First and 10: Eagles Edge Falcons to Reach NFC Championship Game
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - Fourth-and-2 from the 2-yard line with 1:05 remaining for a berth in the NFC Championship Game.
That's what Sunday's divisional playoff contest between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Atlanta Falcons came down to on Saturday at Lincoln Financial Field.
Trailing 15-10, the Falcons put themselves on the precipice of a second consecutive NFC title tilt before Matt Ryan sprinted out right and extended the play, finally lofting a desperation pass to his All-Pro receiver Julio Jones.
Jones had slipped on the play and recovered enough to give Ryan a target as the veteran quarterback tried to fit in over cornerback Jalen Mills but the Pro Bowl alternate was stuck to Jones, who attempted to high-point the football.
It fell harmlessly to the turf as the Philadelphia faithful erupted with the knowledge that the Eagles were on their way to the NFC Championship Game to host either the Minnesota Vikings or New Orleans Saints next Sunday.
"Honestly we don't even care," linebacker Nigel Bradham said of his team's next opponent. "We're just going to watch the game. Obviously, we'll see a good game and get ready to prepare for whoever we're going to play next."
The first No. 1 seed to be labeled an underdog, the Eagles used that disrespect as bulletin-board material and it worked as embattled QB Nick Foles played competently and Jim Schwartz's defense proved to be lights out, allowing the high-powered Falcons to find the end zone only once, and that came on a short field when Atlanta took over at the Eagles' 18 after a botched punt return.
Foles, who has been dismissed in the lead up to the game, actually has better numbers than Ryan, the 2016 NFL MVP, finishing 23-for-30 for 246 yards and a 100.1 passer rating.
Jay Ajayi paced the running game with 54 yards on 15 carries and Alshon Jeffery caught four balls for 61 yards.
"The O-line did a great job today getting push off the ball," Ajayi said.
10 Things You Should Know:
-The Eagles defense dominated, putting together the franchise's first three-sack performance at home in the playoffs since the 2004 NFC Championship Game. Fletcher Cox, Nigel Bradham and Rodney McLeod all got to Ryan and the Falcons final play call, in which they sprinted out a veteran QB and essentially cut the field in half spoke to the realization that Atlanta felt it could not hold up against the Eagles.
"When they called that sprint out, everybody knew it," Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham said. "Everybody called it out."
"That's a play we practice all the time," Ryan explained. "Certainly in those situations, you want to go to your best players. You know obviously rolled to the right and had an opportunity to Julio. It just didn't work out and that's disappointing."
-Ryan was under pressure on 38.5 percent of his dropbacks, according to ProFootballFocus.com, the third-highest pressure rate he faced this season.
-Mills was tremendous in the game getting targeted four times and allowing just one reception for 12 yards as Ryan's passer rating was a dismal 39.6 when going after the Eagles' underrated second-year corner.
"We just went out and played with energy," Mills said. "We just took those first two quarters seeing our energy level, and we just matched it times two in the third and fourth quarter."
-After going 1-for-17 on third down in Foles' final five quarters during the regular season, Philadelphia finished 6-of-13 on Saturday, an impressive 46 percent and slightly better than the team had been doing with Carson Wentz. The Falcons, on the other hand, were 4-of-13 (31 percent).
-Jake Elliott's 53-yard field goal at the end of the first half was the longest field goal in Eagles postseason history, besting the 51-yarder David Akers nailed in 2009 at Minnesota.
"I kind of had deja vu going back to the Giants game," Elliott said. "Jeffery gets out of bounds with one second left. I was confident going into that kick."
-Philadelphia's offensive line showed up in a big way with Jason Kelce, Brandon Brooks, Lane Johnson and Stefen Wisniewski all delivering key blocks at times. Johnson even had some fun afterward donning a dog mask to make fun of those who labeled the No. 1 seed as an underdog.
"The play-calling was excellent," Johnson said. "We ran the ball efficiently when we needed to."
-The Eagles used quite a bit of 13 personnel with Issac Seumalo serving as the third tight end and the intent was to out-physical the speedy Falcons defense.
-Jeffery wasn't targeted until the final two offensive plays in the second quarter. He then got going in the third quarter thanks to back-to-back RPOs, which have been the bread and butter of this Eagles offense all season.
"You guys doubted him," Jeffery said of Foles. "We never doubted him. We never said that. We believe in anybody lining up back there at quarterback."
-Nelson Agholor's 21-yard end-around was the longest rush ever by an Eagles receiver in the playoffs.
-Corey Clement, Jeffery and Zach Ertz, all tied for the team lead with five pass targets in the game and Clement caught all five of his for 31 yards against four different defenders. His improvement as a pass catcher from training camp until now has been very impressive.
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen