In a wild and wacky game, in what has become a wild and wacky season, the Eagles survived and held on to beat the Atlanta Falcons, 15-10.
The win put the Birds on the doorstep of the Super bowl for the first time since the 2008 season and gave their fans their first NFC Championship game at home in thirteen years.
With the fans in a frenzy on every play, this game was a tight, hard fought defensive battle. The Birds were actually -2 in turnover differential (2 for the Birds, 0 for the Falcons) which, in the playoffs, usually implies that you’ll be cleaning out your locker and heading for the offseason the following day.
But in this incomprehensible season, perhaps none of that matters.
On the Falcons last drive, which started at their own 24 with just over six minutes left in the 4th quarter, the Falcons faced a 4th & 6 at their own 42, and a stop would have given the Eagles the ball back with just over three minutes left.
Instead, Atlanta QB Matt Ryan hit his #1 target, Julio Jones, for a 20-yd gain, and the agony was prolonged for a little longer.
The Falcons eventually got all the way to the 9-yard line, but after two straight incompletions and facing third down, Ryan once again went to his favorite security blanket, Julio Jones.
Had the pass been at chest level, Jones may have been able to muscle his way into the end zone. But the pass was low, and Jones was forced to dive for the catch, which enabled cornerback Ronald Darby to tackle him at the 2.
4th down & goal from the 2 and the season on the line.
On that pivotal 4th down, Ryan rolled to his right, effectively taking away half of the field in the process. But it didn’t matter…the Eagles defense and all of the 69,000 plus in the stands knew that Ryan was looking at Julio Jones and singing the classic Flamingos hit “I Only Have Eyes For You” in his head.
Ryan floated a pass in the air, hoping that the height of his #1 receiver would enable him to bring in a catch that no one could defend.
But Jalen Mills, who was only a 7th round pick but has become a solid cornerback in only his 2nd pro season, was right there in perfect position and the ball sailed harmlessly overhead.
The Eagles season had been saved, as total strangers began hugging each other as if they had been friends for decades. Such is the impact the Eagles first playoff win in nine years can have.
The Birds now welcome the Minnesota Vikings to town for the NFC Championship, something no one would have thought fathomable both at the beginning of the season, and again after starting quarterback Carson Wentz went down with a season ending injury.
And if Wentz had played against the Falcons, the Eagles would have likely won with much less stress impact on their fans, as the offense was previously operating like a bullet train.
With Nick Foles, it’s become more like “The Little Train that Could”. But that’s okay, because this defense has really stepped up its game.
That’s not to suggest that the Birds won in spite of Foles. He was 23 of 30 for 246 yards, and while the Birds turned the ball over twice on the ground, he did not throw an interception.
The problem is that while Wentz would drive the offense down the field for touchdowns, this team seems to achieve more field goals with Foles, as last week kicker Jake Elliott was responsible for 9 of the Eagles 15 points.
In a tight game, the difference between putting 7 on the scoreboard versus 3 could make all the difference.
The Vikings also come in with a backup quarterback in Case Keenum, who was basically a journeyman until he joined the Vikings this season. Keenum has been playing since week #2 when starter Sam Bradford got hurt, but while everyone has been waiting for him to screw up and revert to playing like a journeyman, it just hasn’t happened yet.
The irony is that both Foles and Keenum, and the Eagles, Vikings, and Rams, are interconnected in so many ways.
- The Eagles traded Nick Foles to the Rams before the 2015 season for then Rams QB Sam Bradford, who is now the Vikings backup.
- Foles was the starter for the Rams in 2015 with Keenum as the backup. Keenum replaced Foles halfway through the 2015 season.
- Right before the start of the 2016 season, the Eagles traded Sam Bradford to the Vikings for a 1st round pick, as a season ending injury to Vikings starter Teddy Bridgewater had them desperately seeking a starting caliber quarterback.
- As mentioned above, Keenum only got a chance to start due to Bradford getting injured.
If this chain of crazy events never took place, perhaps the participants in this year’s NFC Championship are totally different.
The Vikings come in with a very stout defense and the ability to muzzle the opposing offense. It seems unlikely, at least based on paper, that the Birds would be able to garner 20+ points in this game, but the Eagles also have a stifling defense of their own in what looks to be a mostly defensive showdown.
If these two teams played on a neutral field 50 times, they may split the victories evenly. But this is a perfect example of where the homefield advantage comes into play.
Minnesota is used to the friendly and climate controlled confines of it’s retractable dome stadium. But put them outside in the elements, and even though temperatures should be in the 40’s for the game, the outdoors and the grass field should help to crimp the Vikings style.
Some other stats that bode well for the Eagles:
- The Birds are 4-0 as home underdogs in the playoffs
- The Vikings, since 1982, are 3-13 in road playoff games
- Two of the Vikings three losses this season have come on the road on outdoor, grass fields
- The two previous times the Eagles faced the Vikings in the playoffs at home, they went on to the Super Bowl (1980 & 2004 season)
None of the stats above guarantee an Eagles win of course. For that evidence, every Eagles fan can look back to the final game at Veterans Stadium, which was supposed to be an easy Eagles victory against Tampa that propelled them to the Super Bowl. Because, as we all know, Tampa could never win when the temperature was below 40 degrees right? Right???
This will be another tough, hard fought game in which Eagles fans, who are waiting to erupt at the thought of their Birds making it back to the Super Bowl for the first time in 13 seasons, will be biting their nails for 3+ hours while watching this game.
But this Eagles team was built with this game in mind. And while they have gotten there way ahead of schedule, there is no reason to think they cannot extend their season for one more game.
The opportunity to make it to the Super Bowl and give themselves a chance to play for the trophy is right before them.
Today is the reason why the #1 seed is so important. Play this game in Minneapolis, and the Eagles probably have no shot.
But in South Philadelphia, where “Broad & Pattison Turns”, the Eagles shall turn the page on another chapter in their history. No “Dilly, Dilly” today, just “Philly, Philly”.
Birds win 16-13. And the Enchanted season continues.