STEVE VAN BUREN famously assumed the 1948 NFL Championship Game was going to be postponed by snow. Only after an urgent call from Eagles coach Greasy Neale did Van Buren embark from Drexel Hill on a complicated, harried trolley ride to Shibe Park, where Van Buren led the Eagles to their first title.
LeSean McCoy took his usual 10:15 a.m. team bus yesterday from the airport hotel where the Eagles always stay the night before home games, riding only a few uneventful minutes up I-95.
McCoy was ensconced at Lincoln Financial Field ahead of the surprise snowfall that dumped 7.8 inches of white stuff on the airport by the end of the Eagles' 34-20 victory over the visiting Detroit Lions. Given that the Birds were facing the NFL's second-ranked rushing defense, McCoy had absolutely no idea when he arrived that he was about to break Van Buren's franchise record of 205 rushing yards in a game, set in 1949.
"The guys up front put it down. They played lights out," McCoy said in a Linc hallway after gaining 217 yards on 29 carries, including fourth-quarter touchdown runs of 40 and 57 yards that helped turn a 14-0, third-quarter Eagles deficit into a near-rout the other way. The Lions hadn't allowed a rushing touchdown since Week 4 before giving up four in the fourth quarter yesterday. "In warmups, it wasn't so bad. It really 'turnt up.' "
McCoy was supposed to meet Van Buren once, after McCoy scored a touchdown in each of the first nine games of 2011, breaking a Van Buren record, but McCoy said yesterday the Hall of Famer's failing health caused the meeting to be postponed. Van Buren died of pneumonia at 91 on Aug. 23, 2012. McCoy said he had watched tape of Van Buren, who was "very dominant."
Did it really feel like Shady was dashing through nearly 8 inches of snow yesterday?
"Yes, it did. Actually, it did," McCoy quickly replied. "When you wanted to dig in, there were so many spots of - they were shoveling the lines," leading to minidrifts on either side of the lines, every 5 yards. "They warned us [during the week] it could be bad, but not this bad."
Earlier, in his news conference, McCoy said that even though he'd played all his football in Pennsylvania, "this was the worst game I've ever played in, weather-wise. Best game, too."
Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, who acknowledged his game plan did not envision the Eagles rushing for 299 yards, said McCoy "made good plays into great ones and great ones into touchdowns."
All things considered, the Eagles' fifth victory in a row might have been their most impressive. They defeated a team that entered the game 7-5, just like them, on a day spectacularly unsuited to Chip Kelly's nuanced offensive concepts. They seemed totally stymied two-thirds of the way through, in danger of being shut out at home, when suddenly they scored touchdowns on five possessions in a row. It would have been six if tight end Brent Celek hadn't intentionally slid down to keep the clock running, with an open field ahead, in the final 2 minutes. They won on a day when Nick Foles (11-for-22 for 179 yards, a touchdown and an interception) struggled to hit open receivers, and had to play under center much more than usual.
"That's why you have to play a full 60," Kelly said. "I think our guys understood that. There was no panic or anything at halftime . . . at times during a game, the crap is going to hit the fan."
Kelly said the Eagles' forecast had snow starting at halftime. Instead, it started to stick during pregame warmups, leading some players, such as McCoy, to switch to longer cleats. Lions running back Reggie Bush, a key weapon, was announced as active, but Bush did not play after aggravating a groin injury in warmups.
The teams went back inside after warming up. By the time they emerged again for pregame introductions, it was clear the snow was going to be a much bigger factor than anticipated.
"When I turned the corner [and saw the field], I was like, 'Oh, this is interesting,' " Kelly recalled. "In those situations, [the Lions] have the exact same experience. I think we're similar teams in what we do. We're both a lot of '11' personnel, quarterback in the shotgun, Matt [Stafford, the Detroit QB] can throw it around a little bit, they've got arguably the best receiver in the league [Calvin Johnson, held to three catches for 49 yards], so it affected us both about the same way."
The Lions seemed to come to grips more quickly with the need to embrace downhill running and eliminate the fancy stuff, but they kept losing the ball. Eventually, the Eagles' offensive line started winning battles up front, on a day when a runner with momentum, who knew where he was going, had a huge advantage over someone trying to react.
"It was insane," Celek said. "When you would stop, you wouldn't be touching the grass. The fact that [McCoy] was doing that, it's insane."
Nobody said they had played or coached in snow this deep. Not Shurmur, a center at Michigan State and head coach last year in Cleveland. Not Kelly, in all those years at New Hampshire, as a player and coach. Eagles right guard Todd Herremans, who hails from one of those towns on Lake Michigan where bears outnumber people, said he had experienced something similar, though not quite as bad.
"Constantly throughout the game we were trying to get to the things that we could best do," Shurmur said. "Ballhandling was at a premium," particularly for the Lions, who fumbled seven times, losing three. The Eagles fumbled once and Foles fell on it; Foles did see his quest to match Peyton Manning's record of 20 touchdowns to start a season without an interception finish one short, when he threw a pick that set up Detroit's only offensive touchdown.
"It was just a dogfight," McCoy said, after the Eagles reversed their trend from the previous 2 weeks of playing well for two-thirds of the game, then hanging on. "The last couple of weeks, we've been struggling to close the game out. It helps when the defense is playing the way they've been playing. We had to close the game out, and we did well."
They won despite giving up punt- and kickoff-return touchdowns to the Lions' Jeremy Ross. They won on a day when no points were scored on kicks - former Eagle David Akers tried an extra point and got it blocked. They won by holding Detroit to four second-half first downs.
"It took us a while to figure out what plays would be successful, against this defense, combined with these conditions," said left guard Evan Mathis, who said he switched to studded cleats at halftime. "For the most part, just inside zone, the downhill plays. Early on we were trying some stuff that was more lateral, more outside. It was really hard for everybody to get their footing . . . we just brought it back inside. It allows everybody to keep their footing, keep their base up underneath 'em."
Center Jason Kelce noted that the whiteout conditions did ease in the second half, so you could see better, "and it didn't feel quite as slick."
Rookie right tackle Lane Johnson described his adjustment: "If you tried to be explosive, you would slip. You had to just kind of slow it up a little bit."
Johnson noted that Celek was cutting off the backside pursuit on McCoy's cutbacks, leaving wide lanes.
"I'm extremely proud of him. He's such a special running back, such a special athlete," wideout Riley Cooper said of McCoy. Cooper gave the Eagles the lead for good at 22-20, catching a two-point conversion pass and tumbling into an end-zone drift with 13:13 remaining.
The Eagles, who visit Minnesota next week - where the game will be played indoors - tied a team record with their 28 fourth-quarter points. Their 223 fourth-quarter rushing yards were the most since the NFL starting keeping stats by quarters in 1991.
"I don't think we've ever been down 14 points and come back and won like that, so it's a learning process for us moving forward," said linebacker Connor Barwin, who forced one fumble and recovered another. "We said, 'Let's make this game a special one, because you're going to remember playing in this game, with this kind of weather. Let's make sure we remember it as a win.' "