Lasting impression? One, big, tangible, audible “phew.”
If anything sticks with me about the Eagles’ defensive effort from Saturday night’s 15-10 NFC divisional playoff victory against Atlanta it is that.
No doubt, Fletcher Cox and Co. answered the bell. They held the defending conference champion Falcons in check most of the night. Kept Atlanta from rekindling any potential lingering fire from its 2016 high-octane offensive self.
Commendable, to say the least.
But, when push came to shove, at the most crucial part of the contest, when the home-standing Birds had to get a stop, they had … nothing. The tank was empty.
At the goal line?!!
Dude fell down. Julio Jones. One of the best receivers in the game fell down. Just, whoops. Then had the ball go right through his hands after getting up and pogo-jumping above a flat-footed Jalen Mills in one awkward, scrambling, panicky mess ... for both sides.
This was no impressive showing in the end. No final statement to a dominating performance. Certainly, it wasn’t worthy of the type of confidence in the Eagles’ D displayed by players and fans since that, paraphrasing comedian Jim Gaffigan, would make Beyonce blush.
Put it this way.
They were, in a word, fortunate.
Fortunate the Falcons botched their final offensive play.
Fortunate the Falcons’ coaching staff had a collective meltdown with rushing things in the final 1:19, having just earned a first-and-goal at the 9.
Fortunate that Eagles’ O ran the ball to some measure of success.
Fortunate that the same O won the time of possession battle.
That it didn’t collapse after turning the ball over twice.
That its largely panned backup quarterback Nick Foles played well – not just well enough, but well.
The second half, in fact, he was money.
This isn’t an attempt to rip the defense. It’s a call to recognize reality by all those ignoring it or distorting it. The blunt truth, teams don’t typically win when their defense folds like a cheap suit at crunch time – no matter how well it played earlier.
Having extended the lead to five on a brilliant, 14-play, 80-yard drive dominated by Foles’ brains and right arm, and culminated by Jake Elliott’s 21-yard field goal, the Eagles kicked off to their visitors.
The Falcons, following a 23-yard return, lined up first-and-10 from their own 24 with 6:02 to go. The Birds’ defenders were well-rested, having just sat back and watched their offensive mates eat up close to 8 minutes on the clock. They were in prime position to shut the door.
Then proceeded to allow Atlanta to march down the field, including a conversion of a fourth-and-6 that was overturned once and upheld without debate the second time. All told, the Falcons covered 74 yards on 14 plays in 5:02.
Save for that odd mismanaging of the clock once they got inside the 10 with 79 seconds to go, and Jones’ multiple faux pas on fourth down, it’s highly unlikely the Eagles would be looking at a win.
Frankly, wouldn’t count on one this week in the NFC title game against Minnesota with the same kind of late-game collapse. Certainly wouldn’t be confident if the same situation arose. That’s for sure.
Even with Case “Comparable to Foles” Keenum as Vikings quarterback.