PHILADELPHIA, PA (CBS) — As Matt Ryan completed pass after pass working the Atlanta Falcons up the field, a collective feeling of dread began to permeate Lincoln Financial Field on Saturday in the NFC’s divisional round.
The Eagles’ faithful have seen this before too many times. They felt the sharp sting of defeat with that one dagger of a play that has a history of falling on the Eagles.
That’s what it looked like with 1:05 left and Atlanta on the Eagles’ two-yard line.
But this is a different team from those in the past. It’s a team that has had an uncanny way of finding a way to win, and that was the case again this time.
Ryan’s floater to Julio Jones in the corner of the end zone flew high and threw Jones’ hands and the Eagles scratched out a 15-10 victory in the NFC divisional round game to advance to host the NFC championship next Sunday at 6:40 at Lincoln Financial Field.
The Eagles did it with a defense that held Atlanta to 10 points—all off turnovers, all in the first half, while Nick Foles performed competently, completing 23 of 30 for 246 yards and no interceptions. A pair of Jake Elliott second-half field goals spelled the difference.
In fact, the only real damage the Eagles did was to themselves.
They were fortunate to get out of the first half down, 10-9. They fumbled the ball four times, losing two, which were converted into all of the Falcons’ points.
Even when things went right, it came from something that initially went wrong, like when Torrey Smith ran under a deflected pass late in the second quarter. If the play wasn’t made, Jake Elliott wouldn’t have been in a position to close the half with a 53-yard field goal.
Ominous portends came early. A 42-yard interference call that opened the game was followed by Jay Ajayi fumbling the ball away at the Atlanta 33. It didn’t take long for Ryan to begin carving up the Eagles’ defense. He engineered an 11-play, 59-yard drive that concluded with a Matt Bryant 33-yard field goal.
The first two Eagles’ drives produced 26 yards from scrimmage, three first downs, two on interference calls and a 3.2 yards per play average. On four of the Eagles’ first eight plays, they had two plays for no gains, one play for minus-8 yards, two fumbles and what looked like a lot of indecision.
By the end of the first quarter, Atlanta had outgained the Eagles, 102-60.
Then the Eagles found a rhythm on their third series. It was the template of what the Eagles needed to do to win. Foles directed a 14-play, 86-yard drive. Still, the sequence was rife with mistakes. Foles had fumbled the ball in a handoff to Corey Clement and was aware enough to jump on the loose ball at the Atlanta one-yard line.
Coach Doug Pederson made some great calls on the drive. On third-and-three at the Falcons’ 24, the Eagles ran a nifty counter with Nelson Agholor going 21 yards to the Falcons’ three. A botched handoff between Foles and Corey Clement almost blew it, but Foles did leap on the loose ball at the Atlanta one-yard line to retain possession.
Then Pederson, showing off his aggressiveness, went for it on fourth-and-goal and LeGarrette Blount, thanks to good blocks from Brandon Brooks and Trey Burton, gave the Eagles a 6-3 lead. It stayed 6-3, because Jake Elliott missed the extra point and changed when the Eagles fumbles away their next possession.
Ryan didn’t fail to make the Eagles pay again, directing a short, four-play, 18-yard drive that concluded when Ryan hit Devonta Freeman with a six-yard TD pass and a 10-6 Atlanta lead.