Eagles keep going with late stop
Steady Foles, defensive stand help send Philly to NFC title game
The Eagles’ Jalen Mills (above), who had tight coverage on Julio Jones on the Falcons’ final play, celebrated after Philadelphia held on for the 15-10 victory.
PHILADELPHIA — Lane Johnson walked off the field wearing a dog mask while teammates barked after the Philadelphia Eagles squeaked out an upset, moving within one victory of the Super Bowl.
Keep calling them underdogs. They embraced the role.
“It’s what makes sports fun,” said Johnson, the All-Pro right tackle. “Anything more we can use to motivate us, we’ll use.”
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 try by converting from 53 yards to close the first half and then from 37 and 21 yards. 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 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 an efficient 23 of 30 for 246 yards despite a strong wind that played havoc with passes and kicks.
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. He was 22 of 36 for 210 yards, and Jones finished with nine receptions for 101 yards.
Despite being underdogs as the No. 1 seed, the Eagles showed plenty of moxie.
“Just keep on disrespecting and we’re going to keep proving people wrong,” receiver Alshon Jeffery said.
A masterful 74-yard, 12play drive on which Foles threw for 70 yards led to Elliott’s 37-yard kick into the wind that made it 12-10. The Eagles then 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 fourthand-1 at the Atlanta 3.
“It was tricky out there, really gusty,” Elliott said.
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.
Philadelphia got the run game going with Jay Ajayi in the opening period. Then, with the wind in the next quarter, the Eagles kept the Falcons so off-balance 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. Replay showed otherwise.
Pederson showed no hesitation going for it, and LaGarrette Blount surged in from the 1. Elliott’s missed extra-point attempt left it 6-3.
Soon after came Matt Bosher’s punt that took a wicked bounce and hit Bryan 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 Keanu Neal’s hands to Torrey Smith for 20 yards. Jeffery made a long stretch to haul in another throw with one second remaining, and Elliott’s 53-yard field goal just made it over the crossbar.
Jay Ajayi is upended by Atlanta’s Frooks Reed (50) during the first half. Ajayi, who went to Frisco Liberty, rushed for 54 yards in the Eagles’ victory.