Ryan Mathews was in the Doug Pederson’s doghouse after two late-game fumbles that contributed to (read: caused) near wins to become losses this season. Facing the red-hot Atlanta Falcons offense, not only did the Eagles defense need to step up, but so did their run game. And after Darren Sproles carried the load for the Birds the last two weeks, it was Mathews who got the bulk of the work in the 24-15 win on Sunday.
“I’ve always had confidence in Ryan Mathews,” Pederson assured reporters after the game. “What you saw today was the guy I kept seeing, the guy we all wanted to see. I fully had confidence in him as I did in Darren [Sproles], Wendell [Smallwood], Kenjon [Barner]. We put the ball in his hands, he did a nice job today.”
Mathews rushed 19 times for 109 yards and two touchdowns on Sunday, leading the Eagles attack that finished the game with 208 net rushing yards, which surely took pressure off their rookie quarterback.
“The run game was huge today,” Carson Wentz said after the win. “It was good to get 2-4 going again. Ryan, you know he’s had a couple of down weeks, but it was good to feed him the rock and he was running angry. When the O-line was going like that, it made my job easy.”
‘A couple of down weeks’ is an understatement. Mathews hadn’t rushed for more than 77 yards all season and had a combined nine carries in the last two weeks, totaling 25 yards. Heading into Sunday’s game, Mathews had 287 rushing yards on 76 carries, scoring five times and fumbling twice. Sunday’s totals were not only his best of the season, they were the best of his Eagles career.
He had just one game with the Eagles with more than 100 yards on the ground, coming in the third game of the season last year.
Mathews is in his seventh season — 82 games in which he has carried the ball in the NFL — and this is just his 14th career 100-yard rushing game.
He gave a ton of credit to the offensive line after the game, suggesting that if he or Sproles got those carries, it was a credit to the five up front that created so much area to roam.
“Throughout the week, either one of us got the ball we try to give 110% every time and make it all count,” Mathews said in the Eagles locker room. “My line played great today. Give it to them, because they really did all they could do to open up holes for us today.”
Sunday marked just the fifth time in Mathews’ career he had multiple rushing touchdowns, including the early-season victory at Chicago, and Sunday’s win over Atlanta is just the second time in his career he he rushed for 100-plus yards and at two or more scores.
“The confidence in Ryan to get the job done,” Pederson said after the game, “and having his size and his strength, paid off for us today.”
“Anytime we can run the ball as effectively as we ran today it’s going to help any quarterback,” he continued. “It just opens up a little more of your offense, play action pass and things like that. Give credit to the offensive line, they really took the challenge to heart and did a great job up front.”
Mathews added 30 yards receiving on two catches, for 139 yards from scrimmage, the most in any game since his 2013 season.
The defense stoop up for the Eagles all day, holding the Falcons to 2-for-11 on third down and limiting Atlanta to just 48 rushing yards themselves. The special teams were solid and Wentz was careful with throwing the ball, interception free (though he did have one lost fumble.)
There were a lot of positives on Sunday, but Mathews, clearly, was the biggest for the Birds. If he’s back out of Pederson’s doghouse after this performance, the entire offense will be different in the second half of the season.