EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Relax, Eagles fans. All that panicking is over — for this week, at least — after a sluggish, winless start.
Darren Sproles sparked the Eagles with an 89-yard punt return for a score and added a 1-yard touchdown run, the defense caused four turnovers and Philadelphia got its first win of the season by holding on to beat the New York Jets 24-17 on Sunday.
"I feel like the first couple of weeks, there was a lot of pressure on us," quarterback Sam Bradford said. "I feel like we were all pressing a little bit. It's just nice to get that first one. Now that pressure's gone."
Bradford threw a TD pass to Ryan Mathews, who also rushed for 108 yards on 25 carries while starting in place of the injured DeMarco Murray. The Eagles (1-2) improved to 10-0 all-time against the Jets (2-1), who were coming off a victory at Indianapolis last Monday night.
"I thought it was gritty," Eagles coach Chip Kelly said. "We knew going in this was going to be one of those kinds of games. To use a boxing analogy, two guys were going to stand in the middle of the ring and start throwing at each other."
The Eagles were the ones left standing.
Ryan Fitzpatrick threw touchdown passes to Brandon Marshall and Jeremy Kerley, but was intercepted three times. The last one, by Walter Thurmond with 3:28 left, helped seal the victory over the Jets, who held the Eagles scoreless after halftime.
Nick Folk kicked a 53-yard field goal with 2:34 remaining, but Seyi Ajirotutu recovered the onside kick and the Eagles ran out the clock to avoid their first 0-3 start since 1999, when they lost their first four games and finished 5-11.
Murray was out with a hamstring injury, while the Jets played without running back Chris Ivory (quadriceps), who was active but didn't play, and wide receiver Eric Decker (sprained knee). In Murray's absence, Mathews and Sproles got the Eagles' heavily criticized offense going as Philadelphia scored 24 straight points to open the game.
Bradford was 14 of 28 for 118 yards, while Fitzpatrick was 35 of 58 for 283 yards. Marshall had 10 catches for 109 yards.
"Now we know we're not going to go undefeated this year," Fitzpatrick said.
Kerley caught a 7-yard pass from Fitzpatrick to get the Jets within 24-14 with 9:37 remaining.
The Jets appeared ready to turn the momentum in their favor with 7:23 left when David Harris popped the ball out of Mathews' hands and Demario Davis recovered. But three plays later, Philadelphia took it right back when Brandon Bair deflected Fitzpatrick's pass intended for Marshall and Jordan Hicks grabbed the easy interception.
"They beat us at our own game," said Jets coach Todd Bowles, whose team had 10 takeaways in the first two games and only one in this one.
Sproles put the Eagles up by 10 with his spectacular punt return early in the second quarter, dodging at least four would-be Jets tacklers.
"I was surprised," Sproles said. "When you see a low kick like that, your thoughts are to catch it and get going."
It was the second-longest punt return score in Eagles history, behind only Demaris Johnson's 98-yarder against Dallas in 2012. It was also the longest punt return for a TD — and sixth overall — of Sproles' career. He's the only player in NFL history with 15-plus rushing TDs (18), 25-plus receiving TDs (27) and 5-plus punt return TDs (six).
Bradford made it 17-0 with 4:57 left before halftime when he found Mathews streaking down the right sideline — with linebacker Davis in single coverage — and connected with the running back for a 23-yard TD.
With the Jets in desperate need of a lift on offense on the ensuing possession, Marshall tried to do too much as he caught a 15-yard pass — and then tried to get off a backward pass to Jeff Cumberland. But the ball hit an Eagles defender and was recovered by Hicks. A video review confirmed the call, and the Eagles made the Jets pay.
"Wrong time to gamble," Marshall said. "I was pressing, trying to make a play. Probably the worst play in NFL history."
NOTES: Jets CB Darrelle Revis, who was questionable with a groin injury, tweaked a hamstring late. Bowles had no immediate word on him or RG Willie Colon, who left after halftime with a knee injury. ... Eagles RG Andrew Gardner (right foot) and S Chris Maragos (bruised left knee) left and didn't return. ... Marshall reached 10,000 yards receiving for his career, but wasn't in the mood to celebrate. "I played like crap today, to be honest with you."
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