The Magic Ends in New Orleans
(973espn.com) - A week after the double doink went Philadelphia's way, the Nick Foles magic ended in New Orleans on an easy pitch and catch to Alshon Jeffery just outside the Saints' 20-yard line with two minutes to go in the Eagles' 2018-19 season.
Instead of going in for the touchdown and another late-game win, Foles' pass went right through the hands of Jeffery and into the waiting arms of Marshon Lattimore, essentially ending the unlikely run of the Eagles' backup quarterback, who had won four straight games as the starter in place of an injured Carson Wentz a season after taking Philadelphia to its first Super Bowl championship, also as a late-season replacement for Wentz.
After falling behind 14-0, the Saints scored the final 20 points of the game to move on to the NFC Championship Game which will be against the Los Angeles Rams at the Superdome next Sunday.
While sputtering after the quick start things were set up nicely for the latest Foles miracle when Michael Bennett burst through the NOLA offensive line, dropping Alvin Kamara for a 3-yard loss and turning a Wil Lutz field-goal attempt into a 52-yarder, which was pushed right.
Instead of facing a two-possession deficit with under three minutes to go all the Eagles needed was a TD to pull off the upset and the field position to do it.
When Darren Sproles picked up a blitz enabling Foles to hit Zach Ertz for a 16-yard gain and that was followed by a roughing-the-passer penalty, Philadelphia was set up at the Saints' 27-yard line. A zero-sum run for Sproles was followed by the throw underneath to the wide open usually sure-handed Jeffery, who simply let the football pass through his hands.
"It sucks right now," Jeffery admitted after the game. "I mean everyone in this locker room, we all down. Like I said, I let my teammates down, I let the City of Philadelphia down. That's on me. We'll be back next year for sure."
Things started brilliantly for the Eagles on the day when Drew Brees opened the game with a deep shot to Ted Ginn that Cre'Von LeBlanc undercut for an interception. Seven plays later Foles lofted a beautiful pass over the shoulder of Jordan Matthews for a 37-yard TD.
After a Saints three-and-out, Philadelphia went right back to work and scored again when Foles took it in himself from a yard out.
At that point injuries combined with the desperation of New Orleans shifted momentum.
The Eagles lost Pro Bowl right guard Brandon Brooks to a significant leg injury while All-Pro defensive tackle Fletcher Cox [foot] and cornerback Rasul Douglas [ankle] missed significant portions of the first half. Cox was in and out in the second half as well while the Eagles also lost left tackle Jason Peters to a back injury and corner Avonte Maddox and linebacker Nigel Bradham also missed key plays in the game.
Meanwhile, down 14-0 and feeling the game slipping away Sean Payton went with a fake punt deep in his own territory in which upback Taysom Hill converted, ultimately leading to the Saints' first TD.
The 14-point deficit was the largest overcome in Saints postseason history as well as the biggest lead Philadelphia has ever surrendered in the playoffs.
Despite a slow start, Brees outdueled Foles, his fellow Austin, Texas Westlake High School Alum, completing 28-of-38 passes for 301 yards with two TDs and the INT to LeBlanc. Foles finished 18-of-31 for 201 yards with a TD and two picks, both to Lattimore.
Michael Thomas had 12 receptions for 171 yards and a score, the most even receiving yards against the Eagles in the postseason.
"They battled right to the end," Eagles coach Doug Pederson said of his players. "We had opportunities so, proud of them, proud of the season. Proud of the adversity that we faced all season long. [We] found a way to get in the postseason and just wish the Saints good luck going forward."
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen