Doug Pederson’s gutsy team has proved resilient amid injuries as it enters its ultimate test in New Orleans.
PHILADELPHIA – Carson Wentz is still healing from the stress fracture in his back, and the Eagles have won all four games since Nick Foles took over, including the scintillating 16-15 victory over the Chicago Bears in the NFC wild-card playoffs on Jan. 6.
Philadelphia will face the top-seeded Saints in New Orleans Jan. 13, returning to the scene of a 48-7 loss on Nov. 18 that left the Eagles at 4-6.
Their playoff chances back then were as likely as the Bears’ Cody Parkey’s last-second field goal attempt hitting the goal posts twice, then bouncing out, with five seconds left after being deflected.
So head coach Doug Pederson was asked why not put Wentz on injured reserve if he’s not going to be active on game days in the playoffs?
“Listen, we keep winning, we keep putting ourselves in a position to be successful,” Pederson said. “You never know what next week might hold. So we just keep that (as an option). We’ve done it a lot this year.”
Pederson mentioned doing it with running back Darren Sproles, who missed 10 games with a hamstring injury yet never went on IR; and cornerback Sidney Jones, who has missed eight of the last 11 games with the same injury and he’s not on IR.
Foles, meanwhile, has played his way through a rib injury the last three games. He stayed in for the entire game against the Bears and completed 25 of 40 passes for 266 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions.
Foles wasn’t leaving the game, and the Eagles demonstrated throughout that they weren’t going down without a fight.
That was evident with wide receiver Golden Tate, who caught the game-winning touchdown pass on a fourthand-goal from the Bears’ 2-yard line with 56 seconds remaining.
In the second quarter, Tate somehow made a 28-yard catch over the middle on a 3rd-and-6 from the 50 and immediately got drilled in the ribs. Tate held onto the ball, signaled for the first down with one hand while the other clutched his ribs.
“Once I realized I wasn’t coughing up blood, I figured I’d be OK,” Tate said.
In a way, that play set the tone for Tate’s winning catch. On that play, Foles, with tender ribs, sprinted out to his right and drilled the ball into Tate, who was in the front corner of the end zone.
“It’s definitely special to be able to do something, contribute, at that time,” Tate said. “I’m just happy that the coaches and the rest of the organization had the confidence to put the team’s future on my shoulders.”
The Eagles have been waiting for this from Tate ever since they acquired him on Oct. 30, sending a third-round pick to the Detroit Lions.
It wasn’t easy for Tate. He had to fit into a receiver group as a slot receiver with Nelson Agholor, who rarely comes off the field. In the meantime, Alshon Jeffery needed the ball. So did tight end Zach Ertz. And rookie tight end Dallas Goedert emerged toward the latter half of the season.
“He’s exactly the person we knew we were getting,” Pederson said about Tate. “This guy, obviously, was a starter (with the Lions) and then kind of came in and became a role player. Kind of a little bit took a seat, a step back, and had to kind of get comfortable with the offense … Each week, he just shows that he can handle more and more and more.”
But there were other examples as well.
Defensive tackle Treyvon Hester got his fingertips on Cody Parkey’s game-winning field goal attempt with five seconds left. Hester possibly affected the ball, which hit the left upright, then the crossbar before bouncing back onto the field, just enough to prevent the Eagles from starting their offseason.
Hester was signed off the practice squad in October. And as Pederson put it, Hester “had a big hand in the game last night.” He wasn’t kidding. Pederson also mentioned other players who were either on the practice squad or were released by other teams who have made contributions, such as cornerback Cre’Von LeBlanc and safety Tre Sullivan.
And the offensive line showed toughness, too, preventing Bears pass rusher Khalil Mack from getting too close to Foles. Mack was often lined up against left tackle Jason Peters. Peters has played through several nagging injuries this season and will turn 37 on Jan. 22.
Yet Mack didn’t have a sack, though he did hit Foles twice.
“He’s an all-pro left tackle in my mind,” Pederson said about Peters. “He continues to play at a high level. Is it perfect all the time? No. There are going to be times when he gets beat. But he’s steady. He’s reliable.”
And he’s tough, just like his teammates. That’s why the Eagles are still playing.
Eagles quarterback Nick Foles stayed in for the entire game against the Bears and completed 25 of 40 passes for 266 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions.