LANDOVER: On Sunday, the Eagles took another step in their quest to win the NFC East and clinch the No. 4 seed that guarantees a home playoff game against the No. 5 seed in the NFC playoffs.
For the second consecutive week, the Birds (7-7) needed a clutch performance from their franchise quarterback Carson Wentz and their rookies and backups to pull out a 37-27 win over division rival Washington Redskins (3-11).
The Eagle face the Dallas Cowboy (7-7) Sunday at 4:25 PM (FOX) at Lincoln Financial Field for what is basically the division championship.
Many national pundits predicted the Eagles will win the NFC East even after their loss to the lowly Miami Dolphins because the remainder of the schedule was the easiest in the NFL.
So much for an easy schedule.
It took overtime to knock off the Giants on December 8, and a pair of touchdown drives in the fourth quarter against the Redskins, the second ending with 26 ticks on the clock when Wentz threaded a four-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Greg Ward Jr., a 24-year-old who started the season on the Birds practice squad.
Center Jason Kelce was he thought of the Eagles had an easy schedule to end the season.
“Yeah, right,” Kelce said with a laugh at his locker after the game. “There is no such thing as an easy schedule in the NFL, right?” These guys (Washington) make up a good defense. I don't want to take anything away from them. They've been a good defense for a long time.
Same thing with the Giants. In the NFL nowadays, You don't see a lot of cakewalk games. For us to start winning, winning on the road, heading into playing Dallas on a two-game winning streak, coming to the Linc, this is all we could do.”
The Eagles won the toss and elected to defer to the second half. After stopping the Redskins opening drive, the Eagles took over at their own five-yard line.
Wentz drove the offense 88 yards on 16 plays, taking up 7:40 on the clock only to see the drive stall at the Washington seven-yard line. Jake Elliott kicked a 25-yard field goal to give the Birds a 3-0 lead.
For the rest of the game, Washington's offense looked nothing like the unit that was averaging just 14 points a game and was starting a rookie quarterback with a 61.2 QB rating.
The Redskins struck quickly with 75-yard Dwayne Haskins touchdown pass to fellow rookie and Ohio State teammate Terry McLaurin. It was 7-3, Redskins after the first quarter.
On the next drive, Eagles rookie receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside had a another tough missed opportunity when dropped a pass in the end zone he should have caught.
Then the Eagles made it worse with consecutive penalties for a combined 15 yards. The Redskins then chipped in with a roughing the passer penalty 15 yards. The Eagles followed by a holding penalty on Arcega-Whiteside.
The Birds pressed on and finished the drive with a one-yard run by Miles Sanders to make the score 10-7.
But the Redskins responded with a 75-yard, seven-play drive that ended with five-yard touchdown pass from Haskins to Steven Sims. The half ended with Washington in the lead 14-10.
Like they have so many times this year, the Eagles offense came to life in the second half.
The Birds scored the only touchdown of the third quarter when Wentz led the Eagles on a 12-play drive that ended with a brilliant 15-yard pass from the embattled quarterback to Sanders in the far corner of the end zone. The quarter ended with the visitors leading 17-14.
The Redskins took a 21-17 lead early in the fourth quarter on a 10-yard run by the ageless Adrian Peterson.
The drama continued. The Eagles took a 24-21 lead on a two-yard touchdown pass from Wentz to tight end Zack Ertz.
The Redskins kicked two field goals to take a 27-24 lead with 4:52 left in the fourth.
Backed by thousands of Eagles fans who made the trip to FedEx Field, Wentz looked every bit a franchise quarterback leading the Eagles on a game-winning 75-yard drive that ended with the scoring pass to Ward. Wentz was 8 of 8 on the drive for 70 yards.
For most of the game, Wentz was leaning on the rookie Sanders and practice squad players like Ward and running Boston Scott.
Linebacker Nigel Bradham scored on a 47-yard scoop-and-score on a fumble by Haskins on the last play of the game.
Ward was asked what he was thinking when the touchdown throw was in the air.
"It's mine regardless," said Ward, who finished with seven catches for 61 yards. "That was my whole mindset."
Wentz, who was 30 of 43 for 266yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions, said the game was special.
“It means a lot to me,” said Wentz, who was sacked twice and lost a fumble. “To come from behind, our backs against the wall. A lot at stake. To have an opportunity to finish it off and get it done, obviously, it means a lot to me.”
Kelce said the game meant a lot to the entire team
“It's not just Carson, it's everybody,” Kelce said. “Momentum is a real thing. Generally, when you pull out close games...we've had two losses that have been more than seven points. We've had a lot of games that have been very, very close. The bottom line in this league, good teams find ways to win those close games. The more your pull them out, the more you overcome adversity, the more you do that, naturally the better you're going to feel.”
Sanders had a monster game rushing 19 times for 122 yards and a touchdown. The rookie out of Penn State also caught six passes for 50 yards and another TD.
Kelce said he has seen improvement in Sanders all year.
“You saw that against Buffalo, really, he really took a step forward,” Kelce said. “He's locked in on his reads. Early on, I think he was a little bit overwhelmed. He's got that burst. Sometimes that can be a little bit of a negative if you use it at the wrong moment. I think what you're seeing now is a guy that is patient, when he sees the thing open up, he hits it, and with the athleticism that he has, the big play ability that he has, it's something that quite frankly we've needed in this offense."
Haskins passed 28 times, completing 19 passes for 261 yards and two touchdown passes.
Second-year cornerback Avonte Maddox said when a game turns into a shootout, it is important for the defense to stay focused and not lose faith.
“You have to keep grinding each and every play to the last,” said Maddox, who recorded three solo tackles and knocked down two passes. “That’s definitely our motto…never quit and always finish.”
Maddox was asked about the Eagles confidence going into the game against Dallas this Sunday.
“Each week we want to go 1-0,” Maddox said. “Next week, it’s the Cowboys and we want to go 1-0.” *
Follow Al Thompson on Twitter @thompsoniii