Bye-week crucial given Eagles' wild-card nightmares

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Bye-week crucial given Eagles' wild-card nightmares

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — They lost in the wild-card round the last three times they reached the playoffs — 2009, 2010 and 2013.

They've lost in the wild-card round six times since 1989, four of them at home. 

The Eagles are 6-6 in the wild-card round since 1989, and only three teams have lost more wild-card games during that span — the Lions (0-8), Vikings (3-7) and Bengals (1-7).

Nobody has lost more home wild-card games since 1989. Nobody.

The Eagles haven't won a wild-card game since 2008 in Minneapolis and they haven't won one at home since 2006 against Eli Manning and the Giants.

So the message, if you're the Eagles, is: PLEASE STAY AWAY FROM THE WILD-CARD ROUND.

And this year, thanks to their 12-2 start, the Eagles can.

The Eagles on Sunday clinched a first-round bye for the first time in 13 years.

"To me, the significance of having a first-round bye is it puts you one game closer to the Super Bowl," Malcolm Jenkins said. "Two is obviously a lot easier than three. You've still got to win some games, but at least we know we don't have to play that wild-card weekend, we don't have to go on the road that second weekend. You're off that first weekend, your odds go up."

The Eagles can clinch home-field advantage throughout the playoffs as early as Saturday if the Vikings lose to the Packers or with a win Monday night against the Raiders at the Linc (where Nick Foles has won eight straight starts).

"It's big," Brandon Graham said. "Get your body together before getting to the real, real deal. 

"It's a reward. To know that we've got a first-round bye and we don't even have to worry about that first round of the playoffs? Third time I've been in the playoffs, second time I've played, first time I've gotten a first-round bye. It's huge."

The Eagles have only earned a first-round bye five previous times since the AFL-NFL merger and the inception of the wild-card round in 1970 — in 1980, 1988, 2002, 2003 and 2004.

They were at home for the conference semifinals every year but 1988, when they lost to the Bears in the Fog Bowl at Soldier Field in Chicago.

"We're slowly checking boxes," head coach Doug Pederson said. "NFC East a week ago and a bye and a home game (in the conference semifinal round) now. Check the box."

If the Eagles don't clinch the No. 1 seed this coming weekend, they can do it the last weekend of the season either with a win over the Cowboys at the Linc or a Vikings loss at home to the Bears.

"It's something this organization earned, and we have to keep on fighting and have the same mindset that got us to this position and keep on winning football games," Nelson Agholor said. "Stay hungry."

If anybody understands that simply clinching a first-round bye doesn't mean you're going to make it to the conference championship game, it's Foles.

He was with the Chiefs last year as Alex Smith's backup when they earned a No. 2 seed before losing at home to the Steelers.

"I was fortunate enough to be a part of one last year in Kansas City, but … we can't focus on that," he said.

"It's a long season and guys who are nicked up, it can help with their injuries. But we have to finish these games out strong and keep improving. We still have a lot of work to do this season."

Nick Foles channels 'inner Carson Wentz' in 1st Eagles start in 3 years

Nick Foles channels 'inner Carson Wentz' in 1st Eagles start in 3 years

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Just think how crazy it all is. Nick Foles, traded away by the Eagles three years ago for his replacement, benched twice and then unwanted by the Rams, a backup for a year with the Chiefs, returns to the team that he took to the playoffs four years ago and does this.

Foles recalled his 2013 glory days Sunday, throwing four touchdown passes and no interceptions in the Eagles' closer-than-it-should-have-been 34-29 win over the Giants at MetLife Stadium (see breakdown).

In his first start in 14 months and his first in an Eagles jersey in more than three years, Foles made Carson Wentz's season-ending injury a little easier to take.

He was terrific.

“It’s really special," Foles said. "This whole journey and being back in Philly, it’s crazy, if I’m being honest. 

"Just wearing the Eagles jersey. To go back to Philly and wear it, I take a lot of pride in that. I can’t say enough about our guys. They made some big plays to help with those touchdowns, but it’s a special moment for sure."

Foles completed 24 of 38 passes for 237 yards in his second career four-TD game and first since the record-setting seven-TD game in Oakland in 2013 (see Roob's observations).

This is a guy who hadn't started a game since November 2016 for the Chiefs and hadn't started a game on the road since November 2015 with the Rams.

And he became the fifth quarterback ever to throw four TD passes and no interceptions while completing 63 percent of his passes against the Giants in East Rutherford (or New York).

"He was phenomenal," Corey Clement said. "I think everybody's doubt really fueled him today. He was definitely relaxed. We depended on him, and he came up huge, just like we knew he would."

The Eagles improved to 12-2 and for the first time since the 2004 Super Bowl season clinched a first-round bye in the playoffs.

Foles improved to 16-9 in an Eagles uniform and 15-4 since 2013.

"I thought he played well, really well," head coach Doug Pederson said. "I'm sure there are some things he would like to do over, each game is going to be that way. But I thought he handled himself extremely well. A lot of poise back there. Took some shots but bounced up."

With his four touchdowns, Foles now has 50 in an Eagles uniform. He passed Carson Wentz (49) and into 12th place in Eagles history.

“He wants to be here so bad," Foles said. "He’s one of the greatest competitors I’ve played with and going out there and getting this win, I know he’s excited.”

There was one play where Foles actually looked like Wentz.

Foles isn't the slickest guy in the pocket, but he adroitly sidestepped Jason Pierre-Paul, buying himself time, then fired down the field to Torrey Smith, who drew a 32-yard pass interference down to the 5-yard line. Two plays later, Foles threw the first of his four TDs.

"I channeled my inner Carson Wentz right there," Foles said with a laugh. "Just made a play and tried to get him to move and step up, and then if the defender doesn’t hold Torrey and hold his arms down, it’s probably a touchdown, but Torrey did a great job fighting through it, we get the call, get down there and get this thing rolling."

Foles spread the ball around, with four guys finishing with between 40 and 60 yards (Jay Ajayi, Alshon Jeffery, Zach Ertz and Nelson Agholor), and four guys catching touchdowns (Jeffery, Agholor, Ertz, Trey Burton).

It was a vintage Nick Foles performance.

“You get the butterflies, for sure," Foles said. "I think any game you ever play in, you get that excitement because it’s a big stage, there’s a lot going on. But once you get on the field you just play ball. 

"You live in the moment and there’s just something that comes out of you, and you just go out there and just play."

Wentz is out for the year with a torn left ACL, so this is Foles' team as long as the Eagles keep playing.

"Obviously, it sucks not having (Wentz) in there, but we knew all throughout the week, Nick would do his thing," Ajayi said. 

"We just let him play his game, as you saw. He played a great one. He did his thing, just operated like we thought he would. Just threw a bunch of touchdowns today."

Foles finished with a passer rating of 115.8, his eighth career game with a rating of 115 or higher.

That's sixth-most in Eagles history, even though he's 15th in franchise history in QB starts.

He can play.

After so much disappointment in his career — he even considered retiring after the 2015 season — this was quite an emotional day for Foles.

“Huge," he said. "Just getting back out there playing a full game on the road in New York. NFC East.

"There’s definitely some things when I go back and watch it that I can clean up, absolutely. The big thing is you keep playing when something does go wrong or you miss a throw or maybe the decision wasn’t what I wanted. 

"I can absolutely get better. There’s a lot to be improved on and I’m going to continue to do that."

Roob's 10 observations from Eagles-Giants

Roob's 10 observations from Eagles-Giants

BOX SCORE

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Nick Foles was way better than expected, the defense was worse than expected and the Eagles somehow escaped the Meadowlands Sunday with a way-too-close 34-29 win over the Giants (see breakdown).

With the win, the Eagles clinched a first-round bye in the playoffs, their first since 2004.

It sure wasn't pretty. But that first-round bye will be. 

While we all catch our collective breath, here are 10 instant observations from the Eagles' 12th win of the year.

1. Nick Foles showed a little rust early but ultimately did everything you would want your quarterback to do. Moved the ball, got the offense in the end zone, managed the offense, avoided mistakes. In his first start in 14 months and first start in an Eagles uniform in more than three years, Foles threw four TDs on the road, and that's darn impressive. I really felt good about Foles going into Sunday. He's a good, solid QB, and other than a few bad games on a terrible Rams team in 2015, he's always been a good, solid quarterback. But he was actually better than I expected. He finished 24 for 38 for 237 yards and the four TDs, no INTs and a 115.8 passer rating (see report card). What I was most impressed with was how Foles kept his composure early, when the Giants had that two-TD lead and nothing was going right for the Eagles. This is a guy who hasn't played much football lately, but he was calm and poised in the face of adversity. On the road, down 13 points, nothing going right. Impressive afternoon for Foles.

2. On the other hand? This was an absolutely embarrassing performance by the Eagles' defense against one of the NFL's worst offenses, a team that just fired its coach, a team with a lame-duck interim coach, a team with nothing to play for, a team with the third-worst offense in the NFL. Pathetic. Forget who's playing quarterback for the Eagles, if the defense doesn't get its act together soon, the Eagles' postseason run is going to be a very short one. This is three straight games now where their tackling has been poor, they've allowed big plays and they've been unable to keep an opponent out of the end zone. After allowing just 18 touchdowns in their first 11 games, they've now given up 10 in their last three. For crying out loud, the Giants came into the game averaging 14 points on offense, and they scored three TDs on their first 26 plays and laid 29 points on the Eagles. Are they worn out? Are they being exposed by better, more experienced quarterbacks? Are they just getting away from basics, like tackling and coverage? Whatever the answer, Jim Schwartz has to get this solved very, very soon.

3. A couple numbers to ponder: Eli Manning, benched just a few weeks ago, threw for 434 yards, the second-most yards ever against the Eagles (Jon Kitna once had 446 for the Lions in a 2007 Eagles blowout win). And the Giants netted 504 yards. This is one of the worst offenses in the NFL! It just seemed like there were Giants open 8 to 12 yards down the field on every play, and nothing ever changed. The Eagles were really, really fortunate to escape North Jersey with a win.

4. I have to say I'm just not in love with the Eagles' running back rotation right now. It just seems too hard for any of the Eagles' four backs to get into any sort of rhythm right now. Early in the year, the way the offense was operating, they were all getting enough carries to kind of get going individually, but in close games, when the Eagles are scrambling on offense, it just seems that the rotation is hurting the offense's rhythm. Kenjon Barner had an 18-yard run at the start of the second quarter, then didn't get another carry. LeGarrette Blount gets the ball on a crucial 4th-and-1 midway through the second quarter, but it's only his second carry of the game and the play goes nowhere. Corey Clement runs for 10 yards midway through the first quarter and doesn't get another carry in the next five drives. Jay Ajayi? I've been saying since about the second game he played in an Eagles uniform he should be this team's lead back, but after gaining four yards on his first carry of the game, only five of the next 14 running back handoffs went his way. His next carry? That went 22 yards for a first down. Ajayi had only 12 carries Sunday and that's not enough. He needs to carry the bulk of the load. Has to.

5. I can't think of a more dramatic transformation in Philadelphia sports history than what we've seen this year from Nelson Agholor. It's flat-out remarkable, and that kid deserves so much credit for never making excuses and just working his ass off during the offseason and hammering himself into a legit NFL wide receiver. That insane third-quarter touchdown catch on the heels of his 141-yard game in L.A. last weekend … that's big-time stuff right there. 

6. Howie Roseman has to do everything imaginable to make sure the Eagles don't lose Trey Burton. That kid can play.

7. Impressive day for Zach Ertz, especially that 15-yard catch and run down the right sideline for a huge late first down. Ertz didn't have huge numbers — 7 for 59 with a touchdown — but his history with Foles really showed up. They were together in 2013 and 2014, and you can tell Foles loves having him out there.

8. I'm trying to figure out Ronald Darby. Played awful much of the game, but he did have that huge interception and big return, and then he made an enormous play in the end zone in the final minute, knocking away a potential Manning touchdown pass to Roger Lewis. One thing is for sure — the kid has talent. Another is for sure — he has to be more consistent.

9. With all due respect to Fletcher Cox, sometimes I really believe Brandon Graham is this team's defensive MVP. He was very good once again Sunday, extending his career high in sacks to 9½ and also making a huge play in the fourth quarter, throwing Shane Vereen for a nine-yard loss on a drive that ultimately ended with the Eagles' blocking a field goal. On a day when most of the guys around struggled, Graham continued his brilliant play. He was there when the Eagles needed him the most.

10. The left side of the offensive line was everybody's biggest concern going in, and while Chance Warmack and Halapoulivati Vaitai aren't going to pick up any late Pro Bowl votes for their performances, they hung in there enough, protecting the blind side of a quarterback making his first start in 14 months. Foles didn't always have a ton of time, but he was only sacked once — that was on Big V and caused a fumble (that the Eagles recovered). The Eagles scored 34 points with those guys. Could have been worse. Could have been a lot worse.