Not until little-used safety Terrence Brooks intercepted Eli Manning's desperation pass with five seconds remaining in a 24-19 win over the New York Giants had the Eagles experienced a feeling like Thursday.
The Eagles have been in close games throughout the season and walked into the locker room with a defeat every time. They are winless in six games decided by a touchdown or fewer. The Giants were 8-2 in those games. That discrepancy explained why the Eagles entered Thursday with no chance of the playoffs, and the Giants could have clinched a postseason bid with a win.
"We've been in so many close games," quarterback Carson Wentz said. "To finally finish one like this - we knew we could do it all along, but we were struggling, obviously. To finally finish one puts a good taste in our mouth, for sure."
On Thursday, it was the Eagles who made the plays late in the game. It was the Eagles defense that made critical stops. They ended a five-game losing streak and improved to 6-9. It also kept the rival Giants from clinching at Lincoln Financial Field.
Most important, though, the Eagles survived a scare to Wentz.
Whatever happened in the game would have been insignificant if Wentz did not return in the fourth quarter. The penalty flag was no consolation after Wentz was pulled to the ground by Olivier Vernon on a third-down incompletion with 4 minutes, 33 seconds remaining in the third quarter. Wentz stood slowly and gingerly after the play and came off the field. The medical staff examined the franchise quarterback, who then jogged into the locker room for a concussion evaluation.
"Was a little dizzy, got my bell rung a little bit," Wentz said. "But then I got to the bench, was feeling good. Had to go in to do the protocol, passed that, and was able to come back in."
Chase Daniel relieved Wentz, but the attention of the crowd was divided. The development of Wentz is the most important part of this season, and keeping him healthy is paramount to that priority. So when Wentz jogged back to the sideline in the fourth quarter and put his helmet on after missing only one drive, there was a sense of relief. Wentz left with the lead, returned with the lead, and finished with the lead - giving him a win and a save in a game with more meaning in the locker than in the standings.
"To us, it's not meaningless," coach Doug Pederson said. "We needed a win. It was a great win for us. Very meaningful."
Wentz went 13 of 24 for 152 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. Ryan Mathews led rushers with 46 yards before leaving with a stinger. Darren Sproles and Nelson Agholor scored touchdowns.
The most valuable player on Thursday was safety Malcolm Jenkins, who recorded two interceptions and returned one for a touchdown.
"We've been in a slide and things haven't been going our way so we wanted to show up and compete," Jenkins said. "A lot of guys stepped up. We came up with big stops.
The benefit of Lane Johnson's return to the lineup was evident from the first offensive play. Mathews ran 17 yards behind Johnson, who missed 10 games because of a suspension for the second violation of the league's performance-enhancing drug policy. The Eagles went 78 yards on seven plays with Wentz only passing once. Sproles rushed for a 25-yard touchdown to give the Eagles the 7-0 lead.
The lead doubled three plays later. Jenkins stepped in front of Manning's pass to Will Tye and returned it 34 yards for his second interception touchdown return this season. It was the Eagles' fifth non-offensive touchdown and first 14-0 lead since Week 1.
After a first-half interception, Wentz redeemed himself with a big touchdown. Agholor, who had not caught a touchdown pass since Week 1, beat Voorhees native Eli Apple for a 40-yard TD catch. Wentz hit Agholor in stride, and Agholor did not drop it.
The touchdown gave the Eagles a 21-6 lead and their first three-touchdown game since Week 3. The Giants opened the third quarter with a field goal to make it a 21-16 game before Wentz's injury. The penalty flag on the play actually extended an Eagles drive after they failed to convert on third down, and Daniel came into the game with the Eagles at the Giants 23-yard line.
Daniel brought the Eagles to the 1-yard line, where Pederson had a fourth-down decision. He's been the most aggressive coach on fourth downs this season, and he apparently wasn't unnerved by missing three fourth-down attempts in a Nov. 6 loss to the Giants. Pederson kept his offense on the field for their league-leading 26th fourth-down attempt this season. The result was similar to the first Giants game - Mathews was stuffed for a 1-yard loss, and the Eagles were left with no points to show for reaching the goal line.
"Just penetration," Pederson said. "New quarterback, cadence is a little different. . . . Those are got-to-have-it moments. The Giants did a good job stalemating our line and stopped us."
Jenkins bailed out Pederson when he recorded his second interception of the game. The veteran safety, who was named a Pro Bowl alternate on Tuesday, gave the Eagles the ball back at their 44-yard line.
Wentz, who had since returned to the sideline, put on his helmet and returned to the game. There was a scare when Pederson called a reverse with Wentz as the lead blocker, but he stayed healthy enough to drive the Eagles into field goal range to take a 24-16 lead.
The Giants cut that lead with a field goal, and then forced a three-and-out to reclaim possession with 4 minutes, 24 seconds remaining. Pederson's fourth-down fortitude loomed large, because the Giants trailed by five points and not eight points that would have been the likely lead if the Eagles kicked the field goal.
Pederson threw his challenge after what was ruled a Giants first down at the 31-yard line. It was a smart challenge - the play was overturned - and the Giants were left with a fourth down. The challenge looked better when the Giants jumped for a false start on fourth and 1, and the defense forced an incompletion on fourth and 6 to get the ball back.
The Giants had one last chance in the final two minutes before Brooks made the interception. The Eagles could finally celebrate a victory.
The Dallas Cowboys visit on Jan. 1 for the final game in a season that Pederson hopes ends with a two-game winning streak.
"Those guys have a lot of pride," Pederson said. "Even though we might be out of the playoffs, for us it was a chance to win a division game and erase that negative feelings we've had the last couple of weeks."