By Tim Kelly
What cold? What wind?
Nothing warms the hearts of Eagles fans more than a home playoff win. And when the clock hit all zeros yesterday following the Birds’ tense 15-10 defeat of the Atlanta Falcons in the Divisional Round of the NFC playoffs, the talk was all about defense, Nick Foles and being one more home win away from the Super Bowl.
It came down to the Eagles “D” stopping the Falcons on fourth and goal from the two-yard line to preserve the win and advance to the NFC championship game next Sunday at 4:20 p.m. at Lincoln Financial Field. They will play the winner of today’s New Orleans-Minnesota game.
“Since Carson (Eagles first string quarterback and MVP candidate Carson Wentz) went down, nobody gave us a chance,” coach Doug Pederson said, referring to the oddsmakers, who installed the Eagles as 2.5 point underdogs, and most media pundits.
But you never would have known it by touring the tailgate scene is the frigid parking lots prior to kickoff. “Hey, we are going to face dome teams the rest of the way and we’re going to bring ‘em outside and they will have to face the elements and (the fans) wrath,” said Bill Johnston, of Lanhorne Pa. “I like our chances a lot.”
Despite the bravado, things started out on the rocky side for the Eagles. On their first possession, Foles lofted a pass to Torrey Smith who drew a pass interference call, to put the Eagles in business at the Atlanta 33 and to set off frenzied cheers.
But the crowd was taken out of it on the next play when Atlanta recovered a Jay Ajayi fumble and capitalized with a Matt Bryant field goal. They got back into it in the second quarter when the Eagles capped a drive with LaGarrete Blount’s two-yard run to take the lead. Jake Elliott missed the extra point to keep the score at 6-3. They seemed to gain momentum when they forced an Atlanta punt, but a gaffe by special teams gave Atlanta the ball back at the Philly 18. The punt return was touched by an Eagle and Atlanta recovered. Then, a pair of costly penalties – a questionable unnecessary roughness flag on safety Rodney McLeod and a defensive holding call on Jalen Mills set up a 6-yard Matt Ryan-to-Devonta Freeman touchdown pass to put Atlanta back in front 10-6.
It looked like that score would hold up until halftime until Foles connected with Alshon Jeffrey with one second remaining at the Atlanta 35 and Elliott boomed a 53-yard field goal, the longest in Eagles postseason history to make it 10-9 at the break.
The third quarter was a battle of the defenses until Foles led a drive with six minutes left, featuring three passes to Jeffrey for first downs and climaxed by Elliot’s 37-yarder to regain a 12-10 Eagles lead.
Then, in the fourth, the defense held again and the Eagles offense went on a 14-play drive that took more than eight minutes off the clock. On fourth and goal from the one, Pederson elected to kick the field goal and Elliot’s third of the game extended the lead to 15-10.
The Falcons had one last drive starting at their own 20 and advanced the ball all the way to the Eagles two.
That was where Mills got a hand on Ryan’s pass intended for Julio Jones to allow Philadelphia to kill the final seconds with Foles taking a knee in the “victory formation.”
Eagles All-Pro defensive end Lane Johnson mocked the team’s critics by putting on a dog mask after the game, and the celebration was officially on.
“I was almost sick,” one Eagles fan said of the tension-filled final Atlanta drive. “But in the end, we found a way to win. There is no such thing as an ugly win at this point in the season. You know what? I will gladly take two more ugly wins and then we can have a beautiful parade.”