The players stayed around the stadium a little longer Sunday to enjoy the Eagles' 24-15 win over the Atlanta Falcons, just as they did after impressive victories against Pittsburgh and Minnesota earlier this season. There was no flight, train, or bus to catch. And Lincoln Financial Field has been a fun place for this team this year.
Maybe all the Eagles needed to do to invigorate their season was play in Philadelphia. Sunday's victory broke a two-game losing steak and improved the Eagles' record to 5-4, including a 4-0 mark at home. Three of those wins came against teams who visited with winning records. Doug Pederson has not yet left a home game with a loss since becoming head coach, and his Eagles appear to have a real home-field advantage.
"It is crazy because last year it was a different story," wide receiver Jordan Matthews said. "I know for a fact that we are feeding off of this energy from the crowd. … That is expected, obviously, because we know what the fans are like here. But at the same time, too, I think a lot of the guys are juiced up. Our games here have been big games where we felt like we had to go out there and win. Now we have to take that same approach and attitude to every single game."
Approach and attitude are worthwhile intangibles, but if there's a takeaway from Sunday, it's the benefit of a balanced offense and stingy third-down defense.
The pass-heavy game plan from recent weeks didn't make it to the home locker room. In its place was the Eagles' best running game of the season, with 208 yards on the ground. Ryan Mathews, who had been relegated to a reduced role in recent weeks, finished with 19 carries for 109 yards and two touchdowns. He became the Eagles' first 100-yard rusher since October 2015, breaking a streak of 18 games below that mark.
And the defense responded against a Falcons offense that entered with the most points per game in the NFL and second-most yards per game. Their 303 yards were 126 fewer than their season average, and their 15 points were nearly 19 points below their average mark. They went 2 of 11 on third downs and did not score in the red zone. The Falcons finished with season lows in points, yards, first downs, plays run, and time of possession.
"They've scored on pretty much everybody and we knew we'd have to eliminate those big plays for touchdowns and when they did get in the red zone, we needed to get stops and hold them to field goals," safety Malcolm Jenkins said. "And for the majority of the game we did that. … Bend but don't break, and just give our team a chance."
Quarterback Matt Ryan, an Exton native, went 18 of 33 for 267 yards, one touchdown, and one interception — with a big chunk of those yards coming on a 76-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter. The Eagles used more cover-2 coverages — keeping two safeties deep to take on half of a zone on the field — in an effort to prevent big plays. Julio Jones finished with 10 catches for 135 yards, but he didn't have a catch longer than 29 yards. It helped that the defense was on the field for only about 22 minutes because of the Eagles' rushing offense.
"I felt coming into this football game that we were going to have to possess the ball, and in order to do that, I thought that the running game was going to be a huge factor in this game," Pederson said.
That was evident from the Eagles' first offensive drive. They went 81 yards on 12 plays, including eight on the ground. Mathews started the drive and finished it with a 4-yard touchdown.
Neither team reached the end zone again until the fourth quarter. Eagles kicker Caleb Sturgis connected on 3 of 5 field goal attempts, but the Eagles would have hoped for one fewer attempt because they needed to settle for a 25-yarder after failing to score a touchdown from the 1-yard line early in the final period.
Sturgis' kick gave the Eagles a 13-9 lead that lasted only two plays before Ryan found Taylor Gabriel for a 76-yard touchdown pass. Leodis McKelvin, who played only after Nolan Carroll exited with a concussion, bit on Gabriel's double move to allow the score.
The Eagles could not chip into that margin on their next drive, although the empty possession did not come without controversy. On a third and 12, Matthews appeared to be struck with helmet-to-helmet contact by Falcons safety Keanu Neal on a third-down incompletion. Officials did not throw a flag. Sturgis missed a 55-yard field-goal attempt, and the Eagles still trailed.
"I definitely think it was a penalty," Matthews said. "My helmet was bent. … I had to change out my face mask and my visor. I don't know what [officials] saw, but at the end of the day we got the win, so I will take a bloody lip if we get a win."
After forcing a punt, the Eagles did not need to rely on the kicking game. Wentz drove the Eagles 76 yards on eight plays, helped by a pass-interference call that brought them to the 5-yard line. Mathews rushed for his second touchdown of the game on the next play to give the Eagles the lead, and he followed with a two-point conversion run to make the score 21-15 with 6 minutes, 49 seconds remaining.
"It was good to get the monkey off our back, so to speak," Wentz said of the fourth-quarter touchdown drive. Wentz finished 25 of 36 for 231 yards with one fumble.
The defense kept the Falcons from scoring late, Sturgis added a field goal to make it a two-possession game, and McKelvin capped the victory with an interception in the final two minutes.
The home crowd filed to the gates celebrating a victory for the fourth time this season. The bad news for the Eagles is that they have a visit to Seattle looming next week. The good news is they have more home games than road games remaining on the schedule.
"The crowd, obviously, is huge," safety Rodney McLeod said. "We are 4-0 at home, and that is what you want to do. Now we just have to tighten things up on the road."