The Eagles 2018 roller coaster ride of a season came to an end Sunday night with a 20-14 loss in the Big Easy.
The Birds did not repeat as Super Bowl champions, but they did leave their millions of fans with an upbeat feeling going into the 2019 season.
Rallying behind backup quarterback Nick Foles again, the Eagles stormed back from a 4-6 record, winning five of their last six regular season games to grab the last playoff spot in the NFC.
Foles and a stout Eagles defense shocked the football world by winning a thrilling Wild Card playoff game against the 12-win Chicago Bears on the road to advance to the Divisional Round against the New Orleans Saints, the No. 1 seed in the NFC, also on the road.
The Eagles did all that without franchise quarterback Carson Wentz, without most of the starting secondary and without their top running back; all were out for the season with injuries.
Sunday, the Eagles jumped out to a 14-0, first-quarter lead in New Orleans, but could not get any offense going after that, until late in the fourth quarter when, trailing 20-14, Foles led the team on what looked like another magical game-winning drive.
With seconds ticking down to the two-minute warning, the Eagles had the ball on the Saints’ 27-yard line. It was 2nd and 10. Instead of letting the clock stop for the warning, Foles snapped the ball at the 2:01 mark, throwing the ball on a rope right to wide receiver Alshon Jeffery at the 19-yard line.
He was wide open.
Unfortunately for Eagles fans, Jeffery let the ball go through his hands and into the waiting arms of Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore. The turnover effectively ended the game and the Eagles season.
“It’s a play I didn’t make,” Jeffery told reporters after the game. “It went through my hands. Nick gave me a catchable ball. I gotta make that play. It’s on me. I’ll take that loss. It’s on me. I let all my teammates down, the city of Philadelphia. That’s on me. I’ll take that.”
On Monday Jeffery, like his teammates, was performing the annual ritual of cleaning out his locker.
He talked about Eagles fans who made the trip to the Superdome and how they gave him a warm response as he left the field. Obviously, he was still hurting after letting the ball, and the game, slip through his hands.
He said the reaction from fans was great but his drop will likely stay with him throughout the entire offseason.”
“It means a lot,” Jeffery said about cheers he got leaving the field. “But at the same time, I believe (the loss) is on me, I’ll take that one. But we’ll bounce back next year.”
One player who knows he will be in the NovaCare Complex throughout the offseason is Pro Bowl right guard Brandon Brooks.
By the second quarter Sunday evening, several players were on the sidelines with injuries, including All-Pro defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, starting cornerback Rasul Douglas and Brooks. Cox and Douglas eventually made it back, Brooks did not. The seven-year veteran revealed on social media Sunday night and again Monday in the locker room (on crutches) that he had torn his right Achilles tendon.
Brooks talked about how he felt about the injury and his mental state.
“I don’t feel pity for myself,” Brooks said Monday. “I don’t feel down. The recovery is 6-8 months. Doing the math, hopefully in June and July I can start getting back out there with the guys….that’s toughest part (not practicing). It’s a bittersweet thing. It could have been worse, but not being out there with the guys.”
Brooks talked about how his spiritual side was helping him deal with the injury mentally. He was asked if mental approach would be fueling his drive to get back by the summer.
“One-thousand percent,” Brooks said. “Guys go through tough injuries. Big P (Jason Peters) went through this twice. The first was, like, six, seven years ago, then to come again last year. I have nothing to cry about.”
When Brooks got on the cart to head to the locker room, he was swarmed by teammates. He was asked how it felt to get such support.
“It means a lot,” Brooks said. “It means that we’re family. It means that it’s bigger than football. You play a sport where there’s a good chance of injury. You never know when it’s your time, you never know what type of injury it’s going to be. But have every guy literally come off the sideline with well wishes. It means a lot.”
After a four-line post on my Facebook page Saturday morning exploded into a click-bait bonanza across America, Eagles All-Pro center Jason Kelce gave evidence that the post on Facebook had at least some credibility to what a family member had shared to friends of the family.
The original post read, “A non NFL source with ties to his family informs that at the end of this playoff run, Eagles Pro Center Jason Kelce will likely retire. Since the 2011 sixth round pick out of Cincinnati appears healthy, it is unknown if it is for a job in the media or for another business opportunity. Kelce is 31 years old.”
Kelce was asked after the Saints loss about retirement and said was he thinking about it.
“This is a game where I am getting older, and I think that for the last three years, realistically, I’ve tried to stay in the moment and stay in the season,” Kelce said to those reporters, “And at the end of the year, you reassess and reevaluate. I certainly have not made any decisions or anything like that. It’s the same situation as last year and the year before that. …Reality is, it’s a hard game physically, and the older you get, the competitor in you, the player in you obviously wants to keep playing and keep going, and through the rigors of the season, my family and friends are taking the brunt of all the positives and negatives going on. So I can’t really stress that I haven’t made a decision to retire at all. This is a season-by-season basis thing that probably will happen for the rest of my career.” ••
Follow Al Thompson on Twitter @thompsoniii