EAGLES POUND FALCONS, EARN TRIP TO NFC TITLE GAME AT THE LINC
Don’t look now but the Eagles are just four quarters away from competing in Super Bowl LII. If they pull it off, it will be the club’s third trip to the Big Game in franchise history.
The top-seeded Birds pounded out a 15-10 win over the Atlanta Falcons Saturday at Lincoln Financial Field in the NFC Divisional Round and will face the No. 2 seed Minnesota Vikings who beat the New Orleans Saints on a walk-off an answered prayer 61-yard touchdown pass from Case Keenum to Stefon Diggs.
The Eagles-Falcons game went down to a final play as well, at least for the visitors.
Trailing 15-10 with 5:57 left in the fourth quarter, quarterback Matt Ryan, a Philadelphia native, took Atlanta from their own 24-yard line and drove all the way to the Eagles two-yard line with 1:05 left in the fourth quarter.
But the Eagles defense stiffened up, stopping the Falcons on a fourth and goal from the two when second-year cornerback Jalen Mills defended a throw from Ryan to Pro Bowl wide receiver Julio Jones to the corner of the end zone that effectively ended the game.
After the game Mills talked about the play.
“I knew when (No.) 11 broke the huddle, they were going to him,” said Mills, who finished with two passes defended and a tackle. “It’s fourth down and you just know they’re going to get him the ball. I kind of ID’d the formation, both my safeties kind of called out the play as well. We were locked in.
“It was kind of a double move,” continued Mills, describing Jones’ route on the final play. “He was acting like he was going to run a fade on me then tried to sit it down at the last minute…we were tussling at the top of the route, Matt (Ryan) threw it and it got tipped up. I played it through his hands. I turned around to see where his hands were. They always teach you to play through the receiver’s hands, to put your hands in the pocket of the (receiver’s) hands. That’s what I did.”
The Eagles got off to a rough start.
The one thing the Eagles knew they couldn’t do is turn the ball over if they wanted to beat Atlanta.
So on their first possession that is exactly what the Birds did. Torrey Smith drew a 42-yard pass interference call on cornerback Brian Poole on the opening play of the game on a bomb thrown by Nick Foles that seemed to get caught in the wind in mid flight.
On first and ten at the Atlanta 33, running back Jay Ajayi lost a fumble after a six-yard gain.
Atlanta drove 59 yards on 11 plays to score on a 33-yard Matt Bryant field goal to go up 3-0.
But good luck stayed with Foles as the Birds made it 63 yards on pass interference calls in the first quarter when Mack Hollins drew another pass interference call, this time on cornerback Desmond Trufant.
But another fumble killed the drive. This time it was a bad exchange between running back LeGarrette Blount and Nick Foles, Blount recovered the ball but the miscue resulted in a seven-yard loss and the drive fizzled.
The Eagle scored the first touchdown of the game in the second quarter after a 14-play 86-yard drive that ended with a one-yard run by Blount on fourth down. Tight end Trey Burton provided a great block on the run.
The Eagles had a TD called back on the previous play when Foles again had a bad exchange, this time with rookie running back Corey Clement. The ball was recovered by Foles near the goal line. The quarterback lunged over the goal line and at first appeared to have scored. The play was reviewed and overturned.
Jake Elliott missed the extra point clanking the ball off the left upright.
The highlight of the drive was a wide receiver counter to Nelson Agholor that went 21 yards to the three-yard line.
Later in the second quarter, he Eagles turned the ball over again after a fair catch was called for by Kenjon Barner after a 30-yard punt by Atlanta’s Matt Bosher. Barner did not attempt to catch the ball. When it hit the turf, the ball took a freak bounce sideways and accidentally hit Special Teams Ace Bryan Brayman on his side as he was making a block.
Atlanta took over on the Eagles 18-yard line.
The Eagles committed two penalties before Ryan hit Devonta Freeman with a six-yard touchdown pass to make the score 10-6.
Those would the last points the Falcons would score.
It would also signal a turn for the good in the way Foles was playing.
In one of the most bazaar drives of the season, the Eagles stole three points when a sure interception thrown by Foles bounced off the lap of cornerback Keanu Neal and right into the arms of Smith who turned it into a 20-yard gain.
Foles then brilliantly hit Alshon Jeffery for a 15-yard gain with one second left in the half. Elliott proceeded to convert a 53-yard field goal to make the score 10-9 at intermission.
The only scores of the second half with two field goal by Elliott who hit from 37- and 21 yards.
Foles who settled down after some errant throws, finished with a respectable 246 yards on 23-of-30 passing with no picks.
Atlanta tight end Austin Hooper talked about the Eagles defense
“They were playing lot of single hide good mix of man and zone,” Hopper said. “You have to give credit where credit is due, They’re a good defense, they made more plays than we did. That’s just kind of it.”
Five-time Pro Bowl center Alex Mack also talked about the Eagles defense
“It was a real good defensive front we were up against,” Mack said. “I think we had some chances, had a couple shots. We knew they were going to be up-the-field explosive kind of guys. We just needed to limit some of the negative plays and capitalize on some of the positive ones a bit more. It was tough for us to stay on schedule for us. We never got into the groove we wanted to. It was close. It’s tough to put your finger on what didn’t go quite right.”
Mills on the Eagles style of play Saturday night.
“We played our type of football we’ve been playing all year,” Mills said. “Guys were focused all week since the bye week…not knowing who we were playing but just competing at a high level, one’s versus one’s. Then going into this week of preparation, the energy level at practice was crazy Guys were competing at a very high level and I think that showed up here today.”
Eagles All Pro tackle Lane Johnson on the crowd noise at the Linc.
“Huge, huge,” Johnson said with a big smile. “ It was cold, it was frisky, we had guys and girls raising hell all night. It was the most energy I’ve seen in a long time here.”
Follow Al Thompson on Twitter @thompsoniii