LeSean McCoy returned to the locker room from pregame warm-ups and changed his cleats. A Sunday snowstorm started earlier than expected, so McCoy wanted longer spikes to gain more traction before the Eagles played the Detroit Lions.
McCoy used those cleats to navigate through eight inches of snow and the Lions defense, setting an Eagles franchise record with 217 rushing yards in a 34-20 victory at Lincoln Financial Field. The Eagles improved to 8-5 and took a half-game lead in the NFC East, with the Dallas Cowboys (7-5) visiting Chicago on Monday to try to keep pace.
The Eagles monitored forecasts all week and expected snow at about 2 p.m. A buzz grew in the locker room before noon that it had already started snowing. No one knew what to expect. By the time the whole team took the field at 12:15, they were surprised to see snow sticking to the ground. When the game started 45 minutes later, almost the entire field was concealed.
"We knew there would be some inclement weather," linebacker Connor Barwin said, "but no one expected this."
The wild afternoon's conditions were unprecedented for most players on the team, and the sloppy turf led to sloppy play through the first half.
When the snow slowed in the second half, the Eagles found a new gear. After gaining 90 yards and scoring zero points before halftime, the Eagles exploded for five second-half touchdowns.
"Everybody has a plan, and then the first snap, it kind of goes awry," coach Chip Kelly said. "It's how you react to it. At times during a game, the crap is going to hit the fan. You show up here in the morning, and our weather report was it wasn't going to snow until halftime."
The Eagles needed to adjust. Lateral movement became an issue, footing was difficult, and the Eagles took more snaps from under center than in the shotgun. The kicking game virtually disappeared - there was only one field-goal or extra-point attempted between the two teams (the Eagles blocked the Lions' lone extra-point attempt). It was not a conventional game, and the plans that the teams spent the week preparing became inoperable.
"I had no sense [how the game would go]," Kelly said. "We just kind of kept poking and prodding, and then we started to move the ball."
McCoy rushed for 166 second-half yards, including touchdown runs of 40 yards and 57 yards. That's how the Eagles overcame an 8-0 halftime deficit and 14-0 third-quarter margin. They scored on five consecutive second-half drives, outscoring the Lions by 34-6 during that span.
One of the major changes was the realization that running laterally would not work in the snow against the Lions. Kelly called for more downhill running, and the offensive line opened lanes. McCoy was still able to cut and leap, but he did it with north-south rushing.
"You just didn't have the normal footing and traction that you get when stopping and cutting," said McCoy. "Sometimes, I couldn't really plant. I can usually plant on a dime, but it all worked. The [offensive linemen] were giving me so much room."
McCoy said he's a better between-the-tackles rusher than his reputation indicates, and he enjoys it because he has the leverage of running up the middle and then bouncing outside. McCoy also credited the improved second-half passing game for loosening up the defense.
Quarterback Nick Foles struggled in the first half, when he completed just four passes and threw his first interception of the season. Cornerback Cary Williams told Kelly that defensive backs were having trouble staying with post and corner routes because of the footing, and Kelly became more aggressive on passing plays in the second half.
Foles hit Riley Cooper on a 44-yard pass in the third quarter for the team's first big gain, and followed it with a 19-yard touchdown to DeSean Jackson for the team's first score. Foles finished 11 of 22 for 179 yards and one touchdown, and Cooper led all receivers with 74 yards.
"When I was making throws, I couldn't really zip them, because if you zip them in that weather it is hard to see the ball and with the glove on the hands, it would slip right through," Foles said. "As the course of the game went on, I got more and more comfortable with it, and we adjusted and made some big plays."
Foles and Chris Polk also rushed for touchdowns, accounting for the Eagles' other two scores.
The defense limited the Lions to 228 yards and recovered three of Detroit's seven fumbles. The Eagles were plus-2 in turnover differential, advancing to plus-15 in their eight wins this season. Star Lions receiver Calvin Johnson had just three catches, and quarterback Matthew Stafford completed only 10 of 25 passes.
The Eagles' biggest blemish was special teams, which allowed a punt-return touchdown and kick-return touchdown. The footing was part of the issue, but it's nonetheless a part of the game the Eagles must rectify.
That's easier to accept after a win. The team showed an understated appreciation of the victory in the locker room that was different than after other wins this season. This game was different, but the Eagles adjusted.
They enter next week's visit to the Minnesota Vikings on a five-game winning streak.
"I think our guys embraced [the snow]," Kelly said. "They probably went back to when they were little kids running around out there. It was interesting just to see how those guys were excited about playing in it."