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.