Ea­gles keep go­ing with late stop

Steady Foles, de­fen­sive stand help send Philly to NFC ti­tle game

The Dallas Morning News - - Sports Day -

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.

Getty Im­ages

Jhris Szagola/The As­so­ci­ated Press

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.

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