This monthlong series of “must-win” regular-season games is over, and the Eagles officially clinched the terrible NFC East with a 34-17 win over the 4-12 New York Giants on Sunday. Now, the injury-battered, 9-7 Birds move on to the playoffs.
At a soggy mess of MetLife Stadium, the defense mostly contained Saquon Barkley, aside from an explosive 68-yard, game-tying touchdown run in the third quarter. On the other side of the ball, the offense battled despite stud rookie running back Miles Sanders and veteran right guard Brandon Brooks going down before halftime. Brooks’ shoulder injury looked the most serious of the day, with his teammates kneeling on the field and coming off the bench en masse as the veteran was carted off.
— Erin McCarthy (firstname.lastname@example.org)
The Eagles have made the playoffs three seasons in a row now, and many of the leaders in their locker room have played January football before. Some, of course, have even made it to February and won the Super Bowl.
In a celebratory postgame locker room in MetLife Stadium, all agreed: No playoff path has been quite like this one. And because of that, Sunday’s win felt a little more meaningful.
“It is really sweet,” defensive tackle Fletcher Cox said. “For us and this team, guys are stepping up every day. … When a guy goes down, it just brings this team so much closer, man.”
As they clinched the division, about half of the Eagles players on the field weren’t starters at the beginning of the season.
“This is the first time I’ve been through that," veteran defensive end Brandon Graham said. “Usually when you’re hurt, you’re losing. You don’t have too many guys behind who can step in and fill the voids. There’s a lot of guys that are stepping in.”
The injury issues didn’t subside Sunday. At times on sideline, there was literally a line to get into the Eagles’ blue medical tent. Brooks (shoulder) and Sanders (ankle) left the game for good. They join a long list of injured Eagles, which includes right tackle Lane Johnson (ankle), cornerback Jalen Mills (ankle), tight end Zach Ertz (ribs, kidney), and wide receiver Nelson Agholor (knee). Not to mention players who’ve been placed on injured reserve.
The injuries have vaulted some less-familiar faces into starting roles. On Sunday, running back Boston Scott had more to do in Sanders’ absence, and proved up to the challenge. He logged 138 yards from scrimmage and three touchdowns. Scott indicated his own can-do mentality mirrors an attitude the team has been embracing since training camp.
“We’ve been through a lot of obstacles and ups and downs,” he said. “We’ve never lost confidence in each other. We never lost faith in each other, and now you’re seeing it all come together.”
Graham said the adversity of this season didn’t come only on the injury front, particularly after the 37-31 loss to the Miami Dolphins in Week 13.
“We’ve been on the bad side, where people didn’t believe,” Graham said. “After that Dolphins game, you heard a lot of negativity toward the team. With us, I just love how we fought back.”
The fight isn’t over. The words on the players’ new green T-shirts say “The East is Not Enough," referencing their winning the division. But in order to make good on the bold statement, they’d have to first beat the 11-5 Seahawks, who will visit the Linc next Sunday. Seattle beat the Eagles, 17-9, at the Linc in Week 12.
Fittingly, the Eagles enter the wild-card game as 1-point underdogs.
For the first time since being drafted, it’ll be Carson Wentz leading the Eagles into the playoffs and not Nick Foles. Does Carson have enough in him and around him to make it deep into the postseason? — @dannmaal via Twitter
Oh hey again, Dan. Another great question. Thanks for continuing to be such an engaged reader.
So, I think Carson Wentz has enough in him right now to make it deep in the postseason in most situations.
But the Eagles aren’t in most situations. They’re playing with a number of practice-squad call-ups and have seen so much turnover, particularly at wide receiver. On Sunday, Wentz’s offensive arsenal was depleted even further when running back Miles Sanders was sidelined with an ankle injury.
Also on Sunday, Wentz became the first NFL quarterback ever to pass for 4,000 yards without a 500-yard receiver. That is mind-boggling.