Nick Foles played well in the second half, and the Philadelphia Eagles’ defense held off the Atlanta Falcons in the waning moments to advance to the NFC title game following a 15-10 victory. The top-seeded Eagles will host the championship game at Lincoln Financial Field next Sunday against the winner of the New Orleans Saints-Minnesota Vikings divisional game on Sunday.
The Falcons drove for what could have been a game-winning drive at game’s end, but an Eagles defense that had not allowed a single point all season in the final two minutes of the fourth quarter stood tall.
Of course, the Falcons’ poorly executed (and poorly designed) 4th-and-goal play from the Philadelphia 2-yard line never had a chance as Matt Ryan overthrew Julio Jones in the end zone, and the Eagles survived. The second-down shovel pass also can be questioned, as much-maligned Falcons offensive coordinator Steve Sarkesian is sure to face some heat from this one.
It was the first home playoff victory for the Eagles in more than 11 years, with Jeff Garcia the last QB to accomplish that. Foles started out shaky but led two long second-half drives as the Eagles’ offensive line asserted its will against a Falcons defense that looked gassed late in the game.
Foles heated up after a poor first half, but the Eagles settled for field goals on those two long drives. That turned a 10-9 halftime deficit into a 15-10 Eagles lead, but it clearly left the door open. The Falcons converted a 4th-and-6 with a 20-yard pass from Ryan to Jones late, but the Eagles wouldn’t let them score on the drive.
The Falcons, last year’s NFC champions, had trouble getting off the field in the second half. They let the Eagles and Foles convert several big third downs and were outplayed in the trenches. Facing pressure that ramped up as the game wore on, Ryan struggled to get in rhythm much of the night.
The 2016 league MVP hadn’t touched that same form most of this season, but he and the Falcons’ passing game took a step backward from the strong performance in last week’s wild-card victory over the Los Angeles Rams. Ryan finished this game 22-of-37 passing for 210 yards and a touchdown pass. He was sacked three times and under constant pressure.
Foles completed 23-of-30 passes for 246 yards, heating up with a strong third quarter. He threw for 70 of the Eagles’ 74-yard field-goal drive to give them their first lead of the game in the waning seconds of the third quarter, connecting on a number of run-pass option plays that the Falcons had trouble stopping.
Jay Ajayi rallied after fumbling his first carry of the game. He finished with 98 yards from scrimmage on 17 touches, and LeGarrette Blount ran in the Eagles’ only touchdown of the game.
The Eagles frankly were lucky to only be trailing 10-9 at halftime. In the first 30 minutes alone, they lost a fumble, muffed a punt, dropped a would-be interception and had a second pass they should have picked off (but they committed defensive pass interference on the play). The Falcons also gifted the Eagles 63 yards worth of pass interference calls of their own in the first two series of the game.
The Eagles did put together a nice early touchdown drive, 14 plays for 86 yards, as Blount capped it with a fourth-and-goal run from the 1-yard line. That was right after Foles had to fall on a fumble the play prior, a fortunate turn of events. Then, in a ball-don't-lie moment, the Eagles missed the extra-point try.
But kicker Jake Elliott atoned at the end of the half. The Eagles drove 37 yards in 46 seconds, thanks to a wild dropped interception by the Falcons’ Keanu Neal. Foles’ awful overthrow should have been picked easily, but Neal mistimed the ball and it caromed off his knee and right into the hands of Eagles receiver Torrey Smith for a fluky 20-yard gain. Three plays later, Elliott smashed a 53-yard field goal — into the wind, no less — to cut Atlanta’s lead to one at the break.
The Eagles now have won 16 straight games when leading after three quarters, even if their 12-10 edge at the time didn’t feel so safe. Ajayi had 49 rush yards on seven first-quarter carries, but the Eagles’ run game stalled after that, netting 47 yards the remainder of the game. Foles and the defense had to do the heavy lifting in the second half.
And now Foles, who was roundly questioned leading into this game, will have a chance to play for a spot in Super Bowl LII in three weeks. Carson Wentz's replacement looked poor in his final two starts of the season but played well enough against a good Falcons defense to give his team a shot at only its third Super Bowl appearance.