For the first time since 2010 we’ll have playoff football to watch here in the city of brotherly love thanks to an amazing Eagles win over the arch rival Cowboys on Sunday night. The Eagles finished the season as NFC East Champions with a 10-6 record a year after going 4-12 under longtime head coach Andy Reid. No one could have predicted such a turnaround coming into the season but first year head coach Chip Kelly had this team buying into his philosophy early on in his tenure and they believed they could accomplish what they did even though the rest of us didn’t.
The birds came into Sunday night heavy favorites over a Cowboy team that was decimated with injuries. Star quarterback Tony Romo was sidelined with a back injury and stud linebacker Sean Lee was also out with a neck injury. Without either of them in the lineup most experts believed the Eagles would have an easy victory on Sunday night, except most experts forgot this is the Eagles, nothing ever comes easy. Veteran QB Kyle Orton made the start for Dallas in the NFC East title game. It was his first start in 2 seasons and he made the most of it. Orton finished 30 of 46 for 358 yards, two touchdowns, and two interceptions. The Eagles figured to see a heavy dose of running back DeMarco Murray which they did early on but surprisingly the Cowboys let Orton sling the ball more than everyone thought and it was effective for the most part other than the 2 interceptions which were key.
Nick Foles and the Eagles high scoring offense didn’t move the ball as effectively as everyone thought they would against a Cowboy defense that was ranked dead last in the league. The Cowboys did a great job of pressuring Foles and making him hurry even causing him to fumble. Foles finished the game with 263 yards passing and 2 Touchdowns. Still a solid performance but not what we’re used to out of Foles. Clearly he’s raised the bar on his expectations this season but on a night when the pocket kept breaking down around him Foles in my opinion did a fantastic job of making key throws when needed.
The key to winning this game though was the play of LeSean McCoy who had a 3 yard scoring catch and rushed for 131 yards to finish with a league leading 1,607 yards rushing. He became the first Eagles running back to win the league rushing title since Hall of Famer Steve Van Buren accomplished it way back in 1949. McCoy also passed former Eagle great Wilbert Montgomery for the franchise single season rushing record which he held for 34 years at 1,513 yards as well as Brian Westbrook’s franchise record for yards from scrimmage in a season which was 2,104 accomplished back in 2007. Its clear McCoy is the top running back in the league and Chip Kelly did a fantastic job of utilizing him on a key drive to put the Eagles ahead by 8. Kelly ran the ball on 9 of 11 plays to eat up a huge chunk of clock in the 4th quarter and also sprinkled in some key runs by backup running back Bryce Brown who eventually scored the touchdown.
In the end it was the defense that came up with huge plays to help this team win the division title. Chip Kelly made a questionable call going for it on 4 and goal from the 1 when Nick Foles couldn’t get in on a qb sneak. Momentum clearly was in favor of Dallas after that play and many including myself thought Kelly should have called for a field goal to give the Eagles a 4 pt lead instead of them clinging to a 1 pt lead. But the defense bailed out the offense in a major way following that play. Dallas went for it on a 4 and 1 and decided to pass. DeMarco Murray was wide open but first year Eagle Connor Barwin came up with a huge play to knock down Kyle Orton’s pass attempt. The Eagles would eventually score until Dallas got back into it with another touchdown and went for a 2 pt conversion which if successfully completed would have tied the game up. Instead though another first year Eagle and former Super Bowl champ Cary Williams knocked a pass away which would allow the Eagles to cling to a 2 pt lead. The Eagles couldn’t do much on offense though which set up the Cowboys for a game winning drive with 2 minutes to play. All they needed was a field goal to take the lead and instead Kyle Orton decided to do his best Tony Romo impression and threw an interception to Eagles cornerback Brandon Boykin who has been nothing but clutch all season. The mood around town could have been a lot different today if it weren’t for those clutch plays by the defense but bottom line is the Eagles got the victory and move on to the playoffs.
Next up the Eagles will face off against Drew Brees and the high flying New Orleans Saints Saturday night at Lincoln Financial Field. The Eagles are the early favorite heading into the game with a 2.5 point line. If I had to choose a matchup for the Eagles in the first round the Saints would have been my choice. They’ve struggled on the road all season finishing 3-5 on the road as opposed to 8-0 at home. They’ve averaged just 17.8 points per game on the road which is significantly less than their average at home not to mention they are 0-5 all time in road playoff games. The game should feature some top notch offense as the Eagles finished the season with the number 2 offense in the league averaging 420.7 yards per game while the Saints finished 5th with 394.9 yards per game average.
The game will not be a cake walk through for the Eagles as there are some glaring concerns. Besides dealing with elite quarterback Drew Brees the Eagles will have a matchup nightmare in Saints tight end Jimmy Graham. The Eagles had a tough time with Cowboys tight end Jason Witten on Sunday. Witten is a top tight end in the league but Graham is far and away the BEST tight end in the league and will have to be the focal point to have any success against this offense. Aside from Graham the Saints have a talented wide receiving group led by Marcus Colston as well as a formidable running attack led by the duo threat of Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles.
The game will also feature two quarterbacks who attended the same high school. Drew Brees and Nick Foles both attended Westlake High School in Austin Texas where Foles broke all of the records previously set by Brees. It makes for an interesting storyline in a game that will have plenty of them. Since Brees became the Saints starting quarterback in 2006 the Eagles are 1-4 against them including the playoffs. The last time the two franchises squared off in the postseason was in 2006 in the divisional round when the Eagles rode the hot hand of Jeff Garcia to the playoffs. They eventually lost to the Saints in New Orleans 27-24. Prior to that matchup the Eagles beat the Saints 36-20 in New Orleans in the 92 wild card round. The last time the Saints played in Philly was back in September of 2009 when they destroyed an Eagles team led by Kevin Kolb who made his first ever NFL start for the injured Donovan McNabb winning by a score of 48-22.
Sure, most of us are pretty content with seeing the Eagles get this far and anything else would be icing on the cake at this point. But wouldn’t it be nice to see them at-least get 1 playoff win, just 1? I don’t think I’m getting greedy by making that request. This team fought all season to get here why stop now. They could have easily packed it in at 3-5. They had a first year coach and their starting quarterback at the time Mike Vick went down with an injury. At the time Vick went down no one could have imagined Nick Foles turning out the way he did in this offense but it happened. So why not press on and get 1 more victory. The only teams in the NFL that have won more games than the Eagles since week 5 are the Panthers (11-2) & 49ers (10-2) otherwise the Eagles, Broncos, Bengals, Seahawks all are 9-3 since week 5. With a stat like that I’d have to say anything is possible going into the post-season so sit back and enjoy the ride.