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Eagles defensive tackle Fletcher Cox leaves the field after being injured during a game against the New York Giants on Sunday. He suffered a strained calf and will not make the trip to California for Sunday’s game against the Chargers.

Michael Perez / associated press

CHARLOTTE, North Carolina — It didn’t take long for the Philadelphia Eagles to miss having right tackle Lane Johnson in the lineup Thursday.

With Johnson sidelined by a concussion, Halapoulivaati Vaitai started in his spot against Carolina and struggled at the outset.

The Eagles were in the midst of a promising drive at Bank of America Stadium on their opening possession when Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers bolted past Vaitai and knocked the ball loose from quarterback Carson Wentz during a sack. Defensive tackle Kawann Short recovered the fumble to give Carolina the ball.

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It was Peppers’ 150th career sack.

Vaitai fared a little better on the next series.

Eagles place-kicker Jake Elliott booted a 50-yard field goal, his eighth successful attempt in a row, to give the Eagles a 3-0 lead. Holder Donnie Jones made a great grab of a high snap to set up the kick.

Carolina place-kicker Graham Gano answered with a 39-yarder to tie the game at 3-3.

Vaitai was making his first start of the season. He started six games and was inconsistent last season while Johnson served a 10-game suspension for violating the league’s policy against performance-enhancing drugs.

Johnson had been playing extremely well this season before getting hurt in the first half of last Sunday’s 34-7 victory over Arizona. Team officials diagnosed his concussion at halftime and entered him into the league-mandated concussion protocol.

Johnson did not make the trip to Carolina.

Cox returns

Eagles defensive tackle Fletcher Cox did not make the trip for Thursday’s game in vain.

Cox was in the starting lineup against the Panthers after missing two two games with a strained calf.

The two-time Pro Bowler made an early impact. He tipped a pass by Carolina’s Cam Newton that produced an interception by rookie cornerback Rasul Douglas in the second quarter. He also had a sack in the first half.

Wentz threw a 1-yard touchdown pass to tight end Zach Ertz to tie the game at 10-10 with 2 minutes, 32 seconds left in the first half.

Cox was part of a solid start for the Eagles’ run defense, which limited the Panthers to 5 rushing yards on six carries in the first quarter.

Cox tested his leg during pregame warmups and was seen going through drills without any evidence of a limp. He performed well enough to convince coach Doug Pederson and defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz he was able to play.

Cox had missed the last two games against the Los Angeles Chargers and Arizona, respectively, after getting hurt against the New York Giants.

He had not been able to practice until Tuesday, when he participated in a light workout at the NovaCare Complex.

“It felt good to be back out there moving around a little bit,” Cox said on Tuesdsay. “I’m still progressing. The trainers and doctors are doing a great job.”

Running back Wendell Smallwood missed his second straight game with a knee injury.

Connections

Thursday’s game featured two branches of the Andy Reid coaching tree in Pederson and Carolina’s Ron Rivera.

Rivera was a part of Reid’s original coaching staff with the Eagles in 1999, serving as the team’s linebackers coach for five seasons (1999-2003) before leaving to become Chicago’s defensive coordinator. He’s in his seventh season as Carolina’s head coach.

Pederson was the Eagles’ starting quarterback for part of that 1999 season. He returned to the Eagles as a coach in 2009 and followed Reid to Kansas City in 2013 to serve as his offensive coordinator before rejoining the Eagles last season.

“All the guys (who coached for Reid) that have become head coaches, we can honestly all say there’s something that we’re doing that we took from Reid,” Rivera told the Charlotte Observer this week. “When you get guys that work for Andy, most of them are going to learn (from him).”

Pederson and Rivera are among nine former members of Reid’s coaching staff who went on to become NFL head coaches.

Brad Childress started the trend when he became Minnesota’s head coach in 2006 and led the Vikings for five seasons. The others (in chronological order) are John Harbaugh (Baltimore 2008-present), Steve Spagnuolo (St. Louis Rams 2009-11), Leslie Frazier (Minnesota 2010-13), Pat Shurmur (Cleveland 2011-12, one game with Eagles 2015), Todd Bowles (New York Jets 2015-present), and, most recently, Sean McDermott, who became Buffalo’s coach this season.

“I think the one thing Andy has done, and personally in my case, is he allows his assistant coaches to grow within the system, within the offense or defense,” Pederson said this week. “He just allows you to work and to grow and to further your career that way.”

Up ahead

The Eagles have an 11-day break before they return to action against the Redskins on “Monday Night Football” on Oct. 23.

The Eagles won the first meeting of the season with a 30-17 victory on Sept. 10. They will try to sweep the season series for the first time since 2013.

Former Eagles place-kicker David Akers will be inducted into the Eagles’ Hall of Fame that day.

Akers was a five-time Pro Bowl kicker who spent 12 seasons (1999-2010) with the team. He is the franchise leader in regular-sesaon (188) and playoff games (19), regular-season points (1,323), playoff points (134) and career field goals (294).

He will be the first place-kicker in the Eagles’ Hall of Fame.

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Contact: 609-272-7201 DWeinberg@pressofac.com Twitter @PressACWeinberg

Member of The Press sports staff since 1986, starting my 25th season as The Press Eagles' beat writer. Also cover boxing, MMA, golf, high school sports and everything else.

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