Every fairytale has an ending. Some are dazzled in flowers and happiness, others just a simple inner peace that allows you to close the book, knowing that it was one hell of a ride. For the Philadelphia Eagles, it’s the latter that’s become a reality. The New Orleans Saints, of all teams, were the ones who put the final nails in the coffin on Sunday Night, sending the Eagles back to Philadelphia knowing full well that their Super Bowl crown will be relinquished. There’s a bitter sadness swallowing the City right now, but there shouldn’t be.
Everybody knew this game was not going to resemble the earlier 48-7 beatdown in the slightest and the opening few minutes were a polar opposite. Captain Cre’Von LeBlanc bolted out of the gate to register his first interception as a Philadelphia Eagle, silencing the rampant crowd that broke the noise record for the home of Drew Brees and company. Just moments later, Nick Foles found Jordan Matthews to send the Eagles up 7-0.
A hot start would continue deep into the first half, with the Eagles firing on all cylinders offensively and coming out swinging defensively. You couldn’t dream up a more perfect start…but then things started to change.
Through all of the mixed formations offensively and big hits defensively, bumps started to arise. Brandon Brooks went down early on with an injury and Jason Peters would soon follow. On the other side of the ball, the Eagles lost Rasul Douglas for a short while before a brief return would only see a later exit. Franchise DT Fletcher Cox wasn’t immune from the strange injury bug either and soon enough, Michael Bennett and even Avonte Maddox had to be taken off the field. The Eagles were dropping like flies.
One would assume halftime would be a much-needed window to catch a breath, but it wasn’t. The Saints knew the Birds were hurting defensively and wanted to really dig that dagger deeper. An exhausting drive that took up nearly an entire quarter, spanning 92 yards, a pair of fourth-down conversions, and ending in a touchdown, started to drain the energy of the Eagles defense.
The Eagles fought back with everything they had, but offensive miscues, some strange drops, costly penalties and a gameplan that centered on an ‘all-or-nothing’ mentality simply wasn’t enough to overthrow New Orleans. Meanwhile, despite all the setbacks, all the injuries and names like Josh Hawkins made his Eagles debut, the defense was unrelenting. Allowing no more than a field goal in the fourth quarter and forcing the Saints to miss another, the unit played with everything they had. There were some missed opportunities, some poor plays and some questionable play-calls, which included a very strange adjustment to how the Eagles rushed Brees, but they gave it everything.
That missed field goal would ultimately set up ‘the finish’. The last chapter. The season was on the line as it always seemed to be late in games where Nick Foles has the ball. With around 3 minutes left on the clock, Foles and the Eagles walked back onto the field, down by 6, knowing it would take even more of that magic to push them to the NFC Championship game.
But then, it all came crashing down. The magic, the mystique, the beauty, all of it was sucked out of the stadium like a vacuum. Nick Foles threaded a beautiful pass to Alshon Jeffery, but it went straight through his hands and into those of Marshon Lattimore.
The Eagles knew that it was all over. So close, yet so far.
But doesn’t that sum up this season? There were so many occasions where the Eagles could’ve, or should’ve pulled off something bigger. They had all the pieces lined up perfectly and were unable to take full advantage. This adrenaline-filled game saw the reigning champs on the edge of glory and fighting back from the depths of almost losing it. That, ultimately, summarises this torturous season.
Somehow, this Philadelphia defense held New Orleans to 20 points at home, which is their lowest offensive output of the year. Somehow, this Eagles team who have been ravaged by cluster injuries all season long, not only got into the playoffs but sent a knockout punch to Matt Nagy and the Bears in a game everybody had already written the ending for.
This Eagles team didn’t know when to say die. We learned to never write them off. Just like everything Philadelphia stands for, Doug Pederson rallied his team to rally until there was absolutely nothing in the tank. Even when all hope had been lost, a franchise quarterback had been injured, heartbreaking losses had occurred and hope had been ripped from them, they still found a way. Found a reason to fight, to play for one another and to prove that this City was not going go down until the lights were shut off on them.
The truth is, this season was a success. For the Eagles to have won four consecutive games, three of them against elite defenses, march into New Orleans and give them the game of a lifetime, is just remarkable when you look at the players they lost this year due to injury. The ceiling for the franchise is so outrageously high, with a young quarterback who would have fully recovered from his ACL tear and thus have a full offseason with the team, cornerstone players in the trenches and a flurry of young talent in the secondary, captained by a Head Coach who has only just suffered his first playoff loss and a defensive coordinator who gives every opposing offense hell, regardless of if he has a team of practice squad members or elite starters, how can one not be excited about the next few years?
So, the Eagles didn’t make it to the NFC Championship game…but they made it further than many even considered humanly possible. For any other NFL team, that may have been the case…but not this one.
Eagles fans will look back on a season filled with anguish, anger, upset and unrest…but also hope. And it’s that last word that’s so, so important to cling onto as the team’s most important offseason since the drafting of Carson Wentz, looms.
(AP Photo/Butch Dill)