You could almost sense time stopping for a few seconds. When Cody Parkey, the former Eagles kicker, put his right leg through the ball that could’ve dashed the Eagles playoff hopes in a heartbeat, the entire city of Chicago stood still while Philadelphia held its breath. ‘Doink….Doink….eruption’. Somehow, the kicker who had missed eleven kicks already this season and hit the post three times in one game earlier in the year, crumbled in the biggest moment of all against his former team and with that, the Eagles title defense continues.
It was a rollercoaster from start to finish, just as it was always poised to be. Two defenses on the rise playing offenses crafted by Acorns of the same Tree. This Wildcard game had it all, from clutch quarterbacks and charismatic play calling, to those truly heart-stopping moments that make playoff football so special. But at the end of it all, it would be Philadelphia standing tall.
For the most part, defense ruled the day. Avonte Maddox had one of the must juxtaposed games a player could have, truly highlighting the trials and tribulations of a rookie corner. Some fierce pass breakups saw the Pitt product feasting on Allen Robinson, before a flurry of second half double moves saw the aggressive corner pay for his tenacious mindset. Meanwhile, Captain Cre’Von LeBlanc had a stunning game, from start to finish. A huge stop on third down was negated by Michael Bennett, but that wouldn’t stop him from coming up with some even bigger tackles down the stretch.
The Eagles mindset was simple. In the three games this year in which opposing QB Mitchell Trubisky played against a playoff defense (Seattle, L.A. and New England), the second-year signal caller combined for 5 touchdowns, 7 picks, completing 59.6% of his passes for an average of 5.4 yards per attempt. That’s hardly the ‘dazzling’ image that is often associated with his play nowadays.
Through a combination of a relentless pass-rush and some sound coverage, he was held to completing 26/43 passes for one touchdown and no picks, although that 0 should have been at least 4 had the Eagles been able to punish him. Nigel Bradham played the game of his life in what was a ‘spy’ role, depicting some pesky option plays and eliminating the legs of Mitchell Trubisky from the equation. Trubisky simply had to dig deeper and find more and when it all came down to it, he simply couldn’t find his footing for long enough, if not for some dazzling moments.
In a low-scoring affair, the quarterback was always going to be the gatekeeper. For the Eagles, that meant a slightly erratic Nick Foles would be tasked with carrying the offense and he did so efficiently. There were fleeting moments and incompletions that brought many of the ‘Wentz vs Foles’ debates back down to earth, but then there were others that just made this truly magical story even more magnificent. The big third-down conversions, the confidence when slinging the ball deep, the ‘Big Nick Energy’ was flowing more than it ever had before.
With around 4 minutes left in the game, the Eagles had to drive down the field and score a touchdown. Anything less would leave them at a significant disadvantage. Methodically, Foles picked and plucked his down the middle of the field, with the most impressive play coming on a double-fake screen that shot into the hands of Dallas Goedert, who had already scored a crucial touchdown earlier in the day. Now, deep inside enemy territory, pressure began to mount.
Two runs started a goal-line drive, draining Chicago of a pair of timeouts, but leaving many to question why Pederson would call so conservatively. The answer was simple. In four-down territory, the Eagles wanted to rinse Chicago of their ability to stop the game and put the game on the shoulders of a quarterback who does nothing but deliver in these moments. And deliver, he did. It would be none other than Golden Tate, a man who has struggled to find his true rhythm since arriving in Philadelphia, who would haul in the touchdown reception and push the Eagles to a five-point lead.
After a penalty-plagued first half and error prone second, the Eagles STILL found a way to win. Through all the highs, all the lows, all the injuries and setbacks that this season has thrown at them, this was their biggest test. A coaching chess match between friends who have risen through the NFL ranks together and a showdown between two proud franchises looking to carve their own future as a dynasty, it was punishing. It took everything from every single player. Every tackle, every route, every block, every throw. The Eagles fought with the resiliency that lifted them to a Super Bowl crown and when the world took a short breath that felt like it lasted a lifetime as Parkey’s kick flew through the air, many prayed that there would be some playoff magic once more.
Luck is when hard work meets opportunity. The Eagles have walked into Soldier Field battered and bruised, but not broken. They entered Sunday decimated by injury and doubted by the world, but they never stopped believing. Nobody expected the Eagles to pull out a win against this Chicago team, but here we are, talking about an Eagles vs Saints matchup that will light the eyes of even the most casual fan.
Doug Pederson was right. This is the new norm.
Mandatory Credit: Quinn Harris-USA TODAY Sports