3 things we saw as Eagles advance to NFC Championship in dramatic fashion.
The Eagles defense played with swag. In the Eagles 15-10 victory over the Falcons in the second round of the NFC Playoffs Saturday night an ugly, hard-nosed effort paired with one of the most memorable finishes in Philadelphia playoff history, the doubters were silenced.
At least for a day.
The Birds will face whomever wins Sunday’s Vikings-Saints battle and host them at the Linc in the NFC Championship game.
Whtether they were hitting Matt Ryan, getting in Devonta Freeman’s face or tipping passes meant for the Falcons many talented pass-catchers, stoud defense looked almost looked routine for the first 57 minutes of the game, but with the Falcons at midfield, trailing by less than a touchdown a reviewed incomplete pass at midfield set up a momentous fourth-and-six for Atlanta.
Julio Jones grabbed the Ryan toss for 20 yards, thwarting the defense’s monentum. Two first down conversions followed as the Eagles let Atlanta dink dunk and run inside the 10-yardline. Three plays later, when Ryan’s fade pass to Jones in the corner of the end zone fell to the turf, the ground shook with joyous Eagles fans.
Here’s a look at what lifted the Eagles — home underdogs as a No. 1 seed for the first time in history — to victory:
Negative plays and turnovers
The already amped crowed — ready to burst before kickoff had its first big cheer when a potential Foles bomb hit the turf, as did a streaking Torrey Smith drawing a pass interference call. But the tide immediately turned as Jay Ajayi fumbled on his first carry giving Atlanta the ball two plays in. After driving 59 yards, the Phlly defense tightened up, holding the damage to just a field goal and 3-0 Atlanta lead.
A second gift from the Falcons, a 21-yard pass interference call on third-and 10 helped the Eagles drive into Atlanta territory, but a fumble (recorded by Philly) and bad sack taken by Foles forced a Donnie Jones punt instead of a Jake Elliott field goal try.
The Eagles punt return unit also committed a horrible sin, as a high punt into the wind grazed Bryan Braman and was recovered by the Falcons. The mistake set Atlnata up inside the Eagles 20-yardline and after a pair of costly penalties against the home team, Matt Ryan found Devonta Freeman on a third town touchdown toss (and 10-6 lead). Somehow, the Eagles were able to add a 53-yard field goal with one second left to trail 10-9 at the half.
The Jay train
Acquired in a mid-season trade despite having one of the best running games in football prior, the Eagles knew how important Ajayi was to victory — especially without Carson Wentz. Relatively well-rested after sitting out Week 17, Ajayi made amends for his first quarter fumble immediately, dashing, darting and breaking tackles en route to 54 yards on 14 carries. He also played a role in the pass game the most impactful contribution was a 32-yard screen catch and run on third down in the fourth quarter.
Even wideout Nelson Agholor contributed on the ground, his 21-yard inside run leading to a bizarre near touchdown as Foles fumbled handing off to Corey Clement, recovered himself and fell short of the goalline with a lunge after recovering. Blount ran to the outside and found paydirt on fourth down, putting Philly ahead 6-3 (Elliott missed the extra point).
Fly Eagles Fly
Remember the Foles who threw 27 touchdown passes to just two interceptions in 2013? Well Foles looked like he finally remembered himself, as he led a drive that began inside the 10-yardline and 12 plays later put the Eagles in the lead with Elliott’s second field goal a 37-yarder. The drive could have netted a touchdown if not for a dropped Ajayi pass on third down. Foles completed five passes on the march for 70 yards.
He was back a drive later, with another long drive leading Philadelphia to the Atlanta three yardline where Doug Pederson elected to take three points on fourth and one, giving the squad a 15-10 lead with six minutes to play.
Two quarterback kneels from Foles punctuated a surprisingly potent effort by the quarterback, who completed 23-of-30 passes for 246 yards.