The Eagles, who have been the masters of good news coupled with bad news in the month of December, continued the trend on Monday night with a Christmas gift to their fans that was very poorly wrapped.
By beating the Oakland Raiders, a so-so team that traveled cross-country to play a meaningless game in frigid conditions, the Eagles secured the top seed in the NFC and home games throughout the conference playoffs. That was the good news, of course. The Eagles can win their first championship since 1960 without playing another game in a hostile stadium. Two home wins and a neutral site capper in the Super Bowl will get the job done.
The bad news was that the struggle to beat the Raiders didn't lend confidence that there would be that many games in the postseason for the Eagles. They led early, but couldn't sustain any offense against the 21st-rated defense in the league, and their own defense gave up some big plays in critical situations.
When the Eagles had to punt on nearly every possession of the second half, the fans in Lincoln Financial Field rained down boos on a team that had provided an amazing ride all season. That ride was taken with Carson Wentz at quarterback, however, not Nick Foles.
Monday's was the third straight win for the Eagles and the third straight week in which success came with a significant asterisk. In Los Angeles on Dec. 10, they clinched the NFC East for the first time since 2013, but lost Wentz to a torn knee ligament. Against the Giants on Dec. 17, the clinched a bye in the first round of the postseason, but played poorly on defense and needed a last-minute stop to avoid a loss to the lowest seed in the conference.
The 19-10 win over Oakland kept the good news-bad news streak alive. Yes, they got the home-field advantage in the playoffs. No, they didn't look capable of doing much with it.
Foles started well enough, putting together an 11-play drive on the Eagles' second possession that ate up more than six minutes along with 58 yards and ended with a screen pass that running back Jay Ajayi took 17 yards for the touchdown. Coming off a four-touchdown game against New York, Foles looked to be on his way again.
The Eagles managed just two punts and a missed field goal the remainder of the half, though, and Foles looked shaky in the pocket. He very nearly threw an interception that would have gone for a touchdown had it not been dropped by Oakland safety Reggie Nelson. Foles was acceptable on swing passes and screens, but the Raiders tightened up their defense near the line of scrimmage and dared him to throw deep. He didn't much.
On the other side of the ball, the Eagles had a difficult time containing running back Marshawn Lynch, which isn't a sin, but also allowed the Raiders to continue drives and gain field position by committing too many penalties.
Even when momentum appeared to swing their way, the Eagles had trouble taking advantage. There was a bizarre sequence in the third quarter in which there were three turnovers in the space of four plays that ended with the Eagles picking up a fumble and gaining possession on the Oakland 30-yard line. Foles couldn't convert a third-down pass, however, and the team had to settle for a game-tying field goal.
As the evening spun deeply into the fourth quarter with the score tied, the game got sloppier and sloppier. Some of that was due to the conditions — the temperature at game time was 29 degrees and fell quickly — and some was just due to bad football. Foles was wild high on many of his throws and did finally throw an interception to Nelson after a high pass sailed through the hands of Zach Ertz.
They got the ball back quickly enough, on another fumble, the fifth turnover of the game by the teams, and Foles took over with just over five minutes to play. It was a great moment for the quarterback to finally make things right and hoist the team up and lead it to a win, something he would no doubt be expected to do at some point of the playoffs. Instead, three plays later, the Eagles punted.
It went back and forth like that until Ronald Darby intercepted a Derek Carr pass in the final minute of play and the Eagles got the ball near midfield. Foles hit Nelson Agholor with a crossing pattern that pushed the Eagles near field-goal range, and two short passes to Ertz got them closer.
Finally, Jake Elliott, who had previously missed at the south end of the field, put a 48-yarder through with 22 seconds left, and the Eagles were the regular-season champions of the National Football Conference.
It is a title to savor, and it had better be, because if the Eagles can't play better than this, they won't be winning any others this season.