LANDOVER, Md. — The Eagles are in the playoffs. An amazing feat when you think back to when this team lost to the New Orleans Saints, 48-7, on Nov. 18 and fell to 4-6.
The defending Super Bowl champions dusted themselves off and went on to win five of their next six games, with a depleted secondary, and grab the last spot available in the NFC playoffs.
After the Birds shut out the Washington Redskins, 24-0, at FedEx Field and the Chicago Bears knocked off the Minnesota Vikings 24-10, the Eagles (9-7) clinched the No. 6 seed and will face the No. 3 seed Bears (12-4) on Wild Card Weekend on Sunday, Jan. 6, at 4:40 p.m. at Soldier Field in Chicago. The game will be broadcast on NBC.
“It was just a lot of hard work that paid off,” coach Doug Pederson said after the game. “It’s what we set out to do, obviously. During the journey, we didn’t meet a lot of our goals, but one of them was to get into the postseason, we did that and we’re excited for that.”
Nick Foles was outstanding again in his encore reliever performance, leading the Eagles to their third consecutive win. He was 28-for-33 for 221 yards, two touchdowns, one interception and a quarterback rating of 102.1. Foles was sacked three times.
Foles completed 25 consecutive passes from the first to third quarters, which tied an NFL record shared by Philip Rivers and Ryan Tannehill (over two games). Foles and Rivers are the only NFL quarterbacks to accomplish the feat in a single game.
Foles’ 84.8 completion percentage was a career high. Foles said he was unaware of the record.
He talked about how the team never gave up on the season.
“There was never a quitting attitude,” Foles said at his post-game news conference. “Though we may not have won all the games we wanted to, the guys never gave up, never wavered, kept working, kept believing, kept communicating with one another…sometimes it just takes time. It just shows if you stick together, lean on each other, you can do great things.”
The third sack ended the day for Foles. With 13:51 left in the fourth quarter and the Eagles leading 17-0, Redskins Pro Bowl defensive end Ryan Kerrigan hit Foles for a 4-yard loss.
Last year’s Super Bowl MVP got up and attempted one more pass, but was unable to continue.
When the Eagles got the ball back with 10:40 left at the Washington 46-yard line, Nate Sudfeld was under center. The third-year quarterback out of Indiana handed off to running back Josh Adams three consecutive times for a total of 24 yards.
Wendell Smallwood carried the ball once for no gain before Sudfeld hit Nelson Agholor with a screen pass that went 22-yards and a touchdown, giving the Eagles their final score. It was his only pass of the game.
Sudfeld said he was just happy to do the job when he was called on.
“I’m just glad to help the team out with the opportunity I got today,” said Sudfeld, who was drafted by the Redskins in the sixth round in the 2016 NFL Draft and waived in September 2017, then signed by the Birds. “I just try to play one play at a time. I’m really glad to be part of this team.”
Foles said at his news conference that his chest was sore and he would have more testing on Monday to see if he will be available for the Bears game.
The Eagles, as a team, rushed 34 times for 129 yards. Smallwood led the Eagles with 53 yards on 12 carries
The running back said the Eagles are ready for the playoffs and will be a tough out for any team they face.
“We feel great,” Smallwood said. “We feel confident, we’re ready to go. We feel like we can beat anybody. We’re going to keep showing that, and we’re going to keep rolling until next week and get the job done again.”
Agholor had two receiving touchdowns on the day while catching five passes overall for 40 yards. Alshon Jeffery had five catches for 59 yards and a touchdown.
Eagles tackle Lane Johnson agreed that the team did not check off all the boxes it wanted to during the regular season, except the most important one.
“The main goal is to get to the playoffs,” Johnson said at his locker after the game. “Now it’s a one-game season. We’re going to have our work cut out for us. But we’re playing good football.”
Johnson agreed with Smallwood and the rest of his teammates that the Eagles are in the playoffs now and want to defend their title.
“We’re a team,” Johnson said. “Anytime you get in the playoffs, you want to make some noise.”
The Eagles defense took no prisoners Sunday.
Led by Pro Bowl tackle Fletcher Cox, who accounted for three of the team’s four sacks, the Birds held Washington to 91 yards passing and just 21 yards rushing on 12 attempts.
Redskins quarterback Josh Johnson was just 12-of-27 passing. He was intercepted once and finished with a quarterback rating of 37.7.
The Eagles’ tackling during their run has been outstanding, especially by the defensive backs.
In recent weeks, second-year cornerback Rasul Douglas has emerged as a physical force in the secondary. His playing time increased after several of the starters were lost for the season.
Douglas, who picked off Johnson on the opening play from scrimmage, was asked what has clicked for him. Douglas led the team with six total tackles, a tackle for loss and a defended pass.
“I’m just trying to get the guy on the ground,” said Douglas, who was drafted by the Eagles in the third round round out of West Virginia. “In my first start against Dallas, I kind of missed a few tackles, coach (CB coach Cory Undlin) came up to me and he tapped me on the chest and he said, Wwe need all of it, making tackles, making sure tackles.’ I said, ‘You’re right.’ I just started improving on it to make sure when I have a chance to make a tackle, I make it.”
Eagles linebacker Brandon Graham said the Eagles made a decision as a team that as long as they were still in the running for a playoff spot, they would not give up.
“All I know is we had everything in front of us, we were trying to win against Dallas, we couldn’t do that,” said Graham, referring to the Birds’ overtime loss to the Cowboys on Dec. 9. “But we said if we win out, we’ll give ourselves a chance, and that’s what we did. I’m right here in the moment right now excited for this new opportunity that’s upon us now. Whoever it is, the Bears, I don’t know how it’s going to go, who it is…all I know is we’re going to come ready, strapped up and ready to go 1-0.”
Center Jason Kelce said the Eagles’ quarterback room is in its own league. He said their leadership has inspired the whole team.
“I can’t name another team in the NFL that has two guys that can get the job done like both of them can,” Kelce said. “We’re still very, very successful and eventually everybody else has picked up their game in the absence of Carson (QB Wentz). It’s a special situation that we have here, Kudos to the front office for having the depth that we have.”
The Eagles also have unique fans. The attendance at FedEx Field was announced at 63,188. It was estimated that about 40,000 of those in the stadium were Eagles fans.
When the Bears took a 21-10 lead with 7:41 left in their game against the Vikings, the Eagles fans, obviously keeping track of the game on their cell phones, exploded with cheers that turned into chants of, “Let’s go Bears.”
The players heard their crowd all evening.
“Eagles fans, they are the best,” tight end Zach Ertz said after the Eagles clinched their second consecutive playoff appearance and 26th in franchise history. “We heard them. We always hear them, and they make a difference. We appreciate every bit of it.”
Graham, sitting at his locker, started to laugh as he realized what the Eagles had done after just about everyone had written them off.
“We kicked the door down,” he said, “While everyone was sleeping.”
The Bears, with their win over the Vikings, may have awoken a sleeping giant. ••
Follow Al Thompson on Twitter @ThompsonIII