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."