Photographers completely covered Zach Ertz as he celebrated near the visiting sideline, seconds after the New York Giants neglected to cover Ertz on second-and-goal from the Giants’ 2, with 5 minutes, 10 seconds remaining in overtime.
Carson Wentz brought the photographers onto the field when he zipped the ball to Ertz in the middle of the end zone, completing a clawed-back-from-the-dead 23-17 victory that got the Eagles to 6-7, virtually tied for first place with Dallas in the NFC East.
“I’d probably cover Ertz in the red zone; I think they had some miscommunications there when we brought him in motion,” Wentz said. It seemed that moving receivers pre-snap scrambled the coverage, with safety Michael Thomas letting Ertz go, thinking he had help to the inside that did not materialize.
“Once I saw [Thomas’s] eyes, he wasn’t really locked in on me,” Ertz said. "Right when I saw that, I knew that Carson was going to find me and that we were going to be walking off."
This was a signature final-minutes comeback for a quarterback who has been accused of not being good at them. Wentz pretty much put together an offense out of the contents of a recycling bin, bringing his team back from a 17-3 halftime deficit. When the winning touchdown was scored, Wentz said he indeed was aware that he was down to one healthy true wide receiver, practice squad veteran Greg Ward, who finished with four catches for 34 yards. Wentz started the second half with two, but at the end, rookie J.J. Arcega-Whiteside was taking fluids on the sideline after cramping up.
“You’ve got guys moving around. For me, I’ve got no choice but to trust these guys. Some of these routes, I’d never even repped before in those situations, but they stepped up and made plays,” Wentz said. “Guys stepped up. We realized our backs were up against the wall. The first half was obviously very ugly; we just stayed together and guys made plays.”
Wentz said he told the offense to “keep believing” and that “it’s time to make a decision, how this is going to define us.”
“A lot of guys were in positions that we definitely didn’t practice this week, but that’s the way it goes sometimes when guys go down,” Wentz said. Ertz said he lined up at every skill position spot except running back; tight end Josh Perkins, who got his first offensive snaps of the season, mostly played wideout, catching five passes on five targets for 37 yards.
“We’re switching X and Z in the huddle and guys are getting lined up and making plays,” Wentz said.
Well into the fourth quarter, the relevant question was not, “Will the Eagles make the playoffs?” It was more like, “What is the expiration date on a coach who brings a city its first Super Bowl title in franchise history?”
That would not have been a pleasant question for Jeffrey Lurie to contemplate on a December Tuesday, less than two years after he hugged Doug Pederson amid a blizzard of green, silver, and white confetti. But the Eagles were about to drop to 5-8 following a horrendous loss to a team that was about to break an eight-game losing streak and win for the first time since September. Spirited boos drifted through the rain at Lincoln Financial Field.
“Everybody kind of understood what was going on, and it was just a matter of pride,” Pederson said, when asked what he said at halftime. “It’s a want-to, a will, a desire, and that’s what I saw at halftime from the guys.”
When all seemed lost, Wentz led a pair of touchdown drives, sandwiched around a drive on which Jake Elliott missed a 47-yard field goal. That got the Eagles into overtime. They won the toss and then Wentz took them 75 yards in eight plays, for the overtime winner.
Wentz finished 33-for-50 for 325 yards and two touchdowns. Ertz, his only healthy passing game weapon of note, finished with nine catches for 91 yards and the game’s final two touchdowns.
And fireplug-shaped running back Boston Scott stepped into the void caused by Jordan Howard’s shoulder injury. On an evening when Wentz needed somebody to have a career night, Scott did — 10 carries for 59 yards and a TD, six catches for 69, for a guy who had 24 touches this season before Monday.
Coaching decisions were at the center of the Eagles’ early problems on an ugly night. Specifically, wide receiver Nelson Agholor missed practice all week with a knee injury. But Pederson said Saturday that if Agholor couldn’t play, the Eagles would be OK with third tight end Perkins switching over.
Well, Agholor was inactive Monday. And the first time the Eagles made a substantive gain, Wentz scrambling and finding Ertz for 24 yards, Alshon Jeffery pulled up lame.
Jeffery seemed very upset — season-over-type upset — as he boarded a cart to the locker room with what the team said was an ankle injury. The Eagles were left with Arcega-Whiteside and Ward as their only healthy wide receivers, in what they had decreed as a must-win game. Marcus Green, Robert Davis, and Marken Michel remained on the practice squad.
Pederson said the Eagles “kind of ran out of time” with Agholor. "It was just unfortunate."
Scott said that “everybody made plays.”
Perkins said he lined up in three or four spots, after getting a handful of reps in practice. He said “get ready” was his thought when he saw Jeffery limp off.
“I was in a bad place at the beginning [of the season],” after not making the 53-man roster, Perkins said. "At the end of the day, when I finally got my opportunity to go, I was ready to go."
The Eagles’ defense seemed to show up ready to roast rusty Giants quarterback Eli Manning, who hadn’t started since Week 2 and who turns 39 next month. The first quarter ended 0-0, Manning 4-for-7 for 16 yards. The Giants’ first five snaps all involved running back Saquon Barkley.
But on the first play of the second quarter, third-and-13 from the Eagles’ 35, Giants receiver Darius Slayton caught a 6-yard pass, then ran out of Ronald Darby’s tackle and scored. The Eagles were back in what has become a familiar cycle; favored by 9.5 points at home, they were losing, and generating nothing.
Wentz looked hesitant and jittery, but he was in an absurd situation. It was made worse by an offensive line that wasn’t living up to its billing, even before Lane Johnson rode off on a cart with a second-quarter ankle injury that occurred when Wentz was thrown across the back of the right tackle’s legs while being sacked.
Wentz threw a second-quarter touchdown pass to Ward, but Brandon Brooks was detected holding on the play, and the Eagles settled for a field goal.
Defensive end Brandon Graham and safety Rodney McLeod said Darby didn’t hear the coverage call when he watched, flat-footed, as Slayton ran past him and McLeod and was wide open for a 55-yard second-quarter touchdown pass from Manning. The Eagles trailed 17-3 at halftime.
They sputtered to life in the third quarter, Wentz driving 58 yards on 10 plays and a penalty, Scott scoring on a 2-yard run. The offense was bolstered by a defensive turnaround; the Giants managed no points and 29 net yards in the second half, after the Eagles went to zone coverage. They held Barkley to 66 yards on 17 carries, 28 yards on 7 carries in the second half. Manning, playing because of rookie Daniel Jones’ ankle injury, passed for 24 yards in the second half, and was sacked twice, for 21 yards.
"The first two stops [in the third quarter], we were like, ‘OK, I’m starting to feel it,' Graham said.
A stirring drive died when Ward dropped a TD pass and Elliott missed from 47, his second miss of the season and second in two weeks. Graham noted that this could have sent the team back into the doldrums (he identified Elliott, his teammate since 2017, as “what’s-his-name”).
But the defense held and Wentz and the Eagles then went 85 yards on 14 plays and a penalty, with huge catches from Arcega-Whiteside and Ertz before Ertz caught the third-down touchdown pass from the Giants’ 2.
A final-seconds-of-regulation Eagles drive died when Perkins was a yard short on a third-and-10 catch, at the Eagles’ 45.
The game careened into overtime, and the Eagles never let Manning touch the ball, in what might have been the final start of his 16-year NFL career.
“it’s important to a football team to be able to come back and score late in the fourth quarter. I wish we could have done that here today,” said Manning, now 10-21 against the Eagles.
“It’s a start,” Pederson said, when asked if his team had saved its season. “We know it [was] a four-game season, and tonight was one.”