The worst stat in sports is quarterback wins. It takes everyone on a team to win a football game.
Sometimes it takes an aggressive defense shutting down last season’s NFL MVP and his crew, including on a key fourth-and-goal with about a minute to go. Perhaps you’ll need some clutch field goals by a rookie. Or offensive linemen deciding they can impose their will on the opponent, and running backs running hard through holes. It definitely takes a coaching staff that knows exactly what it will take to win a game. And yes, it usually needs a quarterback making a few throws.
The Philadelphia Eagles checked all of those boxes Saturday, and now they’ll host the NFC championship game next week. The 15-10 win over the Atlanta Falcons was a true team effort. They’re not finished without Carson Wentz, after all, even though it seemed like the entire football world had already counted them out.
The Eagles had to get a big stop at the end. After the Falcons converted a key fourth down to Julio Jones for 20 yards, the Falcons had fourth-and-goal at the 2-yard line. The Eagles defended the Falcons’ rollout play very well. Cornerback Jalen Mills battled Jones at the sideline, and Matt Ryan’s jump ball to Jones was incomplete. The Eagles then got a key offsides call on a hard count by quarterback Nick Foles, which eliminated the possibility of a safety. The Eagles gained a first down on the next play, and the game was practically over.
The focus will end up being on Foles because he was all anyone wanted to talk about when the Eagles were brought up. He was fine. The Eagles started him off with a deep pass to Torrey Smith on their first snap, but that wasn’t the game plan. Eagles coach Doug Pederson smartly had Foles get rid of the ball quickly, completing short passes to backs and receivers who did most of the work. Perhaps the most important play of the game for Philadelphia’s offense came on third-and-7 in the fourth quarter. Foles took a snap and immediately threw wide to Jay Ajayi. Center Jason Kelce and guard Stefen Wisniewski led Ajayi to a first down and a 32-yard gain. That got a long drive going, and it ended with a field goal that pushed the Eagles’ lead to five points. When people give Foles credit for “winning a playoff game,” remember that plays like that with many players doing their job win games.
Foles did his part though. In Week 16 he struggled, and he struggled in his quarter of work in Week 17 too. Everyone seemed to bury him, forgetting he played well in Week 15, right after Wentz’s season-ending knee injury. The Eagles made sure to put him in positions to succeed, throwing in rhythm and making sure they didn’t put the game on his shoulders. Foles was 23-of-30 for 246 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions. He will get more credit than he deserves because that’s what we do with quarterbacks, but he definitely played well enough.
When the Falcons had the ball, the Eagles’ defense was very good. They were aggressive throughout, forcing the issue with the Falcons. Ryan, who won MVP last season but didn’t play near that level in his encore, rarely had much time to throw. The Falcons didn’t get much going downfield. They came alive with a late drive in the final minutes, but the Eagles held once the Falcons got inside the 10-yard line to secure the win.
If you watched Saturday’s win, you wouldn’t credit Foles for taking over the game and winning it. He did what he had to do, in the context of a brilliant gameplan and total team effort. For a couple weeks, all we heard about is how Foles couldn’t win in the playoffs. It turns out, the Eagles could win in the playoffs.
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