Eagles' D recovers for most dominant half since 1999

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Eagles' D recovers for most dominant half since 1999

Nothing was said.

"Nothing needed to be said," Malcolm Jenkins said. "We knew what was at stake."

The Raiders had taken a three-point lead early in the second half with a 69-yard field goal drive, and the Eagles' defense was struggling. Again.

Jalen Mills gave up a 63-yard touchdown pass to Amari Cooper early in the second quarter, and the Eagles let Jalen Richard ramble 34 yards on the third play of the second half to set up that go-ahead field goal.

Right there you had the fourth-longest TD pass against the Eagles under the Doug Pederson-Jim Schwartz regime and the longest run by an opposing player at the Linc since 2015.

Safe to say many at the Linc felt the No. 1 seed slipping away.

"Our backs were against the wall," DB Corey Graham said. "We knew how things were looking. We knew the situation."

After that long run by Richard? The Eagles' defense finally got its edge back.

After 3½ subpar games, the Eagles' defense played some of its best ball when it was needed most.

The rest of the way, the Eagles held the Raiders to 45 net yards and forced five turnovers in the game's final 19½ minutes.

With the 19-10 win, the Eagles improved to 13-2 and locked up home-field until the Super Bowl.

"We were just locked in," Mills said. "I know I had a mishap early, but at the same time, we're an aggressive defense. We have to stay aggressive, and sometimes that's just what it is. By staying aggressive, you see what happened in the second half. We started getting turnovers."

It was the first time since the last day of the 1999 season and a win over the eventual Super Bowl-champion Rams at the Vet that the Eagles forced five turnovers in a half.

"And we needed all five to win the game," Jenkins said. "It was just one of those games where the defense needed to get some stops to put our team in a position to win. It was the exact opposite last week (against the Giants).

"Whatever it takes to get the 'W.' We obviously know what it means to get turnovers, especially turnovers in the red zone or in plus territory. We had a problem with field position pretty much the whole second half, so those stops were huge to keep points off the board."

It's no secret the Eagles' defense has struggled, allowing 82 points and 1,121 yards in a loss to the Seahawks and wins over the Rams and Giants.

Did they lose their edge? Could they get it back?

On national TV, with the season in the balance, they answered those questions.

"We needed to redeem ourselves because we gave up a long run and a long pass and other than that, we knew if we made them earn it, it was going to be hard for them," said Chris Long, who was in the middle of that second-half revival.

"And once we stuck to just making them earn it we were able to settle down a lot. At the end of the day, it's 10 points, and we have a lot we need to improve defensively, but it's 10 points."

The Raiders' first six drives averaged 34 yards and netted 10 points.

Their next nine averaged 5 yards and netted no points.

Marshawn Lynch, who had 84 yards on his first 17 carries, was just 8-for-11 with a fumble the rest of the way. And Derek Carr threw for just 22 yards with two interceptions in the second half.

"It's one of those games that we really needed as a defense," Graham said. "The last couple games haven't been the type of games that we really wanted. They haven't been the type of games that we should be playing. Really good to see what we're capable of doing when we have to do it."

Patrick Robinson and Ronald Darby had interceptions, Jenkins and Vinny Curry forced fumbles, and rookie Derek Barnett finished things off as time expired by scooping up a loose ball and returning it for a TD while the Raiders tried a bunch of desperation laterals.

"You have these types of games all throughout the year," Graham said. "This was one of the ones that was a defensive game, and we just had to get back to what we do. 

"You want to dominate every game, but you have to be realistic. You're going to have some weeks where the numbers aren't the same as they normally are. But that doesn't mean you're a bad defense, and that's all it was for us. We had a couple games where we played some high-powered offenses and we weren't at our best, but we bounced back."

Bottom line is the Super Bowl now goes through the Linc, where the Eagles are 7-0 this year and 13-2 the last two years and have allowed opposing teams to score just 13½ points per game this year.

"We just needed the win," Jenkins said. "End of the day, we wanted to win the game and we wanted home-field advantage, and we had the opportunity tonight in front of the world to do it and we wanted to make sure this opportunity didn't slip away."

By just being himself, Doug Pederson has had masterful year

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By just being himself, Doug Pederson has had masterful year

Bill Belichick didn’t win a playoff game until his fourth year as an NFL head coach and didn’t reach a conference title game until his seventh year.

Don Shula didn’t win a playoff game until his sixth year as a head coach.

It took Dick Vermeil four years to win a playoff game, Dan Reeves six years, Tom Landry eight.

Heck, Pete Carroll didn’t reach a conference title game until his third head coaching stop, and Marv Levy didn’t even get to the playoffs until his eighth year as a head coach.

Just a little context.

Pederson has been magnificent this year, and out of everybody we talk about who’s played a role in the Eagles' success — from Carson Wentz to Nick Foles, Howie Roseman to Joe Douglas, Fletcher Cox to Malcolm Jenkins, Jim Schwartz to John DiFillippo, Jason Kelce to Alshon Jeffery — Pederson is the common thread that’s tied all of it together.

We saw last year that Pederson had a rare ability to keep a team together when faced with adversity. Whether it was the whole Sam Bradford situation before the season, Lane Johnson’s suspension, a couple arrests, two players publicly speaking out about mental health, or just keeping the thing on the rails after three straight late-season ugly losses, Pederson won over his players by confronting each issue openly and professionally and treating his players like grown men.

By the time the team training camp ended this past summer, Pederson had earned the respect of the veterans by preaching discipline without being over the top about it and by constantly keeping the lines of communication open with his players. 

Here’s a young, inexperienced coach who had a long but undistinguished playing career and no real track record or resume as a head coach trying to convince a locker room of Super Bowl winners and all-pros that he knows what he’s doing.

But he did that. Just by being himself. Tough, smart, open, honest.

And once you get guys like Malcolm Jenkins, Jason Peters, LeGarrette Blount and Alshon Jeffery to buy in, the younger guys just fall in line. 

And that might be the biggest challenge any head coach faces. Getting guys to believe in his message. To believe in him.

But Pederson has tremendous instincts when dealing with people, a real natural, honest way of getting his point across, and it enabled him to seamlessly win over the locker room. 

Once that happened, this team was built to withstand whatever challenge it faced. To withstand whatever roadblocks stood in its way.

And as it turned out, there were plenty of them. 

We don't have to run down the littany of season-ending injuries the Eagles faced, but what this team has accomplished without its MVP quarterback, its Hall of Fame left tackle, its best linebacker, its all-pro returner and its top special teamer is nothing less than astonishing.

Nick Foles is their quarterback and they're in the NFC Championship Game.

Think about the last month.

They came from behind in Los Angeles to beat the Rams after Wentz got hurt. They beat the Giants on the road. They beat the Raiders to clinch No. 1 seed. They "upset" the Falcons in a conference semifinal playoff game. 

For this football team to be one home win away from the Super Bowl after all it has been through speaks volumes about Pederson. He's guided this franchise through adversity that would have crushed some locker rooms, and he's done it in his second year as a head coach above the high school level.

Pederson found a way to get 53 guys to believe in themselves even when very few other people did. And they returned the favor by consistently playing smart, physical, disciplined football for him no matter who the opponent, no matter what the score, no matter how long that Injured Reserve list grew.

This has been a masterful year for Pederson, and anybody who can't see that just isn't looking very hard.

Why lack of touches for Jay Ajayi after 1st quarter?

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Why lack of touches for Jay Ajayi after 1st quarter?

Jay Ajayi wasn't hurt Saturday night. So why did he barely play after a huge first quarter?

Ajayi dominated the first quarter of the Eagles' 15-10 playoff win over the Falcons at the Linc with seven carries for 49 yards. But after a one-yard carry a minute into the second quarter, he didn't touch the ball again until the third quarter.

After his hot start, he didn't even get on the field on the Eagles' last two drives of the first half.

LeGarrette Blount actually had more carries than Ajayi after the first quarter, but netted only 19 yards on nine attempts, although he did score the Eagles' only touchdown from a yard out in the second quarter.

Ajayi never got into a rhythm after his long layoff. He had eight carries for five yards after the first quarter and finished with 15 carries for 54 yards along with four catches for 44 yards, including a 32-yard catch and run that was the Eagles' longest offensive play of the game.

Head coach Doug Pederson said Monday he just wanted to get Blount some work. He also said he likes to go hurry-up after long plays and was unable to sub Ajayi while the offense was going with tempo. But there weren't any plays longer than 15 yards while Ajayi sat.

Pederson said the decision on which back to use rests with him and not running backs coach Duce Staley.

“I ultimately control the personnel," he said. "Duce doesn’t sub them. I’m the one calling the plays, so I call for those guys in particular situations, and a couple times when we broke off a long run or a pass particularly — it’s a good time to go a little tempo. So whoever the back is at the time on the field, I just kept him in there.

"And [Blount] was heating up a little bit and we wanted to get him going as well and it’s just the way it went."

Ajayi had 35 of the 86 net yards on the Eagles' only touchdown drive of the game.

After that second-quarter TD drive, the Eagles ran 15 times for 17 yards, not including three Nick Foles kneel-downs.  

Pederson said all the backs know all the plays, but he just prefers different backs depending on what the Eagles are doing offensively. 

Of the Eagles’ 67 offensive plays, Ajayi played 29, Blount 20, Corey Clement 16 and Kenjon Barner one (see Snap Counts).

"The way it is set up is by design, by scheme design, a particular back might be good at a certain run scheme so we put that back in for that particular play," he said.