After so many excruciating, last-minute postseason defeats — Aeneas Williams picking off Donovan McNabb in St. Louis, Scott Young jumping offsides in New Orleans, Tim Hightower converting on fourth down in Arizona, Tramon Williams picking off Michael Vick in the end zone, Cary Williams' horse-collar tackle on Darren Sproles — this happens.
This time, the Eagles made the plays in the final seconds of a postseason game, and for the first time in nine years, they have a playoff win, for the first time in 11 years they have a playoff win at the Linc and for the first time since 2004, they'll host the NFC Championship Game.
Eagles 15, Falcons 10, and I'm still in the press box looking out at the far corner of the north end zone looking for a flag on Jalen Mills on that fourth-down pass to Julio Jones and there isn't one (see breakdown).
See you guys next Sunday!
1. This is a special football team and anybody who didn't see that … I don't know what you were watching this year. Carson Wentz is a great quarterback, and I'd vote for him for MVP if I had a vote. But the Eagles were 13-3 because of 53 guys and they beat the Falcons Saturday because of 53 guys, and if this team didn't prove to you all year they were just made differently than Eagles teams of previous years, I don't know what to tell you. They have overcome so much, they have dealt with so much adversity, and they are now one win away from the Super Bowl. And you know what? Continue to doubt them at your own risk.
2. Nick Foles did Saturday was exactly what he had to do. He won the game. Foles looked skittish at first and I'm sure everybody at the Linc was thinking, "Here we go again." But you could gradually see him get comfortable. Get into a rhythm. And on that field goal drive to end the first half, he hit five straight passes — all at least 10 yards — to set up Jake Elliott's 53-yard field goal — and you could just tell he was locked in. By the fourth quarter, Foles looked sharp and confident. He finished with some big-time numbers — 23 for 30 for 246 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions(see grades). Dazzling? Nope. Good enough? Hell yeah!
3. I said for two weeks people were short-changing the Eagles' defense, and they played Saturday night like the elite unit I believed they were. The Falcons' only touchdown came on a short field — they only had to drive 18 yards — and that goal-line stand at the end of the game was absolutely a classic. Anybody who picked against the Eagles because Wentz is hurt apparently hasn't been paying attention to this defense. They held the Falcons to 10 points, 281 yards and just 86 rushing yards — just 36 in the second half. This is a tremendous group, and they played like it Saturday.
4. I don't know why Jay Ajayi didn't play in the second quarter and was really a non-factor after his hot start — 7 carries for 49 yards in the first quarter. Ajayi eventually got back in the game in the third quarter after sitting all but the first couple snaps of the second quarter, but he only had six carries (for five yards) after the first quarter while LeGarrette Blount got the bulk of the carries the rest of the way (and finished 9 for 19 with a TD). I like the running back by committee when you have equal backs. But when one guy is clearly more productive than the rest, you have to go with the hot hand. The Eagles escaped Saturday, but Ajayi needs to be the centerpiece of this offense for the season to continue beyond next Sunday.
5. Doug Pederson had a fantastic day in his first career postseason game. He really helped Foles get into a rhythm. He stuck with the run (26 total running plays). He was aggressive but smart. He got production from a lot of people. Here's a guy whose only head coaching experience before 16 months ago was in high school, and he's now in the NFC Championship Game after an upset playoff win despite losing his MVP quarterback, his Hall of Fame left tackle, his All-Pro returner and his best special teamer. Pederson has navigated this team through an awful lot this year, and now they're one home win away from the Super Bowl. That's my Coach of the Year.
6. Nigel Bradham might have been the Eagles' best defensive player Saturday, with the exception of Fletcher Cox. Bradham missed one tackle on an early 12-yard-run by Tevin Coleman but other than that he was superb in coverage, his tackling was solid and he made a huge third-down sack in the third quarter. Bradham, a six-year veteran playing in his first postseason game, has been very good all year, but this was a really big-time performance by the free-agent-to-be linebacker.
7. None of them had huge numbers, but I liked the way the Eagles' wide receivers played. Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith, Nelson Agholor and Mack Hollins combined for 11 catches for 133 yards and most importantly, no drops. When you have a quarterback who's trying to find his way like Foles has been doing, you need guys to help him out, and they did that Saturday. No touchdowns, no spectacular 54-yard gains but just solid football from a solid group.
8. How about this: Nick Foles is the 13th quarterback in NFL history with back-to-back postseason games with a 69 percent completion percentage, a 100 passer rating and 0 interceptions. Think about what that guy has been through over the past month. To come out and play like he did is astonishing.
9. OK, whoever heard of a kicker who is money from 50 yards and out and can even hit a game-winning 61-yarder in his second career game but … keeps missing PATs? It's nuts, really, and I don't know what to make of Jake Elliott. He sure makes some tough field goals. That 53-yarder in cold, windy conditions at the end of the first half was a huge kick — the longest in Eagles postseason history and the longest by a rookie in NFL playoff history. But he also missed another PAT … his NFL-leading fourth this year. What do you do with this guy? Caleb Sturgis is healthy and could kick, but you'd have to make a roster move to get him on the 53. The reality is Elliott is too much of a weapon to not use him. You just have to hope he figures out his PAT issues and he doesn't have a miss that turns out to be costly.
10. OK, I think the Eagles have a legit shot at getting to the Super Bowl. I really do. I think the Vikings would be a better draw for them than the Saints, but if Foles can play like he did Saturday — solid, efficient, smart — and the defense can continue playing the way it has, they're going to be very tough to beat.