As Broad & Pattison Turns NFC Championship Edition: On the Doorstep

playoff pic 2017

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.

Believe.

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.

Believe.

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.

  1.  The Eagles traded Nick Foles to the Rams before the 2015 season for then Rams QB Sam Bradford, who is now the Vikings backup.
  2. Foles was the starter for the Rams in 2015 with Keenum as the backup.  Keenum replaced Foles halfway through the 2015 season.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

Believe.

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As Broad & Pattison Turns Week #12: Da Birds & Da Bears

When you were younger, your parents probably sat you down at some point to discuss the “birds and the bees”.   But did they ever teach you about “Da Birds and Da Bears?”

Probably not, because there is really not much to tell, save for the mid-1980’s when Buddy Ryan became the head coach of the Eagles after leaving his job as the defensive coordinator for the then Super Bowl champion Bears, and bickering with Chicago head coach Mike Ditka in the process, there is really not much history or bad blood between these two teams.

There was, of course, the infamous “Fog Bowl” playoff game back in 1988 in which a thick fog covered Soldier Field during the 2nd half of the game, which prevented the Eagles from mounting a comeback and advancing in the playoffs (speaking of fog, many parents I’ve talked to are sometimes in a “fog” as to how to approach the subject of the birds and the bees with their children, but I digress).

When the NFL schedule came out, most looked at this game just like any other in terms of the opponent.   And that’s all it is, save for the fact that the 2017 edition of the Eagles is very, very good.

So this week we have birds, bears, no bees, but a plethora of turkeys, being Thanksgiving and all.

Last week, after crossing the Betsy Ross bridge and driving down Route 90, I happened to spot not one, not two, but FIVE turkeys at the side of the highway (no joke), with two of them sitting on the highway railing as if they were waiting for an Uber to pick them up.  One can only assume that they were scrambling to get out of town before they became the main course at someone’s dinner table?

Then Thanksgiving came and while we now have three football games to watch if we desire on the holiday (which is probably not a bad idea just to distract us from having the “elephant in the room” conversation of whether you are pro-Trump or anti-Trump), only one of them was one I considered to be a marquee matchup going in (Vikings at Lions as the appetizer game).

Every time I think Minnesota is primed to lose, they keep winning.  And not only winning, but doing so with Case Keenum, who has been a journeyman mostly shuttling back and forth between the Houston Texans and St. Louis/Los Angeles Rams until this season, when he signed with the Minnesota Vikings to be their backup.

An injury to starter Sam Bradford (surprise, surprise) opened the door for Keenum, who has not relinquished his starter spot even though Minnesota’s previous starter, Teddy Bridgewater, has been cleared to play and is waiting in the wings for Keenum to screw up.

Even on Thanksgiving, which is Detroit’s chance to “be seen” (since the Lions don’t get much national TV exposure), the Vikings stole the show and won 30-23, staying on the Eagles heels for that highly coveted #1 seed in the NFC.

Next up was the Cowboys – Chargers game, and while those of us in the Delaware Valley usually have a rooting interest in the Cowboys losing on Thanksgiving, this year I was perfectly content to shut off the television and discuss more interesting subjects such as 1) Why politicians don’t want to give us the ability to buy health insurance across state lines & 2) Using your airline miles to fly in business class to far flung destinations.

This season, the Eagles are playing the role of the “Road Runner” with the Cowboys playing the role of “Wile E. Coyote”.  And while the head coyote (Jerry Jones) thinks he’s a “super genius”, his team has been left way back in the dust, even without the use of an “Acme anvil” like in the cartoons.

Then there was the Giants – Redskins contest as the nightcap, to which even most “New Yawka’s” were saying, “FUGETABOUTIT”!  This game used to be a regular NFC East classic featuring the likes of Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor facing off against Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann.  Nowadays, the closest you’ll get to intrigue between these two teams is watching these two in a strange commercial where Taylor asks Theismann if he wants a turkey leg, to which Theismann replies, “I’m ok, thank you very much”.

For those who may be too young to remember, this was a bizarre exchange, to say the least, because it was Taylor who broke Theismann’s leg in a Monday night football game 32 years ago, ending his career.

As for the Eagles, they probably got to enjoy Thanksgiving like the rest of us, feasting on turkey on Thursday while also hoping to feast on bears on Sunday.  Chicago, like the Eagles last season, come in with a rookie quarterback who was the 2nd overall pick in the NFL draft.  And while Mitchell Trubisky holds a lot of promise for the future, he is learning the ropes of the NFL in a “trial by fire” method.

After this game, the Birds will enter one of the toughest stretches of their season – three straight road games which will take them to Seattle and Los Angeles before ending with the Giants in the swamp lands of North Jersey.

A win against a “not ready for primetime” team with a 3-7 record like the Bears is something that good teams like the Eagles should pull off rather easily.  The Birds do so, knocking the stuffing out of the Bears in their last home game before Christmas night, winning 37-20.

Amit’s Marquee Matchups of the Week:

Vikings at Lions  12:30 PM  FOX  (Thurs)

Saints at Rams  4:25 PM  CBS

Packers at Steelers  8:30 PM  NBC