Before Sunday in Los Angeles, the last time the Eagles gave up 23 or more points and still won a football game was Feb. 4 in Minneapolis, so if you’re looking for omens from the return of Nick Foles, that’s a pretty good place to start.
The 30-23 win over the Rams didn’t end with Foles holding aloft a silver trophy, but it might as well have. For the non-believers – and you can put me in that category – it was a puzzler, as are many of Foles’ starts. Compared to me, Thomas had few Doubts, but what can you say after a guy tosses up a lazy pop fly while falling backward and the ball still comes down in the hands of his receiver? Just meant to be? Perhaps, but it might also mean that aside from the Saints at home, there isn’t an NFC team without enough flaws to derail it on a given day.
That’s the big takeaway, and a reminder that this season could still be one to remember instead of one to forget. It will still require a lot of finagling for the Eagles to qualify for the final wild-card spot in the playoffs, but if they can go into the Coliseum and beat the Rams, nothing aside from a return to the Superdome should scare them.
They improved their chances of getting to the postseason on Sunday beyond the obvious fact that losing would have likely ended them. The Rams’ loss nearly assures that the Chicago Bears will enter the final game of the season with the mathematical possibility of securing a first-round bye, and therefore motivation to play hard. That final game is against Minnesota, which looks to be the Eagles’ main rival for the last spot in the playoffs.
The Eagles still have to win at home against Houston – which has a defense that will test Foles far more than the Rams' – and on the road against Washington. After a fitful year of stops and starts, that would be a three-game winning streak to finish the regular season. Their last three-game winning streak ended. … Feb. 4 in Minneapolis. Omen? Oh, man.
More amazing in Sunday’s game than what Foles accomplished with the offense, which had been simplified for the occasion, was what the patched-up defense did against the third-ranked scoring offense in the league. And how they did it was just as incredible.
Coordinator Jim Schwartz had to pick a lane, and he chose to focus on stopping quarterback Jared Goff and hope that running back Todd Gurley, who came in second in the NFL for rushing yards, didn’t go wild. The Eagles played nickel coverage on 45 of the 76 snaps, dime coverage on 29 snaps, and a base formation just twice. They are always heavy on using extra defensive backs, but rarely that much.
To compensate for a lack of dependable defensive tackles, one of the ends moved inside on 26 of the snaps, and the end rotation itself was so thin that someone named Daeshon Hall was on the field for nine snaps. Hall, signed off the Houston practice squad last Tuesday, is a former third-round pick in 2017. He had previously played a total of nine defensive snaps in his career.
Somehow, the Eagles’ defense made it work, aided by a very poor decision from Goff on one botched play that became an interception. Pressure made that happen, though, and that pressure is a large part of what won the game. Once the Eagles built a sizable lead late in the third quarter, Gurley, who hadn’t been much of a factor to that point, was no factor at all. With the exception of a 1-yard touchdown plunge, Rams head coach Sean McVay needed to call 24 straight pass plays to the end of the game.
The Rams lost the turnover battle for just the third time this season, and the Eagles won it for just the fourth time. Los Angeles was a minus-2 on turnovers, and still ran 13 more plays than the Eagles, which is hard to do, and doesn’t make a lot of sense.
Making sense doesn’t interest the Eagles as much as making the playoffs. The way last season ended didn’t always make sense, either, but it did end with Foles and that trophy and the crazy three-game winning streak that concluded on Feb. 4.
Doubters will tell you that can’t happen again. In fact, I would tell you that it can’t happen again. Of course, I’ve been wrong before, as recently as Sunday.