Ex-starter navigates team to 34–29 win over the Giants to clinch first-round playoff bye
By Al Thompson
There were plenty of questions on whether current Eagles quarterback Nick Foles could play like the Nick Foles who led the Eagles to the NFC East title in 2013, and a 6–2 record in ’14 before he was injured.
Those questions were answered with capital YES Sunday afternoon at MetLife Stadium when the 28-year-old led the Eagles to a crucial 34–29 win over the Giants, clinching a first round bye and a guaranteed home game for the first time since a Donovan McNabb-led Eagles team accomplished that feat in 2004, the last time the Birds played in a Super Bowl.
“It’s obviously something great,” Foles said about getting a bye week. “I was fortunate enough to be a part of it last year in Kansas City, but I mean we still have a lot of work to do this season. We can’t focus on that. I think the big thing is you let your body recover. It’s a long season and guys who are nicked up, it can help with their injuries, but we have to finish these games out strong and keep improving and for me, keep getting more reps with all of these guys.”
Foles went 24 for 38 for 237 yards and four touchdowns. He was not intercepted and was sacked just once. Foles went retro with his quarterback rating, checking in with a grade of 115.8.
The Giants took a 6–0 lead on a drive orchestrated by Eli Manning that went 75 yards on 13 plays and finished with Orleans Darkwa going in from the one-yard line. The extra point was blocked by Derek Barnett.
The Eagles answered with their own seven-play drive that ended with Foles hitting Alshon Jeffery from the three.
On one of his throws on that first drive, Foles juked Giants sack monster Jason Pierre-Paul and fired the ball downfield, drawing a 32-yard pass interference call at the five-yard line.
Several people in the press box remarked the move looked “Wentz-like” referring to league MVP candidate Carson Wentz. The Eagles star quarterback tore his ACL last week against the Los Angeles Rams and is lost for the season.
So where did that move come from? Foles had some fun giving Wentz some credit for him learning the technique.
“I watch Carson a lot,” Foles said. “I channeled my inner Carson Wentz right there and just made a play. Just tried to get him to move and step up and if the defender doesn’t hold Torrey (Smith) and hold his arms down, it’s probably a touchdown, but Torrey did a great job fighting through and be able to get the call and get this thing rolling.”
Big Blue jumped out to a 20–7 lead on touchdown passes from Manning to Tavarres King (13 yards) and Sterling Shepard (67 yards).
But the Birds roared back to take a 21–20 lead with 2:20 left in the half on touchdown passes from Foles to Zach Ertz (10 yards) and Trey Burton (13 yards).
The Giants led at the half 23–21 on an Aldrick Rosas 28-yard field goal with 27 seconds left in the second quarter.
The Burton touchdown was set up by a blocked punt by Kamu Grugier-Hill that placed the ball at the Giants 18-yard line.
The Eagles scored the first 10 points of the second half on a 28-yard Jake Elliott field goal and a 10-yard strike to Nelson Agholor, who literally ripped the ball out of the hands of cornerback Darryl Morris in the end zone.
The Giants got back in the game with some help from the visitors. Big Blue failed to move the ball on the ensuing drive but while in punt formation, Eagles linebacker Najee Goode committed a neutral zone infraction giving the Giants a first down. Like all great quarterbacks, Manning took advantage of the mistake, hitting King for a 57-yard touchdown pass. The two-point conversion failed but the Giants got to within two points.
The Birds added a 20-yard field goal by Elliott.
The Giants tried to rally the last five minutes of the game with a 15-play drive that made it to the Eagles six-yard line, but the Eagles defense, which got picked apart all afternoon by Manning (434 yards passing), was able to stop the drive when Malcolm Jenkins defended a pass in the back of the end zone intended for Giants tight end Evan Ingram.
Center Jason Kelce complimented the entire coaching staff for guiding the entire team through a tough season with all the injuries.
“Obviously, that’s huge,” Kelce said at his locker after the Giants game. “It’s very rare that teams can succeed when backups go in the game, especially in crucial positions. You lose RB Darren Sproles, LT Jason Peters, QB Carson Wentz on offense alone, not even to talk about the defense, but those guys are not only great players, but they are leaders and guys that teams and players would view as irreplaceable. The coaches have done a great job all year of making sure that everybody is ready to play, making sure that whatever the situation may be, whoever gets in there has to get the job done. It’s a testament, too, to the front office for getting guys here in backup roles that are more than capable of going into games.”
The Eagles offense no doubt performed well, but what really bailed out the defense on this day were the three blocks special teams came up with.
The PAT block by Barnett and the punt block by Grugier-Hill were huge, but Jenkins stole the show when he blocked a 48-yard field goal try by Rasas early in the fourth quarter that would have given Big Blue the lead back.
That’s 11 points Dave Fipp’s unit produced in a five-point win that may end up being the victory that seals the №1 seed for the NFC playoffs. And it made up for special teams giving up a blocked punt against the Rams last week that was run in for a touchdown.
“We rush every kick like … we’re going to come free,” Jenkins said at his locker after the game. “I think that’s what makes our rush so devastating. We don’t take plays off.”
Head coach Doug Pederson complimented his assistant coach and the unit.
“Well, Fipp studies the protections and throws a couple different wrinkles in there,” Pederson said. “Barnett has blocked a couple already this season. He got one, Malcolm got one and then just the rush on the punt was a thing of beauty. It was executed well, the scheme. Just things to change it up. Like I said, Fipp does a good job of understanding protection and designing some rushes to do that.”
Jenkins more than echoed the special teams sentiment.
“That’s what won the game,” Jenkins said referring to the three blocked kicks. “When you have the season we’re having it’s going to take staying healthy, it’s going to take getting better every week, it’s going to take a little luck. Today was a little bit of that luck.”
Follow Al Thompson on Twitter @thompsoniii