EAGLES SURVIVE AND ADVANCE TO MEET SEATTLE IN WILD CARD ROUND
EAST RUTHERFORD: Survive and advance. That has been the Eagles goal on a weekly basis for over a month now.
Behind Carson Wentz, the quarterback who has re-invented himself back to his 2017 MVP form and a defense that has used the play and leadership of its veterans Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox and Malcolm Jenkins to pull off four straight wins and found a spot in the playoffs for the third consecutive year under head coach Doug Pederson.
“We don’t give up,” Cox said after the Eagles knocked off the New York Giants 34-17 to clinch the NFC East. “We play for 60 minutes. The coaches are always on us hard. We depend on the leaders to lead and we’ve been doing a great job of that. Just hats off to Carson (Wentz). He’s been doing a really good job of taking care of that side of the football."
The Eagles regular-season journey ended on Sunday with the win over Big Blue. The win was the Birds fourth in a row, earning them the division title and the No. 4 seed in the upcoming playoffs.
The Eagles (9-7) will host the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday (4:40 PM NBC) at Lincoln Financial Field.
The Eagles locker room was festive after the game. Players were dancing, music was playing. Even Pederson was caught up in the moment.
“You should have been in there,” Pederson said at his post game press conference. “It was excitement, it was guys dancing, the music was going, guys are excited, and it’s a great feeling. We set out back in July, this was obviously one of our many goals this season, and obviously we can check this box. But what I love about this football team is how we have stuck together the entire season. Through all the ups and downs, through all the injuries, we’ve battled, we put ourselves in this position to win the NFC East, we’ve done that. But again, what I see from our players is they’re already talking about next week and coming to work this week and preparing for next week, and it just tells me that the guys are in the right frame of mind.”
There was a price for this win.
The Eagles were winning games over the last month using backups, practice squad players and a few signed off the street. If you thought the injury situation couldn't get any worse, the Eagles lost rookie running back sensation Miles Sanders, cornerback Avante Maddox, defensive end Daeshon Hall and All Pro offensive guard Brandon Brooks during the game to various injuries.
Hall (ACL) and Brooks (separated shoulder) are lost for the season.
The Eagles were already playing without Pro Bowlers Zach Ertz, at tight end and tackle Lane Johnson, plus a slew of other starters including wide receivers DeSean Jackson, Nelson Agholor and Alshon Jeffery.
Pederson was asked after the game if he thinks about how he is able to advance and survive with so many injured players.
“I mean, in the back of my mind, it did cross my mind, like, ‘Man, when can we catch a break with some of these injuries?’” Pederson said. “But it’s just, Boston (Scott) Stepped up, Vinny (Curry) stepped up, Derek (Barnett) stepped up, you can just go right down the list with the guys. I guess for me that’s what I’m most proud about, is how these guys respond.”
Scott, signed off the practice squad earlier this year, responded with 54 yards rushing on 19 carries and three touchdowns, plus four catches for 84 yards out of the backfield.
Wentz continued to lead the offense, was 23 of 40 for 289 yards, a touchdown pass, no interceptions or fumbles. He was not sacked.
The fourth-year signal caller was asked to look back how much of a leader he has tried to be through this winning run.
“I think that's what makes it that much more special,” Wentz said. “The camaraderie of the guys buying in and believing. Whether its guys on the defensive side or offensive side, we've had new playmakers every week. Different guys stepping up because guys are getting hurt and banged up. It's just fun to see guys step in big moments like that. Guys who were last year on the practice squad. For them to step up in the way they have and for guys to make plays, it's been so cool to see. I think that's what makes it that much more fun to do what we did and then hopefully we can go do something special."
The Eagles defense put pressure on rookie quarterback Daniel Jones for most of the game, but turned up the heat after Giants standout running back Saquon Barkley ripped off a 68-yard touchdown run, tying the score 17-17 with 2:05 left in the third quarter.
In the fourth quarter, the Birds sacked Jones three times (four for the game), intercepted him once and forced him to fumble, recovered by Fletcher Cox at the Giants two-yard line setting up Scott's second touchdown.
The Eagle scored 17 consecutive points on the fourth quarter to finish the job.
“You see how you have to keep fighting,” Graham said in the locker room after the game. “We talked about it as a defense, getting turnovers, that's what got us going.”
Graham, who finished the game with three solo tackles, a sack, a tackle for loss and a quarterback hurry, said finishing the season with four consecutive wins and winning the NFC East, ranked high on his list of personal achievements. But he made it clear the Eagles are not done yet.
“To finish the season like this is satisfying,” Graham said. “But like coach said, we ain't done yet. We've got to put in this work. Whether we play Saturday or Sunday, we've got to make these days count.”
Matt Pryor came in for Brooks and was productive. The second-year offensive lineman out of TCU has played in 12 games during his brief career, no starts. Pryor admitted it took a few plays to settle down.
“Yeah, I think getting those three plays before the half kind of settled me in,” the 6-foot-7, 332 ponder said. “When I went out there (after the half), I already knew what I had to do.”
Scott talked about the Eagles offensive line and its depth. The Birds started the game without Johnson at right tackle. Halapoulivaati Vaitai has started in his place for the last two games.
“They're one of the best lines in the league in my opinion,” Scott said at his locker after the game. “Their athleticism, their physicality, they just do an incredible job. And again, you see instances of next man up. Brooks goes down, Pryor comes in and we're still able to be productive in the running game. That's what it's all about . I can't say enough about those guys, coach Stout (O-line coach Jeff Stoutland) and how he coach those guys up and prepares us, protection plan and the run game, it's incredible to really see them do what they do on a daily basis. I'm really excited to run behind them”
There was at least one player in the Giants locker room after the game who admired, at least to a certain degree, what the Eagles had accomplished.
Right guard Kevin Zeitler was a major piece in the Giants-Cleveland Browns trade of Giants star wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.
The eight-year veteran out of Wisconsin was asked if the Giants could emulate some of the traits the Eagles showed this year with regards to finding ways to win, regardless of the challenges that they were confronted with.
“One hundred percent,” Zeitler said at his locker after the game. “You always got to find a way to find a way to win. Even when things aren't going your way or find a way to turn a game around, just like that. Obviously they were able to do it right now. We need to be able to do it down the road.”
Right now, the only road the Eagles want to find is the one that takes them to Miami. *
Follow Al Thompson on Twitter @thompsoniii