Philadelphia needed perfection to advance to NFC championship.
Alshon Jeffery was facedown on the field, his helmet buried in the turf, the moist warmth of reflected breath tickling his face. The run was over, and it had ended on his watch. The Eagles were driving, and the magic was alive, and then they weren’t, and it wasn’t. The pass was in Jeffery’s hands. And then it wasn’t.
All the way up to that point, it was a game that had been decided at the most granular levels of the margins. A fumble slipping into and out of Brandon Graham’s grasp. A perfectly-thrown deep ball sailing over the inside shoulder of a receiver who did not turn his head. An interception on a jump ball deep down the field, one of those tip-your-cap plays.
And so it ended as it had unfolded, with a bullet from Nick Foles whizzing through the open window formed by Jeffery’s hands and landing directly in between the numbers of the Saints defensive back behind him. With two minutes remaining and the ball in New Orleans territory and 60,000-plus feeling far from confident about the home team’s six-point lead, the most magical calendar year in franchise history ended with a play that wasn’t made.
But as Jeffery lay there on the turf, he felt a hand on his jersey. Then he felt another. And another. There was Foles, and there was Golden Tate, and there were a couple other white jerseys, pulling the despondent receiver up off the mat.
Wherever all of their careers take them from here, whatever the next decade holds for the core of this Eagles roster, it will always be worth remembering the unique nature of this team.
You saw it throughout Sunday’s 20-14 loss to the Saints in an NFC divisional round playoff game. They shouldn’t have been there to begin with, not with a back-up quarterback and third-string secondary and a regular season that very nearly left them on the outside looking in. The hits kept coming throughout the game: Fletcher Cox walking gingerly to the sideline, Michael Bennett joining him, Jeffery himself taking a knee for a spell.
Yet they were good enough to be here: More so than any of the experts gave them credit for. In the end, they were beat by a Hall of Fame quarterback who made all the throws he had to. There aren’t a lot of quarterbacks in this league who can do what Drew Brees did in the third quarter, steering his team through a series of potentially crippling penalties, converting a 2ndand-20 and a 3rd-and-16 and leading an 11-plus-minute drive that covered 92 yards of turf and gave New Orleans the lead for good.
They did not blink. They could have. Maybe they should have. But they didn’t. That doesn’t mean the season isn’t over. But it counts for something, no?