Patriots

Eagles advance to NFC championship game with 15-10 win over Falcons

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Eagles advance to NFC championship game with 15-10 win over Falcons

PHILADELPHIA -- Fly Eagles Fly.

With the wind and against it.

With Nick Foles engineering several long drives, Jake Elliott converting three field goals, and the defense getting stingy in the tightest spot, Philadelphia moved into the NFC Championship Game with a 15-10 victory over the Atlanta Falcons on Saturday.

Foles directed brilliant marches of 74 and 80 yards in the second half - one into the whipping wind, the other with it - and Elliott atoned for missing an extra point by converting from 53 yards at the end of the second quarter, 37 and 21 in the second half. Then the Eagles (14-3) held when Atlanta (11-7) got to the 9-yard line with a first down, and to the 2 on fourth down.

When Matt Ryan's final pass sailed over Julio Jones' head in the end zone , Philly could celebrate its first playoff victory since the 2008 season.

Next Sunday, the Eagles will host either Minnesota or New Orleans for the conference crown. The Eagles last made the Super Bowl in the 2004 season, losing to New England.

"I mean, we just kept believing in each other," said Foles, who became the starter when Carson Wentz, a leading MVP contender, injured his knee in December. "That was it. Our team never wavered, defense did an amazing job, special teams - that's just been the story this year is that we just all stuck together..."

The Falcons, of course, memorably blew a 28-3 second-half lead to the Patriots in last year's Super Bowl. They will not get the opportunity to atone for it, though Ryan got them close at the end.

Despite being underdogs as the No. 1 seed, the Eagles showed plenty of moxie.

"Just keep on disrespecting and we're going to keep proving people wrong," receiver Alshon Jeffery said.

A masterful 74-yard, 12-play drive on which Foles threw for 70 yards led to Elliott's 37-yard kick into the wind that made it 12-10. The Eagles then put together their best drive, an 80-yarder covering 14 plays, yet again faltered close to the end zone. Elliott added a 21-yarder with 6:02 remaining after coach Doug Pederson briefly considered going for it on fourth-and-1 at the Atlanta 3.

"It was tricky out there, really gusty," Elliott said.

Then, as the fans in the Linc held their breath, the Eagles held deep in their territory.

"Man, just stay calm," said defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, who was a force all day. "We always talk about that. We've been in those situations during the regular season, so we kind of know how to handle those situations, not try to make a play but let the play come to us."

And the road to the Super Bowl remains through Philly.

WINDY DECISIONS

Falcons coach Dan Quinn could have opted to take the wind in the fourth quarter after deferring on the opening coin toss. Instead, he took the ball to start the second half, but it was the Eagles who got the only points of the third period.

And in the end, Atlanta had to deal with the currents on that final drive, which did include a 20-yard completion to Jones on fourth-and-6.

"It was a tough game for us tonight," Quinn said, "and as we go through, we will go back and assess everything we have done."

ERROR-FILLED HALF

Mistakes hurt the Eagles in the opening half. Jay Ajayi's fumble and a misplayed punt that bounced off Bryan Braman led to all 10 Atlanta points.

Things began nicely for Philadelphia when safety Brian Poole was tagged with pass interference on a deep pass by Foles that was held up by the wind. But Ajayi fumbled on the next play with Keanu Neal recovering.

Atlanta efficiently mixed runs and passes to drive to Matt Bryant's 33-yard field goal for an early lead.

Philadelphia got the run game going with Ajayi in the opening period. Then, with the wind in the next quarter, the Eagles kept the Falcons so off-balance Atlanta took two timeouts in three plays.

Receiver Nelson Agholor's 21-yard run got the ball to the 3, and Foles botched a handoff to Corey Clement. But the quarterback quickly dived on the loose ball and was ruled to have scored. Replay showed otherwise.

Pederson showed no hesitation going for it, and Blount surged in from the 1. Elliott's missed extra point left it 6-3.

Soon after came Matt Bosher's punt that took a wicked bounce and hit Braman while he was blocking. From the Philly 18, the Falcons benefited from two penalties before Ryan scrambled from pressure and found Devonta Freeman for a 6-yard TD and a 10-3 lead.

With 46 seconds left in the half, the hosts got lucky. Foles' errant pass ricocheted off Neal's hands to Torrey Smith for 20 yards. Jeffery made a long stretch to haul in another throw with 1 second remaining, and Elliott's 53-yard field goal just made it over the crossbar.

"It was great for momentum," Foles said. "Jake did an awesome job of kicking that for us."

QB NUMBERS

Foles finished a very efficient outing by going 23 of 30 for 246 yards.

Ryan was 22 of 36 for 210 yards on a difficult day to throw. Jones had nine receptions for 101 yards.

UP NEXT

Philadelphia will host either Minnesota or New Orleans next Sunday night for the NFC title.

Atlanta's season ends after a wild-card berth and a win at Los Angeles before Saturday's defeat.

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EX PATS PODCAST: Recapping Patriots win in AFC title game over Jags

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EX PATS PODCAST: Recapping Patriots win in AFC title game over Jags

1:45 - Mike Giardi and Dan Koppen break down the Patriots comeback win over Jaguars in the AFC Championship Game to advance to Super Bowl LII.

4:20 - Leonard Fournette not looking like himself but Blake Bortles making the right plays against the Patriots defense.

7:40 - A couple of mistakes from the Jaguars, punting before 2 minute warning which gave the Patriots an extra timeout, and kneeling at the end of the 1st half with 2 timeouts and 50 seconds remaining.

12:10 - Dion Lewis struggling to find room and make anyone miss against the Jaguars defense.

13:20 - How serious Tom Brady's thumb injury was and if it had any affect on how he was able to throw the ball.

16:05 - Brandin Cooks has his best game as a Patriot, and how he was able to draw two pass interference penalties against the Jaguars secondary.

18:45 - If the hit by Barry Church on Rob Gronkowski was a dirty hit and if it is better to hit a receiver up high or down low.

24:25 - Danny Amendola with several clutch catches, once again coming back big in the postseason for the Patriots.

Cooks shines on his biggest stage yet

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Cooks shines on his biggest stage yet

FOXBORO -- You’ve always wanted something more from Brandin Cooks. I mean, 65 catches for almost 11-hundred yards is nothing to turn your nose up at yet we have.  But there’s something very un-Patriot like about his style.

We’ve grown accustom to seeing smaller receivers who fight for every inch, from Troy Brown to Wes Welker to Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola. They would scrap and claw to get that extra yard, sometimes risking their own health. Cooks isn’t that guy, despite a similar build of the aforementioned players. He’s a willing blocker, but as a runner will go out of his way to avoid contact. I wouldn’t say that changed in Sunday’s AFC Championship game. He’s still not running slants or crossing routes with any regularity or success, but the 23-year-old wide receiver shined his brightest in his biggest moment and is now headed to the Super Bowl.

MORE PATRIOTS

“It’ s a blessing,” he said pausing briefly before repeating “It’s a blessing.”

Cooks himself helped kick start a sluggish Patriots offense late in the second quarter with his team trailing 14-3. Almost nothing had gone right for the Pats since putting up a field goal on the game’s opening drive. With 1:28 on the clock, Tom Brady threw a pretty pass to Rob Gronkowski running down the seam. He appeared to make the catch for a brief moment before safety Barry Church knocked both the ball from Gronk’s hands and Gronk from the game. Church was flagged for unnecessary roughness, putting the ball on Jacksonville’s 40 yard line. But with Gronk staggering toward the sideline, you couldn’t help but feel a slight air of “oh bleep” in the air. Enter Cooks. 

Jags cornerback A.J. Bouye appeared as if he was going to get up in Cooks’ face before backing away just prior to the snap, surrendering some 8 or 9 yards off the line of scrimmage. But with that elite speed, Cooks got on top of Bouye quickly, forcing some contact. Instead of whimpering through the physicality, Cooks pushed back and pushed forward, again causing Bouye to use his hands. This time though the ball was already in the air and out came the penalty flags. A 32-yard pass interference call had the Pats sitting pretty at the Jags 13. Brady went back to Cooks on the very next play, picking up 12 more yards before James White crashed into the end zone for a touchdown. We had ourselves a game again, 

“You just gotta keep fighting {in those moments} because you can never put it into the hands of hoping you’re going to get a PI {pass interference},” said Cooks. “You just want to fight an make sure you get the ball or no one does.”

After his flawless first half, Cooks let one slip through his hands just as it appeared the Pats were poised to answer a Jacksonville field goal with points of their own. Instead, isolated one-on-one with a linebacker, the lithe wideout couldn’t reel in a potential big gainer and the Pats drive stalled. As the game wore on, you couldn’t help but circle back to that drop and wonder if that was an ominous sign. 

“Obviously you want to make every catch,” said Cooks of the play. “I didn’t but had to keep playing. I hoped I’d work to get another chance….Tom trusts me to put the ball in my area and let me make a play.”

It came to start the Pats’ second touchdown drive of the game, this one not beginning until 12:03 remaining on the game clock. Cooks’ speed forced Bouye to overreact, turning his hips and committing to a deep route. Instead, Cooks’ slapped on the brakes and hauled in an 18-yarder, giving him the first 100-yard receiving game of his brief playoff career. 

“That doesn’t mean anything,” said Cooks. “Winning is everything.”

Cooks didn’t make any more catches the remainder of the game, but his speed influenced the Jags to switch Bouye off him and put Pro Bowler Jalen Ramsey on. Cooks got Ramsey too, drawing a 36-yard pass interference call later in the 4th. It didn’t lead to points but did help flip the field which eventually did lead the game-winning touchdown.

“It’s football,” he said. “We knew it’s not going to be easy. You’re talking about a great team, one of the best defenses. We knew it was gonna be hard. We knew we had to play 60 minutes of football. Not get too high. Not get too low. Just play till the clock says 0:00.”

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