Ea­gles stymie At­lanta of­fense, win with goal-line stand

The Citizens' Voice - - Front Page - BY BARRY WILNER

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 (143) 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 made 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...”

Foles fin­ished a very ef­fi­cient out­ing by go­ing 23 of 30 for 246 yards.

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. Jones had nine re­cep­tions for 101 yards, and Ryan was 22 of 36 for 210 yards on a dif­fi­cult day to throw.

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 re­mains through Philly.

Fal­cons coach Dan Quinn could have opted to take the wind in the fourth quar­ter af­ter de­fer­ring on the open­ing coin toss. In­stead, he took the ball to start the sec­ond half, but it was the Ea­gles who got the only points of the third pe­riod.

And in the end, At­lanta had to deal with the cur­rents on that fi­nal drive, which in­cluded a 20-yard com­ple­tion to Jones on fourt­hand-6.

Mis­takes hurt the Ea­gles in the open­ing half. Ajayi’s fum­ble and a mis­played punt that bounced off Bryan Bra­man led to all 10 At­lanta points.

Things be­gan nicely for Philadel­phia when safety Brian Poole was tagged with pass in­ter­fer­ence on a deep pass by Foles that was held up by the wind. But Ajayi fum­bled on the next play with Keanu Neal re­cov­er­ing.

At­lanta ef­fi­ciently mixed runs and passes to drive to Matt Bryant’s 33-yard field goal for an early lead.

That was it for most of the open­ing quar­ter, though Philadel­phia got the run game go­ing with Ajayi in the fi­nal mo­ments. Then, with the wind, the Ea­gles kept the Fal­cons off-bal­ance so much At­lanta took two time­outs in three plays.

Re­ceiver Nel­son Agholor’s 21-yard run got the ball to the 3, and Foles botched a hand­off to Corey Cle­ment. But the quar­ter­back quickly dived on the loose ball and was ruled to have scored be­fore re­play showed him down short of the goal line.

Ped­er­son showed no hes­i­ta­tion go­ing for it, and Blount surged in from the 1. El­liott’s missed ex­tra point left it 6-3.

Soon af­ter came Matt Bosher’s punt that took a wicked bounce and hit Bra­man while he was block­ing. From the Philly 18, the Fal­cons ben­e­fited from two penal­ties be­fore Ryan scram­bled from pres­sure and found Devonta Free­man for a 6-yard TD and a 10-3 lead.

With 46 sec­onds left in the half, the hosts got lucky. Foles’ er­rant pass ric­o­cheted off Neal’s hands to Tor­rey Smith for 20 yards. Al­shon Jef­fery made a long stretch to haul in another throw with 1 sec­ond re­main­ing, and El­liott’s 53-yard field goal just made it over the cross­bar.


Ea­gles’ Rod­ney McLeod (23) sacks Fal­cons quar­ter­back Matt Ryan dur­ing Satur­day’s game in Philadel­phia.


The ball goes through the hands of re­ceiver Julio Jones (11) on the Fal­cons’ last of­fen­sive play.

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