EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Pure magic. That’s the only way to describe what just happened at MetLife Stadium.
With a collection of practice squad call-ups, deep backups and a miracle-worker quarterback, the Eagles won a game they had to win Sunday, beating the Giants 34-17 to clinch the NFC East title.
There were no shortage of heros, no shortage of miracles, no shortage of simply unbelievable moments.
Here’s our 10 instant observations from one of the most unforgettable days in the history of a franchise that’s had a lot of them recently.
1. By the time it was over, the Eagles were operating without these offensive players they were counting on when the season began: DeSean Jackson, Lane Johnson, Brandon Brooks, Zach Ertz, Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor, Corey Clement, Darren Sproles and Miles Sanders. That’s six Pro Bowlers, a couple key Super Bowl pieces and the best rookie in franchise history. Not to mention a bunch of guys on defense. For this team to shake all that off, to literally watch player after player limp off the field with a trainer, but still get out of here with a win over the Giants with the season at stake is one of the most remarkable things I’ve ever witnessed. They might not be the most talented Eagles team ever, but they may be the most resilient.
2. What Doug Pederson has done to keep this team motivated and focused and positive and hungry from 5-7 coming out of Miami through to 9-7 and this emotional win and an NFC East title is just remarkable. The Eagles are only the eighth team in NFL history to make the playoffs after sitting at 5-7. This group was so undermanned, so battered. Things appeared so hopeless leaving Miami. They had lost five of their last seven games, the injuries were mounting and then they blew a 17-point lead to a three-win Dolphins team. The Eagles haven’t lost since. I don’t know a lot of coaches who could keep the thing on the rails through all that. Pederson is a once-in-a-lifetime coach.
3. And what an astonishing performance by Carson Wentz. For him to play the way he did, make the throws he did and win this game throwing to Dallas Goedert, Greg Ward, Josh Perkins, Robert Davis, Deontay Burnett and Boston Scott? Just one of the greatest performances I’ve ever seen. Wentz broke Donovan McNabb’s Eagles single-season yardage record and became the first 4,000-yard passer in franchise history. But this is about so much more than the numbers. All I can say is if you didn’t believe in this guy before, you better now.
4. Here are your Eagles practice squad alums:
Burnett: Got to Philly Dec. 12, just promoted to the 53-man-roster on Monday. Was 2-for-48 with a 41-yard catch to set up the go-ahead field goal. It was the longest catch by an Eagles WR since Week 2.
Scott: 54 yards and three TDs rushing, 4-for-84 receiving.
Perkins: 3-for-43 with a 29-yard TD.
Add it up and you have 272 scrimmage yards and four TDs by guys who were on the Eagles’ practice squad this season. That’s simply astounding.
5. The defense deserves a ton of credit as well. The long Saquon Barkley TD run was unfortunate, but overall it was a terrific performance on a day when the Eagles desperately needed it. For the most part, coverage was tremendous, pressure was very good in the second half and the Eagles didn’t allow any pass plays over the top. Seven of the last nine games, this defense allowed 17 or fewer points. They scare the heck out of you and they never seem to make it easy, but in their biggest moment of the year with everything at stake, they got the job done.
6. The Eagles needed their two elite defensive players to have elite games Sunday, and it was only fitting that Malcolm Jenkins and Fletcher Cox combined on the defense’s biggest play of the year. With the Eagles up just three early in the fourth quarter, it was Jenkins that knocked the ball out of Daniel Jones’ hands deep in Giants territory and Cox who recovered it at the 1-yard-line to set up Scott’s pivotal TD. Jenkins and Cox aren’t quite what they used to be, but the Eagles desperately needed them Sunday and they delivered.
7. Cre’Von LeBlanc spent most of the season on Injured Reserve and only played six total snaps the last three weeks, but he was unbelievable Sunday. That was some of the best cornerback play we’ve seen around here in a long time. He is a stud. With Jalen Mills and Ronald Darby out and Avonte Maddox leaving early, LeBlanc was all over the field. He has to play a major role in this secondary next year. Heck, next week. Another practice squad alum, of course.
8. Just a few words about Scott. Think about him. He’s only on the team because of injuries to Sproles, Clement and Jordan Howard, and he’s only playing because of an injury to Miles Sanders and because Jay Ajayi didn’t have anything left. And he goes out there and makes play after play after play. What an amazing performance by yet another practice squad alum. He became only the third RB in franchise history with 50 yards rushing, 50 yards receiving and three TDs in a game. The other two were Wilbert Montgomery and Brian Westbrook. Sometimes this stuff doesn’t even seem real.
9. Just to put this in perspective: The Eagles are the first team in NFL history to make the playoffs in consecutive years after being 7-7 both years. The mental toughness we’ve seen from this group — whoever’s at quarterback — is something special.
10. I don’t know what the Eagles will have left when they face the loser of the 49ers-Seahawks game, presumably on Sunday. Maybe they’ll get Lane Johnson back. Maybe they’ll get Zach Ertz and Sanders back. Whoever they can get healthy, they’ll be heavy underdogs in their own stadium. But after what I’ve seen? I sure ain’t picking against them. This has been a magical run, and I don’t see any reason for it to end.
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