NFL playoffs

These 4 Eagles want another serving or two

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AP Images

These 4 Eagles want another serving or two

It took Nigel Bradham six years in the NFL before he got a chance to play in his first playoff game. 

He's not taking any of this for granted. 

"It's funny, man, because you think, 'Damn, I've been playing in the league six years and this is my first appearance,'" Bradham said this week as the Eagles prepare for Sunday's NFC Championship Game. "You kind of be like, 'Dang, man, why'd it take so long?' It's more than just you, obviously. It's a team sport. I've been fortunate enough to be on a great team and to have the opportunity. 

"Right now, I'm 1-0 and I'm looking forward to having more success in the playoffs. It's definitely an amazing feeling."

Bradham isn't the only Eagles player in a similar situation. Stefen Wisniewski, in his seventh season, and Rodney McLeod and Alshon Jeffery, both in their sixth seasons, all played in their first playoff game last Saturday against the Falcons. 

The group, which had a combined 369 regular-season games without a playoff appearance, finally got a taste of the postseason. They're not ready for this ride to end. 

Because no one ever really knows how long it might take to get back. 

"The feeling was great," McLeod said. "To go out there, first playoff game, at home and come out with the win. Couldn't ask for a better story. 

"But now knowing that game is history and moving on to the Vikings, who are a great team and they've been like that all year. We're going to have to elevate our game even more than last week if we want to get to that next step. The road to the Super Bowl doesn't get easier."

All four definitely made their impact felt against the Falcons last Saturday. Bradham played well all game and came up huge on the final fourth down. McLeod was called for a personal foul, but it was a weak call and either way, it saved a touchdown. Jeffery caught four passes for 61 yards, including some that came in huge situations. And Wisniewski played his best game since joining the Eagles two years ago. 

Jeffery called the atmosphere at the Linc against the Falcons "electric" and expects the same type of level from fans this Sunday in the NFC Championship Game. 

"I just try to stay in the moment, stay locked in," Jeffery said about his first playoff run. "I'm not trying to reflect on anything right now. I think I'll do that after the season, when the season is officially over with. Right now, I'm just trying to do a great job trying to stay locked in one day at a time." 

It's pretty clear it meant a lot to Jeffery to finally make it to the playoffs, but he's also very clearly not happy with just getting there. He's always a calm guy during the week, but it's obvious he's working to keep his emotions in check. 

"Of course, we all know we're one game away from the Super Bowl," Jeffery said, "but you just have to be relaxed and try to not go out there and think about that." 

Of course, these four players aren't the only first-timers the Eagles have in the playoffs. They have many more. It's just that these four had to wait the longest. 

In the week leading into the Falcons game, head coach Doug Pederson admitted he of course wondered how his first-timers would perform under the bright lights of the playoffs. Based on one win, he got a pretty quick answer. 

One thing is for sure: the four guys who had to all wait at least six seasons for their first taste of the playoffs will do almost anything to keep this going. 

"This is what we worked for," Bradham said. "When you go back to OTAs and all your training and doing everything in the offseason with the guys, 7-on-7 and things like that. This is what it's all for. You put all that work in, man, and you know what's on the line. We all are excited. We're just ready to go out here and play."

Eagles D or Vikings D? Cox ready to answer

Eagles D or Vikings D? Cox ready to answer

Before the Eagles faced the Falcons, defensive tackle Fletcher Cox was ready to prove himself. He wanted his high-priced defensive line to show it was worth the money, and he wanted to lead the way. 

Cox barely left the field on Saturday. 

And he dominated. 

"Me taking a lot of snaps, I get in a whole lot of rhythm," Cox said on Wednesday. "I think that affected my play and everybody else just followed. 

"I just said to myself, 'Go out and take over the game and everybody else will follow.' I think it kind of rubbed off on them."

The Eagles' Pro Bowl defensive tackle finished the divisional round game with seven combined tackles, one sack, two tackles for loss and two quarterback hits. He led the way for the Eagles' defense in the 15-10 win. 

Cox was an absolute game-wrecker. 

"He was a man on a mission and just took a lot of it upon himself and got the rest of the D-line going a little bit," head coach Doug Pederson said. 

The Eagles went into Saturday's game with just three defensive tackles active. While Tim Jernigan (29 snaps) and Beau Allen (26 snaps) played 46 and 41 percent, respectively, Cox played 57 of 63 snaps (90 percent). 

Cox knew he was going to play a ton in that game. He was well-rested after the long layoff and was ready for his second career playoff game. 

"I was super excited," Cox said. "I wasn't coming off the field. I think I played 57 snaps. I wasn't tired. Beau always asks me how you do it. I just find a way."

The Eagles' $100 million man needs to find a way to do it again. 

On Wednesday, Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer called Cox an "outstanding player," but Zimmer has some pretty impressive players on his defense too. The Vikings have the top-ranked defense in the NFL with an impressive defensive line that features pass-rusher Everson Griffen and big veteran tackle Linval Joseph. 

"I think in order for us to win this game, man, our defense is going to have to play really good," Cox said. "We know — and everybody else knows — I think this game is going to be one possession. We gotta get some takeaways on defense. 

"But at the end of the day, it's going to come down to is our D-line better than theirs? I mean, they got a dominant D-line, we have a dominant D-line. And we'll see who shows up on Sunday."

This week, the Eagles are back on their disrespect kick. For the second straight playoff game, they're going to be home underdogs as the No. 1 seed. They used it as fuel before the Atlanta game and they're going to use it as fuel as they get ready for the Vikings. 

There are going to be a bunch of dog masks inside the Linc on Sunday. 

"At the end of the day, respect is not given," Cox said. "We have to go take it like we've been doing all year. We're ready to go out and dominate."

Doug Pederson, the unorthodox play-caller

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Photo: NBCSP

Doug Pederson, the unorthodox play-caller

In a key moment of the Eagles' 15-10 divisional round win over the Falcons, Doug Pederson dialed up a screen pass to Jay Ajayi on 2nd-and-10. It didn't really work, gaining just three yards. 

So he called it again. 

The next time, Ajayi caught the ball, got some tremendous blocks in front of him and ran for a huge 32-yard gain on third down that eventually led to an enormous field goal in the fourth quarter. In the biggest moment in the biggest game of the season, Pederson ran virtually the same play on consecutive downs. 

Why? 

"Back to back? There you go," the gutsy Pederson said with a smile. "Sometimes you can catch a group off guard when they don't expect two screens back to back."

When asked what he's learned about Pederson as a play-caller in their two years together, offensive coordinator Frank Reich said Pederson is "a little more unorthodox at times — in a good way."

Pederson was certainly unorthodox last Saturday at the Linc, but as he has all season, he just seemed to push the right buttons at the right times. In just his second full year as a play-caller, Pederson, aggressive in nature, has blossomed into one of the best and most unique play-callers in the NFL. 

The Eagles will need another gem from him on Sunday against the NFL's best defense if they hope to advance to Super Bowl LII. 

"I don't think I go in there consciously saying, ‘I'm going to be unorthodox,’" Pederson said. "I think you either have it or you don't. Listen, if you just look at what I've done in two years, you'd probably call me unorthodox with some of the decisions I've made on fourth downs and going for it, two-point conversions, things like that. And I've told you guys this before that sometimes you just don't do the norm, just don't do what everybody expects you to do and sometimes that can help you.

"I'm calculated about it but at the same time, I'm going to make sure that I'm putting our guys in a good position."

Nick Foles hasn't had the benefit of being under Pederson as a play-caller for as many games as Carson Wentz, but Foles said he's "absolutely" on the same page as Pederson. Whenever the play gets called into his headset, he said he knows immediately what Pederson is thinking. 

That includes the times when Pederson might call something that's just a bit unorthodox and aggressive. 

"I love it. I love it," Foles said. "That's how I think, too. I think just keeping a defense off balance in those situations. The fact that we're continuing to talk about the back-to-back screens is sort of shocking to me because it's just one of those things when you're in the game and you play, like you want to keep the defense off balance. You don't want them to hone in on what you're doing because if they do, especially [the Vikings'] defense, they are very good."

Of course, there are other examples, aside from the back-to-back screen passes — which he had done once before in Kansas City — that illustrate Pederson's unorthodox style. There are all the times he goes for it on fourth down; Vikings coach Mike Zimmer noted the Eagles sometimes go for it on 4th-and-1 in a close game and 4th-and-6 in a blowout. 

There are even plays like the 21-yard Nelson Agholor run Pederson dialed up in the second quarter on Saturday. Reich explained that with a play like that, the way it often works is a coach will have an idea from watching film or from their past and the staff tries to debug it and figure out how that play or idea might fit with the Eagles. They work on it in practice until it's ready. If it isn't, they "keep it in the Crock-Pot for another week or start over with a new recipe." 

The influence of Andy Reid on Pederson's career is obvious, but on Wednesday, Pederson pointed toward two other guys who helped create his play-calling style. His former head coaches in Green Bay, Mike Holmgren, an innovator of the West Coast offense, and Mike Sherman, who was more creative in the run game. 

However Pederson's play-calling style developed, it has turned into a huge advantage for the Eagles and it's been one of his greatest strengths. 

"There [are] things that he's called that at the time I thought, that's unique, I'm not sure that would have hit my brain like that, and many times those things have worked out," Reich said. "So that's been fun to see and fun to work with."