CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Philadelphia Eagles overcame a lot against Carolina on Thursday night.
Several players limped off the field at Bank of America Stadium with injuries. Referee Peter Morelli and his crew of officials hit them with 10 penalties for 126 yards compared to the Panthers’ one infraction for 1 yard.
They still found a way to win.
The Eagles established themselves as legitimate playoff contenders with a 28-23 victory.
“We had to battle,” coach Doug Pederson said. “It wasn’t pretty at times. It’s a tremendous testament to the players in that locker room.”
The Eagles (5-1) earned their biggest win during Pederson’s brief tenure. The Panthers (4-2) were coming off impressive victories at New England and Detroit and had the crowd on their side.
There were a quite a few Eagles fans in the stands, however. At the end of the game, chants of “E-A-G-L-E-S, Eagles!” could be heard.
The win left the Eagles in first place in the NFC. They are one-half game ahead of Green Bay (4-1), which plays at Minnesota on Sunday, and one game ahead of defending conference champion Atlanta (3-1), which returns from its open week against Miami on Sunday.
“This was huge win for us,” said tight end Zach Ertz, who caught two touchdown passes. “Not a lot of people thought we’d be 5-1 at this point. We’re not satisfied by any means, but we’re extremely excited to be where we’re at.”
Offense, defense and special teams all played a role, which has been the case for most of the season.
With right tackle Lane Johnson out with a concussion, Halapoulivaati Vaitai started in his spot. He got off to a rough start, allowing veteran defensive end Julius Peppers to sack Carson Wentz and force a fumble on the first drive. Eventually, Vaitai settled down and played a decent game.
“Patience was a big key for me,” Vaitai said. “After that first drive, I bounced back. But there’s always room for improvement.”
Wentz absorbed some early punishment but wound up completing 16 of 30 passes for 222 yards with three touchdown passes and no interceptions.
He helped provide the decisive points in the fourth quarter with a 24-yard TD pass to wide receiver Nelson Agholor.
Agholor celebrated by gathering the offense in the end zone and allowing center Jason Kelce to spike the football.
“That was just pure excitement,” Agholor said. “It wasn’t planned. I just saw my offensive linemen down there with me, and I’m really happy that Kelce was the one who got to spike it.”
The Eagles’ defense also played a big role in the win.
The Panthers’ Cam Newton completed 28 of 52 passes for 239 yards and rushed for 71 yards and a TD on 11 carries, but the Eagles shut him down when it counted.
Defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, who was back after missing two games with a strained calf, had a half-sack and deflected two passes.
“It felt good just to be back out there battling with my teammates,” Cox said. “I went out and finished the game, which was the important thing.”
The Eagles were also able to overcome a large discrepancy in penalties. The Panthers’ lone penalty came when they were called for an illegal formation on an Eagles extra-point attempt.
Cornerback Jalen Mills was whistled for two pass interference penalties, but he rebounded with a key interception late in the fourth quarter, one of three Newton interceptions.
“I didn’t agree with the calls, but I don’t feel any redemption or anything like that,” Mills said. “We’re 5-1, so I’ve got no complaints.”
None of the Eagles were complaining after the game.
Nothing heals an injury like an emotional victory.
“I feel fine,” Wentz said. “We’re 5-1, baby.”