Anything the Patriots can do, the Eagles can probably do better. It could be winning the Super Bowl, or executing the exact same trick play.
In the Eagles’ first meaningful contest since winning the Super Bowl six months ago, with a statue outside Lincoln Financial Field immortalizing the game’s most famous moment, Doug Pederson shocked the world once again with his gutsy play-calling Thursday. On 3rd-and-5 in the third quarter, his team trailing the Falcons by three, Corey Clement took the handoff, then pitched the football to Nelson Agholor — who quickly threw it to quarterback Nick Foles for a 15-yard gain and a first down.
The stadium went crazy. The internet exploded. Who could believe they would do it again?
“It’s Philly Philly,” Pederson said of the call, the famous words Foles spoke to his head coach before catching a touchdown in the big one.
But if the play looked familiar, it wasn’t just Foles doing his best Alshon Jeffery impression. It wasn’t the same play the Eagles ran in the Super Bowl, either.
It was the same design the Patriots tried — and failed — to execute against the Eagles because Tom Brady dropped the wide-open pass.
“That's where we got it from,” Pederson said. “We just put different people in the game,” noting the Eagles were in 12 personnel at the time, while the Patriots ran it out of 11.
Initially, Pederson stated matter-of-factly that Philly Philly was part of the game plan, and it was the right down, distance and spot on the field to make the call. There was more to it than that, though. At that point in the game, midway through the third quarter, Foles was still struggling to find his rhythm, and the Eagles had scored all of three points.
“Offensively, we were sort of misfiring a little bit early in the game, first half in particular,” Pederson said. “We came out in the second half, and just the same type of thing, and just were looking for a big play, somebody to make a play, and you kind of look for that from time to time.
“Again, just felt like it was the right time to make that call, and the guys executed it well.”
The Eagles needed a spark, and Clement had a feeling before the game Philly Philly might be the play to provide it.
“I think something about this play was definitely going to make an impact,” Clement said. “It got the crowd into it, got us into it. It gave us a little boost, and that’s what we needed.”
Foles’ catch extended the drive, ending in a touchdown to give the Eagles their first lead. They would only reach the end zone one more time in an 18-12 victory, but the offense seemed to loosen up from that point on.
There was never any concern the Falcons would know what was coming, either. The Eagles varied the look enough that the defense would never suspect it.
“We knew what we were getting on this play,” Clement said. “Catch them on their toes and hit one over the top.”
People joked about the possibility Pederson could pull such a stunt again, but who actually saw this coming?
“Coach Pederson has a great gut feeling, and when he feels like something needs to be called, he just lets it go and believes in the players to make it happen,” Clement said.
The guys in that huddle must have some great poker faces. No cracking a smile, no laughing, no running to the line of scrimmage with extra gusto. Nothing before the snap can give the defense the slightest hint of what’s to come.
“You don’t want to give it away,” Agholor said. “You don’t want to get too excited and somebody’s thinking trick play. You just have to make the play.”
Easier said than done for Agholor, who had arguably the toughest job of all on Philly Philly, running to his right and delivering a perfect strike to Foles streaking down the field. Trey Burton made it look easy in the Super Bowl. Of course, Burton — a tight end by trade — played quite a bit of quarterback, even in his college years at the University of Florida.
Agholor was the backup quarterback for his high school team but hadn’t been under center since he was in “little league.” And the last time he attempted a pass in an organized setting did not go so well.
“Spring game in college,” Agholor said. “Interception.”
Despite his lack of experience, Agholor’s pass earned the approval of Burton, who was watching the his former teammates while awaiting his Bears debut Sunday.
Then again, maybe Agholor’s task wasn’t as difficult as it looked. After all, Foles is proving himself to be quite the receiver.
“Nick Foles is an absolute athlete,” Agholor said. “Ultimate frisbee, like All-American. As long as I just give him an opportunity, he’ll go get it.”
First, Foles needs to get the record straight about something. There seems to be a lack of clarity regarding which play was "Philly Philly," and which was the "Philly Special."
“The first version was the ‘Philly Special,’” Foles said. “This is actually ‘Philly Philly.’ I miscalled it, I guess, in the Super Bowl, so it got both. Now, we have a ‘Philly Philly.’”
Foles really is a good receiver, by the way, or at least he works on it. Neither the Patriots nor the Falcons seemed to take notice, but a reporter observed the quarterback running some routes during pre-game workouts Thursday.
It turns out, that wasn’t a signal to opposing defenses or anything at all. That’s just Foles being Foles.
“I actually do that every warm-up,” he said. “It’s a way for me to go out there and be a kid for a little bit. Warm up the body, catch. I’ve done it my entire life and it’s something I still do. Coaches probably think I’m crazy for doing it, but it’s something I enjoy doing.”
One coach who almost certainly does not think Foles is crazy is Pederson. To the contrary, those two are apparently on the exact same wavelength when it comes to this trickery.
When Foles — incorrectly — requested Philly Philly during the Super Bowl, his coach was already considering it. Six months later, different play, different opponent, different building, different personnel, different situation, but Foles and Pederson still on the exact same page.
“Honestly, we were both thinking the same thing at the same time,” Foles said. “I went over there to talk to him to say this might be a good time and he pointed to the call sheet and it was like, ‘That was what I was coming over here for.’”
They say Pederson is a players’ coach, after all. He was just giving his quarterback and the rest of the team what they want.
“I love having plays like that,” Foles said. “Our team loves it. I mean, everyone loves a good trick play.”
And why not when it’s working?
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