Photographs by AP/MICHAEL PEREZ
Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Nigel Bradham celebrates after the Eagles’ defensive stop in the final minute of Saturday’s victory over the Atlanta Falcons.
Sunday, January 14, 2018
EAGLES 15, FALCONS 10
PHILADELPHIA -- The Eagles were flying with the wind and against it throughout Saturday afternoon.
Despite the problems it caused, Nick Foles engineered several long drives, Jake Elliott converted three field goals and the defense got stingy in the tightest spot, moving Philadelphia 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 by converting from 53 yards at the end of the second quarter, 37 and 21 in the second half. 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 ..."
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.
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, 12-play 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 fourth-and-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.
Falcons Coach Dan Quinn could have opted to take the wind in the fourth quarter after deferring on the opening coin toss. Instead, he took the ball to start the second half, but it was the Eagles who got the only points of the third period.
And in the end, Atlanta had to deal with the currents on that final drive, which did include a 20-yard completion to Jones on fourth-and-6.
"It was a tough game for us tonight," Quinn said, "and as we go through, we will go back and assess everything we have done."
Mistakes hurt the Eagles in the opening half. Jay Ajayi's fumble and a misplayed punt that bounced off Bryan Braman led to all 10 Atlanta points.
Things began nicely for Philadelphia when safety Brian Poole was tagged with pass interference on a deep pass by Foles that was held up by the wind. But Ajayi fumbled on the next play with Keanu Neal recovering.
Atlanta efficiently mixed runs and passes to drive to Matt Bryant's 33-yard field goal for an early lead.
Philadelphia got the run game going with 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.
At a glance
Philadelphia 15, Atlanta 10 New England 35, Tennessee 14
All times Central
Jacksonville at Pittsburgh, noon (CBS) New Orleans at Minnesota, 3:40 p.m. (Fox)
Sports on 01/14/2018
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