LANDOVER, Md. – Doug Pederson gathered his players in the locker room once the Eagles clinched their playoff berth after a 24-0 win over Washington on Sunday afternoon – and, just as important, shortly after Chicago’s win over Minnesota – and offered the same message he shared with them one year ago.
“We’re not done … yet!”
No, they’re not. Everything worked out for the Eagles during a wild Week 17. They needed to beat Washington and they needed help. That’s exactly what happened, allowing the Eagles to make the playoffs as the No. 6 seed after winning five of their final six games to finish 9-7.
The Eagles will play the Bears in Chicago at 4:40 p.m. Sunday, at which point it won’t matter that the team underachieved earlier this season and sneaked in on the last day.
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Pederson acknowledged the Eagles didn’t hit all their goals this season, but they reached the playoffs. Safety Malcolm Jenkins said that even if it wasn’t how they designed it, they can throw out everything that came before. Because the Eagles are in, they’re hot, and they have a shot.
“Got in the dance,” offensive lineman Brandon Brooks said. “An opportunity to repeat last year.”
The only cause for concern Sunday came when quarterback Nick Foles left the game early for the locker room. The team labeled it a chest injury – Foles said he’s sore in the ribs area – and there was no immediate information from Pederson after the game. Foles will undergo tests on Monday and Pederson said the Eagles expect more information then.
“My plan is to be ready to roll,” Foles said. “I want to wear that jersey one more time and hopefully more, but all we have guaranteed is this week.”
If Foles plays as he has the last few weeks, it could be a few more. Foles finished 28 of 33 for 221 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. At one point, he completed 25 consecutive passes, tying an NFL record. He has won three consecutive games as the starting quarterback.
Nate Sudfeld relieved Foles in the fourth quarter and threw his first career touchdown pass.
Foles spread the ball among eight players, with Alshon Jeffery (five catches, 59 yards, one touchdown) and Nelson Agholor (five catches, 40 yards, two touchdowns) leading the way. Wendell Smallwood led all rushers with 53 yards on the ground. The Eagles possessed the ball for more than 43 minutes.
Most impressive was an Eagles defense that held Washington to 89 total yards and 0-for-9 on third downs. It was the Eagles’ first shutout since 2014 and the fewest yards they allowed since 1992. Fletcher Cox had three sacks, giving him 10.5 on the season – his first year in double digits.
“Just a swarming defense,” Pederson said. “They controlled the line of scrimmage and shut the run down, which is something we talk about all the time. Anytime you can put pressure on the quarterback and make him throw from different spots or not in rhythm, it gives [you] a chance.”
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The defense set the tone from the first play of the game, when cornerback Rasul Douglas stepped in front of Washington quarterback Josh Johnson’s pass downfield for his third interception of the season.
And though the offense didn’t respond on the turnover – Foles threw an interception of his own with the Eagles in scoring range – there was little worry with the way the defense played. When Jake Elliott kicked a 33-yard field goal in the second quarter, it was all the points the Eagles needed.
The most impressive drive came in the second quarter, when Foles took the ball with 12 minutes remaining and gave it back to Washington with less than a minute left. The 19-play, 87-yard drive drained 11 minutes, 49 seconds from the clock. It was their longest drive of the season, with four third-down conversions and a fourth-down conversion.
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Foles connected with Jeffery for a 2-yard touchdown 36 seconds before halftime to give the Eagles a 10-0 halftime lead.
Foles did not have an incompletion on the drive. He didn’t have an incompletion on the first drive of the second half, when the Eagles were forced to punt. And when the offense regained possession, a Foles pass did not touch the ground until the 12th play of a 13-play scoring drive – a pass that would have given Foles the record.
“I honestly had no idea that I completed that many in a row – I was just playing,” Foles said. “The one that I missed on was the one that I double-clutched – a horrible pass – but we scored pm the next play, so it wasn’t meant to be. I was just in the zone.”
The score was a 6-yard touchdown pass to Agholor, who later caught a 22-yard touchdown pass from Sudfeld.
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By that point, the Eagles simply padded their point total and tried to preserve a shutout. The real suspense was happening 1,100 miles away in Minneapolis, where the Bears nursed a lead. A vocal chunk of the FedEx Field crowd wore Eagles green and turned its “E-A-G-L-E-S, Eagles!” chants into “Let’s Go, Bears.”
There were updates on the big screen throughout the game, but most players tried to avoid the score. Word trickled down to the sideline that the Bears had a two-score lead, although when the Vikings cut that lead to 13-10 late in the third quarter, there was concern.
“I thought it was going to go the other way,” tight end Zach Ertz said. “I was hoping the Bears were going to pull it out.”
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When the Bears made it 24-10 in the fourth quarter, the Eagles’ invitation was ready to be sealed. The players and coaches watched the final minutes of the game from the locker room before it was official. Music pulsated from behind their closed doors, quieted only for Pederson and Malcolm Jenkins to address the team. Brandon Graham captured the celebration on Instagram.
Because the Eagles are not finished.
It looked as if they might be last month after they were embarrassed in New Orleans to fall to 4-6. Their odds were long when they lost in overtime to Dallas earlier this month to fall to 6-7. But they stayed alive and kept improving, and that same resiliency that allowed them to make a postseason march last winter has resurfaced. They might be the last seed, but with the way they’re playing, they’re going to be a tough out for any opponent. Chicago is first.
“I feel like we’re peaking at the right time,” Ertz said. “Going five out of six against real good football teams, that’s all you could ask for now – a chance at the postseason.”