In 'this is it' moment, Eagles' defense holds strong

In 'this is it' moment, Eagles' defense holds strong

Because the previous play was under review, the Eagles were stuck on the field with some time to ponder their own mortality. The defense had to patiently wait for a 4th-and-goal from the 2-yard line with 1:05 left in the game.

Stop the Falcons and win.

Don't and lose.

"This is it," Malcolm Jenkins recalled thinking to himself. "This is the season. We're either going home or going forward."

The Eagles are going forward (see Roob's observations).

Matt Ryan's pass on 4th-and-2 went through the hands of Julio Jones on the right side of the end zone. The Eagles finished off a 15-10 win to push them into next week's NFC Championship Game at the Linc (see breakdown).

What were the Eagles thinking as they awaited the crucial play?

"Get off the field," Ronald Darby said. "Get the ball back into our offense's hands, run the clock out and go home."

Before the play even happened, during that long wait for the review, the Eagles' defense stayed on the field and kept themselves in the frame of mind that the ball was going to stay at the 2-yard line. They knew they were going to have to defend the goal line.

As the Falcons got in their huddle, the Eagles were already starting to dissect what they were seeing. Atlanta came out in 21 personnel — two running backs — which seemed to limit their options. The Eagles knew they weren't going to run and they knew with two running backs, the likelihood of a sprint out play rose. They played process of elimination.

While the Falcons were lining up in their formation, Jenkins guessed there were about three different defenders all shouting out what the play was going to be. They recognized it from their film study.

"We're going to play the odds," Jenkins said.

It certainly helped.

On that play, Jenkins said he was busy chasing Mohamed Sanu as Ryan rolled right. Darby was covering Tevin Coleman in the flat. Nigel Bradham had coverage on a tight end, whom he plowed through when he started to block.

But the biggest assignment on that play belonged to Jalen Mills. He was lined up across from Jones, the closest thing the NFL has to a real-life monster. At 6-foot-3, 220 pounds, Jones is arguably the best and scariest receiver in the NFL.

And Mills had him 1-on-1 with the game and the season on the line.

"That's what you want," Mills said. "As a defender, you always dream of being in that situation, coming down to the fourth down and making that fourth down stop with whoever it was."

Mills said when he lined up across from Jones, he knew he needed to be ready. He knew the Falcons were going to go to their best player with their own season on the line. He was ready.

As Ryan was rolling to his right and trying to buy time, Mills jammed Jones so hard the All-Pro receiver fell to the ground in the end zone and Mills gave him one last shot before Jones sprung back to his feet.

Mills, who got super physical on the play, said he wasn't worried at all about drawing a flag on the play.

"It's playoff ball," Mills said. "This is big-boy ball. If it was coming down to a call like that … I'm not thinking about that. I'm thinking about making a play. He's a big guy, he's a physical guy. If you go out there and play timid, he's going to push you around."

Mills had tight coverage on Jones as the ball sailed through the receiver's hands. Even if he caught it, Jones' feet came down out of bounds.

As the pass fell incomplete and the game — for all intents and purposes — came to a close, Darby was so busy covering Coleman, he didn't know until he heard the roar of the crowd. He turned in time to see Mills stretch out his arms and fly away in celebration.

Bradham turned just in time to see Mills lock down Jones. He said he knew the game was over and just "started flexing."

Jenkins, who seconds before had time to think about the finality of the play, turned his head just in time to see the Falcons' season end and his own continue.

"I saw it was overthrown," Jenkins said before breaking into a grin. "And then I took a little lap."

Turns out, Alshon Jeffery was injured all season

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Turns out, Alshon Jeffery was injured all season

We all know about the myriad injuries the Eagles suffered on their way to the Super Bowl.

Nobody knew about this one.

Alshon Jeffery had surgery Wednesday morning to repair a torn rotator cuff that he played through all season, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.

Per Rapoport, Jeffery suffered the injury in training camp this past summer.

Rotator cuff injuries are more difficult for quarterbacks to play through but can be equally risky for wide receivers (over-the-head catches) and any skill player who gets tackled to the ground. In recent years, rotator cuff tears have either ended the season or caused multiweek absences for Eric Decker, Martellus Bennett and Plaxico Burress, among others. 

Jeffery's ability to play the whole season with a shoulder injury makes what he was able to do all the more impressive. He made a quick impact, catching two touchdowns and a two-point conversion in Weeks 1-4, then scored seven TDs from Weeks 8-14 before turning in a strong postseason.

Along the way, Jeffery earned a new contract that pays him $26.75 million guaranteed with a full value of $52 million. 

Safe to say that playing through pain worked out. 

Eagles Stay or Go — How about all the tight ends?

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Eagles Stay or Go — How about all the tight ends?

In the third part of our offseason series examining the future of the world champion Eagles, Reuben Frank and Dave Zangaro try to figure out who will be on the roster in 2018. 

We go alphabetically — Part 1 was Nelson Agholor to Derek Barnett, Part 2 was De'Vante Bausby to Brandon Brooks. Today is Billy Brown to Vinny Curry.

Billy Brown
Roob: Don't be surprised if Brown makes the team next year. He's got good size at 6-4/255, and from what we've seen he has pretty good hands. We saw his catching ability at training camp last year, and he caught eight passes for 51 yards in the preseason. Brown spent the entire 2017 season on the practice squad, but with the future of both Trey Burton and Brent Celek up in the air, Brown may be able to secure a roster spot with a good training camp. I expect Burton to get an offer in the $7 million per year range if he hits the open market, which the Eagles most likely won't be able to match, and Celek could either retire or get released to save cap space. Brown could be the next guy up.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: After spending his entire rookie season on the Eagles' practice squad, Brown is going to have a pretty good shot to make the roster in 2017. Brown, who came from Shepherd University, was a training camp standout last summer. He's a converted wide receiver, so he has a good past as a receiving tight end. He has to prove himself, but the path to making the 53-man roster is there. 

Verdict: STAYS

Trey Burton
Burton has gone from an undrafted free agent long shot to make the roster in 2015 to one of the most attractive tight ends set to hit free agency this spring. With his soft hands, versatility and tremendous athleticism, Burton should be in line for a multi-year deal in the ballpark of $7 to $7.5 million per year. Even the Super Bowl touchdown pass speaks volumes about Burton and his ability to stay cool and composed and make a play under extreme pressure and in a situation he'd never been in as a pro. You'd love to be able to keep Burton, but Zach Ertz is the Eagles' tight end and they just don't have the cap space for the luxury of a high-priced backup.

Verdict: GOES

Dave: Burton is no longer a secret. The Eagles actually tried to extend Burton during the 2016 season, but the two sides were never really close. Burton wanted to bet on himself and now that seems wise. He played the 2017 season on a relatively cheap deal after being a restricted free agent last offseason. But now he's unrestricted this time around and other teams are going to be interested. Burton had his best season in 2016, when he caught 37 passes for 327 yards, but he did have a career-high five touchdown catches in 2017. He's going to get paid more for his potential, though, and it's going to price out the Eagles. 

Verdict: GOES

Brent Celek
Roob: We continue Tight End Day with the 11-year veteran, one of the most popular Eagles of the past generation. Celek will one day be enshrined in the Eagles Hall of Fame, but now he's just another veteran with a $5 million cap figure that is just too high. Maybe Celek will help the Eagles avoid a major decision by retiring. Celek has plenty of interests outside football and he's 33 years old now and has a ring, and retirement may be attractive to him. Go out on top. Or maybe he'll take a massive pay cut down to the veteran's minimum and stick around another year and get the two yards he needs for 5,000. But I think it's most likely Celek won't be here next year. Whatever happens, he'll always be remembered as a champion.

Verdict: GOES

Dave: This is a tough one just because it's Celek. He embodies the city of Philadelphia better than anyone else on the team. He's also the longest-tenured athlete in the city. It's important to him to be a career Eagle, to never play for another team. But he just can't be back in 2018 on his current salary. It doesn't make good football or business sense. His cap number in 2018 is $5 million, which is just way too high for a reserve blocking tight end. It would be tough for the Eagles to flat out cut him, but if he doesn't want to retire and doesn't want to restructure down to nearly the minimum, that's what's going to have to happen. 

Verdict: GOES

Corey Clement
To go from an undrafted rookie free agent running back with virtually no history as a pass catcher to a 100-yard receiver in the Super Bowl in 10 months is just insane. Clement showed me enough that I believe he can be a lead back on this team. I think the plan will be to take a good long look at Jay Ajayi this coming season, with Ajayi and Clement splitting time, then decide after 2018 whether or not to keep Ajayi, who is due to become a free agent in another year. But under any scenario, Clement will be a major part of this team's running back corps for at least the next few years.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: I was wrong about Clement last summer. I thought he was a good running back but there was nothing special about him. I thought Wendell Smallwood deserved to be ahead of him on the depth chart. Oops. Clement had an incredible rookie season. The most incredible thing was that he became a legitimate receiving threat out of the backfield, something he had never been in college or even in high school. He did everything the Eagles asked him to do in his rookie season and excelled at everything. He hasn't just earned a spot on the roster; he's earned the right to be a part of the running back rotation going forward. 

Verdict: STAYS

Fletcher Cox
I think Fletch might be around a while. Cox goes into his seventh season with the Eagles having made three straight Pro Bowls and is one of the most dominating interior linemen in the NFL. And he's under contract for the next five years. He stays. And will stay for the foreseeable future.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: Sometimes we all sort of forget how good Cox really is. As an interior defensive lineman, Cox doesn't always make flashy plays. But just ask around the league about the Eagles' defense and everyone comes back with one guy on their mind: big No. 91. There's a reason he's become a perennial Pro Bowler and there's a reason he got a $100 million contract last offseason. He's the engine to the Eagles' defense and we saw him elevate his game even more in the run to the Super Bowl by barely leaving the field. This is stupid easy. 

Verdict: STAYS

Vinny Curry
Roob: Curry didn't really have the stat numbers to back it up, but he did play fairly well this year. He's got some massive cap numbers coming up — $11 million in 2018, $11.25 million in 2019 and $12.25 million in 2020. Those are astronomical figures for a guy who has nine sacks in his last 50 games. The Eagles could clear $5 million in cap space by releasing Curry, and that number goes up to $7.25 million next year and $10.25 million before the 2020 season. I think he stays this year, but those cap savings could be tempting for the cap-starved Eagles.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: After a down season in 2016, Curry became a starter and had the best year of his career in 2017. Some folks will argue against that because his sack numbers weren't shocking, but Curry was just tremendously solid as a rusher and against the run in 2017. He's a big reason why the Eagles' defensive line was their top unit and why their run defense was the best in the NFL. But his cap hit of $11 million is a killer this year and first-rounder Barnett is ready to start. I think if Curry is back, it'll be after reworking that deal. But for now ... 

Verdict: GOES