards.
The Eagles also didn't have running back Boston Scott, ruled out with a rib injury. Trey Sermon, signed off waivers on Aug. 31, was on the game-day roster for the first time. His first Eagles carry went for 14 yards late in the second quarter.
Pederson received a standing ovation from the Lincoln Financial Field crowd when he walked onto the field with his team before the game. It was well deserved.
After all, Pederson coached the Eagles to the only Super Bowl victory in franchise history. And that far outweighed the travesty of the 2020 season that ended with an embarrassing fourth-quarter tank job.
“It was a great crowd," Pederson said of the fans' reaction. "A great welcome. It was good.”
Contact Martin Frank at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @Mfranknfl.
This article originally appeared on Delaware News Journal: Eagles' best start in 18 years in gutsy, rain-soaked win over Jaguars