One of the more underrated plays in the Eagles’ season-opening win over the Falcons was Corey Clement’s 21-yard run on a huge third down in the closing minutes of the game.
Consider the situation:
The Eagles trailed, 12-10, with 3:57 left in the game and faced a 3rd-and-2 on the Falcons’ 35-yard line.
So if the Eagles didn’t get the first down, it would have taken a 53- or 54-yard Jake Elliott field goal to take the lead. Elliott can make that kick, but it’s not a layup. Miss it, and the Falcons would get the ball just inside midfield with 3½ minutes left with a two-point lead.
Clement, who made such a huge impact in the Super Bowl, had been a non-factor to that point with just three carries for one yard and no receptions.
But with the game hanging in the balance and Jay Ajayi and Darren Sproles both available, Doug Pederson went with Clement.
The second-year undrafted running back from Glassboro, New Jersey, responded with the third-longest run of his career, barreling through a huge hole up the middle carved out by left guard Stefen Wisniewski and center Jason Kelce for a 21-yard gain and a first down at the Atlanta 14.
Two plays later, Ajayi scored from 11 yards out and a few minutes later the defense closed out the Falcons, and the Eagles were 1-0.
“It’s always good to be able to spark anything, whether it’s in the pass game or the running game,” Clement said.
“I just kept believing in the system. I knew something was going to happen. We know what we have. We know how to run.”
Let’s put Clement’s run in perspective.
How rare is a run of at least 20 yards on third down in the final four minutes of a game on a go-ahead drive?
The Pro Football Reference play finder goes back to 1994, and Clement’s is the only one the Eagles have had in the last 25 years.
Using the PFR team game finder, I searched prior to 1994 for games in which the Eagles trailed at some point and won, then searched those box scores to see if they had a 20-yard run at any point, and if they did, I used the NFLgsis game book archive to see if that 20-yard run came on a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter.
That goes as far back as 1981 and still no sign of another such run.
So Clement is the only Eagle with a 20-yard run on third down in the closing minutes on a game-winning drive in at least 38 years.
Up until that play, the Eagles’ running backs had managed just 53 yards on 22 carries, less than 2½ yards per pop.
Clement’s blast up the middle helped end an evening of frustration for the running back room and the offense.
“We weren’t going to let up on the running game at all, it was just a matter of time before something hit,” Clement said.
“They’re a fast-flowing linebacker group and we knew if we could get them on their heels slanting in the wrong direction, one could hit right up the middle.
“I got one right up the gut. Should have scored, [was] mad at myself, but set up the offense.”
Clement, who finished with 26 yards on five carries, got only 13 touches on offense, a little surprising considering the impact he made last year in the playoffs.
“Everybody has to get in,” he said. “Whoever has the hot hand is rolling. We’re not a selfish group at all. Sproles is rolling, he’s rolling. Jay, me, Wendell (Smallwood), Josh Adams, whoever has the hot hand is going to keep rolling.
“Coach Pederson is going to do a great job of mixing everyone in and out and keeping us fresh.”