De­fense locks down to fin­ish Atlanta’s shot at re­demp­tion

San Francisco Chronicle - - NFL - By Barry Wilner Barry Wilner is an As­so­ci­ated Press writer.

PHILADEL­PHIA — Fly Ea­gles Fly. With the wind and against it. With Nick Foles en­gi­neer­ing sev­eral long drives, Jake El­liott con­vert­ing three field goals, and the de­fense get­ting stingy in the tight­est spot, Philadel­phia moved into the NFC cham­pi­onship game with a 15-10 vic­tory over the Atlanta Fal­cons on Satur­day.

Foles di­rected bril­liant marches of 74 and 80 yards in the sec­ond half — one into the whip­ping wind, the other with it — and El­liott atoned for miss­ing an ex­tra point by con­vert­ing from 53 yards at the end of the sec­ond quar­ter, 37 and 21 in the sec­ond half. Then the Ea­gles (14-3) held when Atlanta (11-7) got to the 9-yard line with a first down, and to the 2 on fourth down.

When Matt Ryan’s fi­nal pass sailed over Julio Jones’ head in the end zone, Philly could cel­e­brate its first play­off vic­tory since the 2008 sea­son.

Next Sun­day, the Ea­gles will host ei­ther Min­nesota or New Orleans for the con­fer­ence crown. The Ea­gles last reached the Su­per Bowl in the 2004 sea­son, los­ing to New Eng­land.

“I mean, we just kept be­liev­ing in each other,” said Foles, who be­came the starter when Car­son Wentz, a lead­ing MVP con­tender, in­jured his knee in De­cem­ber. “That was it. Our team never wa­vered, de­fense did an amaz­ing job, spe­cial teams — that’s just been the story this year is that we just all stuck to­gether ... ”

The Fal­cons, of course, mem­o­rably blew a 28-3 sec­ond-half lead to the Pa­tri­ots in last year’s Su­per Bowl. They will not get the op­por­tu­nity to atone for it, though Ryan got them close at the end.

Atlanta had taken over at its 24 af­ter the Ea­gles’ fi­nal field goal. Ryan com­pleted sev­eral tough passes to bring the Fal­cons deep into Ea­gles’ ter­ri­tory, in­clud­ing a 20-yard pass on 4th-and-6 to put the ball at the Ea­gles’ 38. But af­ter two more first downs put the ball at the 9, the drive stopped.

De­spite be­ing un­derdogs as the No. 1 seed, the Ea­gles showed plenty of moxie.

A mas­ter­ful 74-yard, 12-play drive on which Foles was 5 for 6 for 70 yards — the only in­com­ple­tion was Jay Ajayi’s drop — led to El­liott’s 37-yard kick into the wind that made it 12-10.

The Ea­gles put to­gether their best drive, an 80-yarder cov­er­ing 14 plays, yet again fal­tered close to the end zone. El­liott added a 21-yarder with 6:02 re­main­ing af­ter coach Doug Ped­er­son briefly con­sid­ered go­ing for it on fourth-and-1 at the Atlanta 3.

Then, as the fans in the Linc held their breath, the Ea­gles held deep in their ter­ri­tory.

“Man, just stay calm,” said de­fen­sive tackle Fletcher Cox, who was a force all day. “We al­ways talk about that. We’ve been in those sit­u­a­tions dur­ing the reg­u­lar sea­son, so we kind of know how to han­dle those sit­u­a­tions, not try to make a play but let the play come to us.”

And the road to the Su­per Bowl still runs through Philly.

Matt Rourke / As­so­ci­ated Press

The Ea­gles’ Jalen Mills (31) and Bran­don Gra­ham (55) cel­e­brate af­ter the Fal­cons’ Julio Jones could not pull in a last-minute end zone pass on fourth down and goal to end Atlanta’s chances.

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