|Philly Inquirer |
Eagles beat the Bucs.
What a relief. We have finally awakened from this two-month long nightmare. Hell has frozen over, and the Philadelphia Eagles have won a game! After more consecutive weeks of pathetic football than I care to recall, none of it matters. The Eagles are in the midst of a one-game winning streak. And while wins from the other three NFC East teams officially eliminated the Eagles from postseason consideration, for the first time in a long time things could be worse. The Eagles aren't the Arizona Cardinals. 4-9 never felt so good!
I wish I was being sarcastic, but I'm not. I was genuinely excited during the final minutes and downright ecstatic when Nick Foles rolled out and hit Jeremy Maclin for the game-winning score (more on this later). I think most of the euphoria I experienced was due in large part to the fact that this was quite unexpected.
This was a game that began with 12 straight punts (seven by the Bucs, five by the Eagles) before the first points were scored. After each play for negative yards, I asked myself why I was watching. The RedZone channel was one simple click away, but I was too busy forcing myself to watch Mat McBriar verses Michael Koenen in a Battle of the Punters. Deep down I knew the Eagles would find a way, in tremendous fashion most likely, to lose their ninth game in a row. But I didn't look away (I did, however, pray for extra commercial breaks so I could check in on the other 10 games going on).
That's what makes this win so sweet for all the fans that did the same. For every man, woman and child who woke up every Sunday, put on that Eagles green and believed it would be the day the streak would finally end. This week, they were right. You can boo and curse and throw remote controls, but deep down you are burning for a win. I can only imagine the weight that has been lifted off the coaches and players now that the biggest, most annoying monkey is off their backs.
When the second half opened up, and the Eagles were holding a 10-0 lead, I think the general consensus was something like: OH MY GOD, THE EAGLES ARE SHUTTING A TEAM OUT?! Yes, they were. The coverage was impressive, and attaching copious amounts of explosives to the wide-9 front did wonders for the run defense. Of course, it didn't take long for the defense to revert to its bad habits. Tampa Bay running back Doug Martin gained 94 of his 128 rushing yards in the second half. The defense allowed 21 unanswered points, with two of the three touchdowns given up because of extremely poor coverage by DRC and Nnamdi Asomugha (who else?).
So, the Eagles faced an 11-point hole with roughly seven minutes left against a team, at home, fighting for a playoff spot. The run game was non-existent, which put even more pressure on Foles to orchestrate a comeback using only the power of his arm. A tall task for any rookie quarterback, especially one who was throwing to mostly second-string weapons and had been taking hits all game behind a dysfunctional offensive line.
The eight-play, 72-yard drive that ended in a touchdown pass to Clay Harbor was impressive enough. Foles ran every play from the shotgun formation, and one called run for negative four yards was the sole reminder that this would all be on Foles.
Let's break this thing down.
The Eagles started to use their timeouts (yes, they had all three!) with 3:08 remaining. The Bucs then faced a 3rd and 8, tried to run Martin up the middle, but got nothing. The Eagles called their final timeout and would get the ball back with only the sidelines, incomplete passes and the two-minute warning as opportunities to stop the clock. Some will argue Tampa Bay rightfully put the trust in their defense to stop the 3-9 Birds, but any team in the hunt for the playoffs should play to win. Instead, the Bucs played not to lose.
After a sack lost the Eagles eight yards, we hit the two-minute warning. Fox commentator Dick Stockton reminded everyone watching at home that it has been 70 days since the Eagles last win. Thanks, Dick.
The Eagles faced a 3rd and 18 after the quick break. Foles moved in the pocket to avoid another sack, stepped up and hit a wide-open Jason Avant (player of the day, who also made the catch of the year) for 23 yards and a first down.
The next play, Tampa Bay was called for a defensive holding penalty. After that, Maclin and Riley Cooper lined up next each other on the far side of the field. Cooper came in motion towards the slot as the ball was snapped. Both receivers ran streaks right by their defensive counterparts, and both were wide open for the game-winning touchdown. Take a look:
Foles went for Cooper, but he had either one. The ball was overthrown. That could very well have been the play we all remember. The throw Foles didn't make; the one that led to nine-straight losses.
The overthrown bomb was followed by a bad pass into No Man's Land. On third down, Foles threw a quick screen out to Maclin to get some rhythm back. On 4th and 1, Foles used the confidence built from being the team's leading rusher to pick up the first down with his speed (I don't mean speed, I mean, what's the opposite of speed?).
With a fresh set of downs, Foles tossed another bad throw, this one skipped in at Cooper's feet. On the next play, he hesitated and threw the ball deep out of the end zone. Uh oh, there's only 22 seconds left.
Now, it's third down again. Foles had plenty of time, but he just wasn't seeing the field. He threw yet another bad pass, this one the most terrible of all. Foles tried to force the ball to Marvin McNutt; a pass that, without a doubt, should have been intercepted. Fortunately for Foles, the ball hit the defender's hands and fell harmlessly to the ground. But now it's fourth down, and there's 16 seconds left. Things are not looking good.
It turns out 16 seconds and a short memory is all it takes to change the course of a game. Foles was able to stand in the pocket, and calmly fire a strike to Avant for 22 yards. Hold everything! That fourth down play started on the 23-yard line. He didn't score, and the clock is running.
My man Stockton, please tell me what's going on: “The clock is running! They gotta clock it! And they do, with 2 on the clock!”
Two seconds, one play. Stockton reminds everyone watching at home one last time that it has been 70 days since the Eagles last win. Seriously, thanks Dick; I had just forgotten.
I don't know how often this is said regarding the Eagles' play calling, but the game-winner was the perfect call. Foles rolled out, which gave him enough time to let Maclin work the edge of the end zone. Once Maclin got the separation he needed, Foles put the ball in the only possible spot it could go. Game over.
Andy Reid, Duce Staley, Howard Mudd and the players on the field rejoiced like they had just won the Super Bowl. Foles reacted with an air punch and a howl.
It wasn't exactly the Super Bowl, but on the same day the Bucs celebrated their 2002 Super Bowl run that went through Veteran's Stadium, it felt good to see Ronde Barber watch the Eagles celebrate for a change. Payback is better late than never.
As for the rookie quarterback, he has gotten better with every start. With Thursday Night Football looming, there isn't much time to celebrate this win. So get out of here, go celebrate. The Eagles won a game.
Justin Boylan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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