LOS ANGELES – There’s something about these Eagles – or maybe it’s something about Nick Foles – that whenever they’re counted out, they make you reconsider. Because the Eagles traveled across the country as double-digit underdogs with their backup quarterback and outlasted the best team in the NFC in a 30-23 win over the Los Angeles Rams, keeping alive whatever hope remained of reaching the postseason.
There were no German shepherd masks immediately seen tucked away on the sideline, but at least for one night, the Eagles reminded Philadelphia of why they captivated the region last winter. They played inspired. They were aggressive. They were the better team even though their opponents entered the game 11-2 with a star-studded roster, and the injury-ravaged Eagles have been forced to rearrange their depth chart and needed the win just to get to 7-7.
“It was a complete team game, a complete team win, and that’s one of the best teams in the NFL," Foles said. “I’m really proud of the guys for facing adversity. That’s what we preached this week that, in any game, there’s going to be adversity. Leaning on one another, sticking with one another, and that’s what we did today. ... The big thing is we focus on the moment. We don’t need to worry about [the playoffs]. ...We’ll just see what happens.”
Of course, it’s not as if their backup quarterback is off the scrap heap. They turned to the Super Bowl MVP to replace Carson Wentz, whose injured back forced him to the sideline. Just like during the Super Bowl, Wentz wore a headset in street clothes while Foles led the huddle. Foles finished 24 of 31 for 270 yards and an interception.
“It was really emotional,” Foles said of his week. “You hate for your teammate to get hurt. ...You go through the human emotions, I don’t care what...I’ve done in the past, it doesn’t matter when you step on the field. It’s a new day. It was really dealing with the emotions, prepping as hard as I could, and realize I’m not alone. I have great teammates out there, all I need to do is spread the ball around, lean on them, and stay in the moment.”
It remains to be seen who will start next week against the Houston Texans, although Wentz’s stress fracture won’t be completely healed by then and the Eagles rallied around Foles. The Eagles need to continue winning and still need Minnesota and Carolina to lose to push for the wild card, but a loss would have almost eradicated their chances.
“We’re going to enjoy this win,” coach Doug Pederson said when asked if the Eagles will stick with Foles, adding there’s no additional information on Wentz. “We’re going to get on this plane, enjoy it, we’re going to take a couple of days and we’ll make those decisions later in the week.”
Foles was unafraid to test the Rams downfield. His top target was Alshon Jeffery, whose middling production in recent weeks belied his talent. Jeffery had his best game in an Eagles uniform, with eight catches for 160 yards. The Eagles rushed for three touchdowns for the first time since 2016. The defense forced two turnovers to keep the Rams offense below their season average of 32.7 points. The special teams recovered a crucial fumble late in the fourth quarter before the defense made one final stop at the buzzer to stop the Rams' hopes of a game-tying touchdown.
“It’s not about one guy, and it never has been," Pederson said. “It’s about the team. That’s what that locker room focuses on.”
The Eagles broke open a 13-13 halftime tie with a 17-point third quarter. The scoring started on their second drive of the half, when Foles faked a handoff, stood in the pocket, and hurled a deep pass downfield. It could have been to Jeffery or Nelson Agholor – both ran beyond the Rams cornerbacks. Jeffery hauled in the 50-yard reception to set up a nine-yard rushing touchdown by Wendell Smallwood.
“Good things come to those who wait,” Jeffery said of his big day. “I’m just patient.”
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After they forced a three-and-out, Foles brought the Eagles into field goal range with the help of Smallwood, who replaced the injury Corey Clement and filled in for Josh Adams while Adams nursed a back injury. Jake Elliott’s 40-yard field goal gave the Eagles their first two-score lead of the game.
That lead inflated after Rams quarterback Jared Goff tripped on a third-and-1, fumbled, picked up the ball, and tried throwing it in traffic. Corey Graham intercepted the pass and returned it to the Rams’ 12-yard line. It took two plays for Smallwood to rush for a four-yard score, and the Eagles reached 30 points for just the second time this season.
Foles’ lone blemish came in the fourth quarter when the Eagles were in the red zone and in position for a knockout punch, but Foles threw an interception. That took potential points off the board. The Rams could only respond with a field goal, and a late touchdown made it a one-score game. They would have had a chance to tie the game, but Rams punt returner JoJo Natson fumbled and D.J. Alexander recovered to give the Eagles ball back.
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The Eagles’ third-quarter onslaught came after an impressive first half when they did not acquiesce to the Rams. If there was any thought that the Eagles’ season was finished after last week’s crushing loss to Dallas, it didn’t appear to pervade the Eagles’ locker room.
“At the end of the day, it starts with the leadership of the team putting our foot in the ground and saying, ‘we want to make a stand’,” safety Malcolm Jenkins said. “We want to continue to play, and if we want our dreams to continue, we’ve got to go take it. ...We’ve got the mentality that we’ve got to go steal whatever it is that we want. It’s not going to be easy, and nobody asked it to be. We’re fine with doing something special and extraordinary.”
After the Eagles defense forced a three-and-out to open the game, the Eagles scored on their first drive for just the fourth time this season. It was only a field goal, but they showed offensive momentum with Foles. He moved the chains twice with the help of Darren Sproles, who rushed for 17 yards on a third-and-4 to bring the Eagles closer to field goal. A 51-yard kick by Elliott gave the Eagles the 3-0 lead.
The lack of defensive depth was apparent on the Rams’ next drive, when they shredded the Eagles on a 13-play, 80-yard scoring march without an incompletion. Todd Gurley touched the ball seven times, including the five-yard touchdown that gave the Rams the lead.
The Eagles responded with a field goal and then had the chance to take the lead after an Avonte Maddox interception marked the first turnover of the game. Maddox, who missed the past three games, returned to start as an outside cornerback. He has now started at safety, slot cornerback, and on the outside this season – and the fourth-round pick continues to make plays. It was his second interception of the season.
However, the Eagles could not capitalize. They failed to gain a yard on a fourth-and-1 at the Rams’ 49-yard line, with Adams stuffed at the line to give the ball back to the Rams. The defense managed to keep the Rams out of the end zone after a third-down sack by Fletcher Cox, who briefly left the game with a hip injury.
The Eagles offense needed to answer, and they trusted Foles to do it. He converted two third downs, including a deep 36-yard pass to Alshon Jeffery to bring the Eagles into scoring range. Jeffery’s production has stalled in recent weeks, but he had a clear connection with Foles, who looked for Jeffery often downfield. An 18-yard catch two plays later put the Eagles in the red zone, where Adams’ six-yard rush put the Eagles ahead.
For the second year in a row, the Eagles celebrated on the Rams' field with Foles finishing the game at quarterback. And now the Eagles return home with their playoff hopes still alive – and perhaps some of the magic that helped them at this time one year ago.
“Our backs were against the wall for the last few weeks,” Pederson said. “Hopefully this is some momentum for the rest of the season. Our goals are still in front of us and we’re making a push here at the end."
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