Philadel­phia needed per­fec­tion to ad­vance to NFC cham­pi­onship.

The Times-Tribune - - SPORTS - DAVID MUR­PHY Com­men­tary

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?

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