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How Carson Wentz's injury defined these Eagles

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How Carson Wentz's injury defined these Eagles

BLOOMINGTON, Minn. -- The first thing that happened when Carson Wentz limped down the tunnel at Los Angeles Coliseum was Jason Kelce grabbed Nick Foles and immediately began practicing some snaps on the sideline.
"You saw what happened with Carson, but you don’t have time to really process it," Kelce said. "So I brought Nick over, 'Hey, let’s get a few cadences so everybody can hear the rhythm,' because that can vary by quarterback and I wanted all the guys to hear him. You knew he was hurt, but we’re still trying to win a football game.
"After the game, it’s a pretty devastating feeling, to tell you the truth. Because he was the main reason we were there. After the game, I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know what to do. But in the moment, you just have to get back to work."
In a season of dramatic challenges, this was by far the biggest.
Wentz had just suffered a season-ending knee injury late in the third quarter of a game against that game against the Rams in Los Angeles, and although there was no official announcement, NFL players know a season-ending injury when they see one.
Their franchise, their MVP, their savior, was hobbling down a tunnel with a towel wrapped around his head.
Just like that, everything they had worked for was in jeopardy.
It was a pivotal moment for the 2017 Eagles. Really, it was the pivotal moment.
“One of the things that stands out to me when Carson got hurt, no one panicked," Zach Ertz said. "It was a huge moment for our team. Guys could have gone one of two ways. It was either going to be a disaster where everyone panics or everyone was going to remain calm, and everything we went through this year kind of prepared us for that extreme situation.
"He was the MVP of the league at that point and guys didn’t even bat an eye."
Picture the scene.
Wentz tore his ACL and LCL in his knee late in the third quarter of the Eagles-Rams game, with the Eagles trailing, 28-24. He stayed in the game and four plays later threw a go-ahead touchdown pass to Alshon Jeffery.
The Rams then drove 75 yards and took a 35-31 lead on a Todd Gurley touchdown run.
So the Eagles were 3,000 miles from home, their MVP was on crutches in the locker room, they were trailing a 9-3 team early in the fourth quarter and their backup quarterback had missed all of the preseason with an elbow injury and had thrown just four passes all year.
You want adversity? That's adversity.
"You could easily crumble," Trey Burton said. "The best player in the league goes down? Yeah. But all year, the next man has gone in and gotten the job done, and we just had faith in Nick and just kept fighting.
"What else would we do? There was no other option."
Foles went out and made enough plays to engineer two field goal drives, and the defense, gashed much of the game, held the Rams to six yards with two turnovers on their last three drives.
The Eagles won, 43-35. They haven't lost a meaningful game since.
"We’ve always felt it’s not a one-man show, and we showed it that day and all year," Corey Graham said. "It was definitely big for us, finding a way to finish that game despite what happened."
They not only finished that game, they went on one of the most improbable runs in NFL history, reaching the Super Bowl with a quarterback who had contemplated retirement two years earlier, had changed teams after the 2014, 2015 and 2016 seasons and had a 5-7 record since leaving the Eagles three years ago.
“You know when you see someone walking off the field like Carson did that he's probably not coming back. Especially someone as tough as Carson," Torrey Smith said.
"You know they're not coming back. So that was the reality. To lose the MVP in my opinion, that's a tough task, but nobody blinked. We had to step up our game, rally around each other and make sure we're sharp, but when Nick stepped in, no one complained on the sideline.
"We felt bad for Carson, but nobody was like, ‘Oh no, Carson's hurt.’ It was just, ‘Hey, we've got to win this game, let's go. Let's go.
"That's why you have to build a team the right way, so when things do happen, you're able to weather the storm. Character, talent, it all goes into it. If you have the right guys, they won’t let it break them.
"No one flinched. And it's kind of been that way all year. We lose J.P. (Jason Peters), who was balling like a 22-year-old? We lose Jordan Hicks? (Darren) Sproles? (Chris) Maragos? It’s just, ‘OK, come on let's go.’ Let’s just go win the ball game.”
The win gave the Eagles the NFC East title, and a win over the Giants at the Meadowlands a week later clinched a first-round bye. The Eagles then beat the Raiders to lock up home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
Playoff wins at the Linc over the Falcons and Vikings have the Eagles in Super Bowl LII against the Patriots on Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.
Nearly two months after Wentz's season ended, the Eagles are one win away from the franchise's first championship since the 1960 team beat Vince Lombardi on a Monday afternoon at Franklin Field.
"Your focus has to go right back to the game because we're trying to win a tight ballgame that might decide home field and all that stuff, so we had to just snap our fingers and focus on the game," Chris Long said.
"It's kind of in our instincts the way we've been coached all year that we don't panic. We're not a panicky group. We're very even-keel.
"Certainly a lot of teams, a lot of coaching staffs, a lot of locker rooms would have panicked but we really didn't have that. I think a lot of it was that we had Nick, who isn't your average backup quarterback. He's played great in the league and he's an experienced guy, so while Carson is an MVP type guy, it takes a team, and we kept reminding ourselves of that. It takes 53 guys."
The Eagles lost Sproles in the first Giants game and won. They lost Peters and Hicks in the second Redskins game and won. They lost Maragos in the Panthers game and won. They lost Caleb Sturgis in the opener against the Redskins and won.
“Because we had so many moments like that one, it seemed like that prepared us for that one," special teams coach Dave Fipp said.
"It wasn't just Wentz but other great players. So we kind of knew how to handle it. Just do the same thing we’ve been doing all year long.
"The best thing about this team is their resilience and their internal belief that they’re going to find a way to get it done no matter what.”
And the lesson the whole NFL has learned from the 2017 Eagles is that no team is just one guy. No matter how talented that one guy is.
The Eagles' ability to deal with Wentz's injury both in the moment and over these last two months is why they're still playing football on Feb. 4.
"You're in the locker room, you come to the locker room every day, sometimes you don't realize how much a head coach has to do with the psyche of the team one way or another and can rub off in a good or a bad way," Long said.
"I think coach has done a really good job of hammering home that this is a team. We miss Carson but at the end of the day it's 53 guys and that includes Nick, who's here for a reason.
"We really do have a good roster. All 22 positions. We've got good people in this room. We don't have finger pointers. Unselfish group and even keel. That's the mantra.  
"It's kind of unspoken because at the end of the day your leadership, your core players could give a big speech, but if your guys don't believe we can still be great, then how good is that going to be?
"It really does take belief that we're still a bad-ass football team."

The completely improbable timeline of Nick Foles and Case Keenum

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The completely improbable timeline of Nick Foles and Case Keenum

Nick Foles and Case Keenum are former teammates, former backups and two guys who were basically thrown into the garbage heap as NFL quarterbacks. 

And both will start in the NFC Championship Game this Sunday at the Linc. 

The Foles-Keenum storyline is one of the biggest of this week and rightfully so. Back even a few months ago, did anyone think this was going to be the quarterback matchup in the NFC Championship Game? No way. But here we are. 

The two quarterbacks are similar in a lot of ways. They both came into the league in 2012, they both are extremely religious and they both began this season on the bench. 

They were even teammates together with the Rams not that long ago. 

"It's pretty wild, absolutely," Foles said this week. "We were on the same team not too many years ago. I've said over and over again, Case's success and the way he plays doesn't surprise me because he and I were together and we prepared together. We were around each other every day. 

"But I think the big message there is no matter what happens, you've just got to keep believing in yourself, keep working hard and just never give up."

Here's a look at a timeline from the intertwining careers of Foles and Keenum as the two former teammates prepare to face off in the NFC Championship Game: 

April 27, 2012 — Foles is drafted in the third round (88th overall) by the Eagles out of Arizona. 

April 28, 2012 — After going undrafted, Keenum, a star at the University of Houston, stays close, signing with the Texans. He'll spend his entire rookie season on the practice squad. 

Nov. 11, 2012 — Foles makes his NFL debut when Mike Vick leaves the Cowboys game with a concussion. Foles completes 22 of 32 passes for 219 yards, one touchdown and one interception. He will make his first start the following week against Washington. 

Oct. 6, 2013 — In his second season, Foles enters the game after Vick suffers a hamstring injury. Foles lost the competition for the starting job in camp but finally gets his shot. He'll become the starter for the rest of the way. 

Oct. 17, 2013 — Texans head coach Gary Kubiak announces that Keenum will start at Kansas City three days later. Keenum is the Texans' third-string quarterback but gets the start over backup T.J. Yates. Keenum will start the next eight games, going 0-8 in the middle of the Texans' disastrous 2-14 season. 

Nov. 3, 2013 — Foles has the best game of his career. He throws seven touchdown passes while completing 22 of 28 passes for 406 yards against the Raiders. The Eagles win 49-20 and Foles' jersey and cleats get sent to the Hall of Fame in Canton. 

Dec. 2, 2013 — Amid constant questions about the Eagles' future at quarterback, head coach Chip Kelly quips that Foles will be his starter for the "next thousand years." 

Jan. 4, 2014 — Foles plays his first playoff game. The Eagles lose 26-24 to the Saints, but Foles isn't the problem. He completes 23 of 33 passes for 195 yards and two touchdowns. He leaves the field with a lead, but Drew Brees leads the Saints on a game-winning drive. 

Aug. 31, 2014 — Keenum is released by the Texans to make room for incoming quarterback Ryan Mallett. Keenum is claimed off waivers by the Rams the next day. 

Oct. 28, 2014 — Keenum is waived by the Rams but will re-sign with their practice squad two days later. 

Nov. 2, 2014 — Foles breaks his collarbone at NRG Stadium in Houston, ending his disappointing 2014 season and first stint with the Eagles. During this time, Keenum was away from the Texans, on the Rams' practice squad. 

Dec. 15, 2014 — The Texans sign Keenum off the Rams' practice squad and he leads them to two wins as a starter — over the Ravens and Jaguars. 

March 10, 2015 — Foles is traded to St. Louis as a part of the Sam Bradford deal, ending his first run with the Eagles.

March 11, 2015 — The Rams trade to get Keenum back, sending a seventh-round pick in 2016 to the Texans. Keenum and Foles become teammates after being acquired one day apart. 

Aug. 7, 2015 — Foles signs a two-year extension with the Rams for $24.5 million. 

Nov. 16, 2015 — The day after Foles completed just 47 percent of his passes with an interception in a 37-13 loss to the Bears, head coach Jeff Fisher benches him in favor of Keenum. 

Nov. 22, 2015 — Keenum starts his first game for the Rams, a 16-13 loss to the Ravens. He completes 12 of 26 passes for 136 yards and a touchdown but suffers a concussion late in the game. 

Nov. 29, 2015 — With Keenum's concussion, the Rams go back to Foles and things don't get any better over the next two weeks. In losses to the Bengals and Cardinals, Foles completes 55 percent of his passes without a touchdown and four interceptions. 

Dec. 13, 2015 — Keenum takes back over as the Rams' starter. He starts the last four games of the year as the Rams finish 7-9. 

April 18, 2016 — After moving to Los Angeles, the Rams sign Keenum to a one-year deal.

April 28, 2016 — The Rams draft Jared Goff with the first overall pick. The Eagles take Carson Wentz at No. 2. After the Rams draft Goff, Foles requests to be released.

July 27, 2016 — Foles gets his wish and is released by the Rams. 

Aug. 3, 2016 — After pondering retirement for a week, Foles signs with the Chiefs and Andy Reid, the coach who drafted him four years earlier. 

Aug. 30, 2016 — Teddy Bridgewater tears his ACL in a non-contact injury during practice in Minnesota. The Eagles will trade Bradford to Minnesota four days later. 

Sept. 12, 2016 — Keenum begins the season as the Rams' starting quarterback, ahead of their first overall pick Goff. 

Nov. 15, 2016 — Almost exactly one calendar year after Foles was benched for Keenum, Keenum is benched for Goff, who is named the starter for the upcoming game against the Dolphins. Keenum won't start again for Los Angeles. 

March 9, 2017 — The Chiefs decline the second-year option on Foles' contract, making him a free agent. 

March 13, 2017 — Foles signs a two-year deal to become Wentz's backup in Philadelphia. 

March 31, 2017 — Keenum signs a one-year deal to be Bradford's backup in Minnesota. 

Sept. 17, 2017 — Keenum gets his first start for the Vikings, who lost 26-9 to the Steelers. He will then end up going 11-2 over the rest of the regular season and keeps his starting job. 

Dec. 10, 2017 — Foles takes over after Wentz tears his ACL late in the Eagles' 43-35 win over the Rams in Los Angeles. The next day, head coach Doug Pederson announces Foles will be the starter for the rest of the season. 

Jan. 13, 2018 — Foles completes 76.7 percent of his passes for 246 yards in the Eagles' narrow 15-10 win over the Falcons in the divisional round. 

Jan. 14, 2018 — Keenum throws a prayer of a pass with seconds left against the Saints in his first playoff game. Stefon Diggs comes down with it, Saints safety Marcus Williams whiffs and the Vikings win in a "Minnesota Miracle," 29-24. 

Jan. 21, 2018 — Foles and Keenum, two former teammates and backup quarterbacks, will meet in the NFC Championship Game at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia. 

Eagles now know 1st playoff opponent

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Eagles now know 1st playoff opponent

There will be a battle of the birds in Philadelphia next weekend. 

With the sixth-seeded Falcons' 26-13 win over the Rams Saturday night, they earned a trip to Philly to play the top-seeded Eagles in a week. 

The Eagles will host the Falcons next Saturday at 4:35 p.m. at the Linc on NBC. 

Because the Eagles were the top seed, they get to face the lowest remaining seed, which will be the Falcons. Had the Falcons lost, they would have faced the winner of the Saints and Panthers. 

But the Falcons it is. 

Atlanta went 10-6, securing the second and final wild-card spot in the NFC this season. They lost to the Bills, Dolphins, Patriots, Panthers, Vikings and Saints this season. Five of those six were playoff teams. 

And this is the same Atlanta team that should have won the Super Bowl last season before blowing a 28-3 lead to Tom Brady and the Patriots. 

Atlanta had the eighth-best offense in the NFL this season, averaging 364.8 yards, but was just 15th in scoring, averaging 22.1 points. The Falcons averaged 249.4 through the air and 115.4 on the ground. They were pretty balanced. 

The Falcons' defense gave up just 19.7 points per game this season, eighth-best in the NFL. They were ninth against the run and 12th against the pass. 

The Eagles and Falcons didn't face each other in 2017, but they did in 2016. The Eagles beat the Falcons, 24-15, on Nov. 13, 2016, at the Linc. In that game, the Eagles held the Falcons to 303 total yards of offense and just 11 first downs. The Eagles held the ball for over 38 minutes. 

The Eagles have faced the Falcons three times in the playoffs. They’ve only faced the Cowboys more — four times.

In 1978, they lost a wild-card game to the Falcons, 14-13, at Fulton County Stadium, with the one-point differential coming when Mike Michel missed a PAT. Michel was the Eagles’ punter and was only placekicking because the Eagles didn’t replace kicker Nick Mike-Mayer when he got hurt late in the season. That was Michel’s final NFL game.

The other two meetings with the Falcons had happier endings.

In 2002, the Eagles hosted the Falcons in a conference semifinal game and won 20-6 on Bobby Taylor’s pick-six off Falcons quarterback Michael Vick. Donovan McNabb threw a 35-yard TD pass in the fourth quarter to James Thrash. 

And in the 2004 NFC Championship Game, McNabb threw two touchdown passes to tight end Chad Lewis, who suffered a season-ending foot injury on the second one, which turned a 10-point fourth-quarter lead into a clinching 17-point lead with 3 1/2 minutes left.

The Falcons were 3-8 in franchise history in road playoff games before Saturday night's win.