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'It's Everything I Ever Dreamed About'

Posted Jan 13, 2018

Rodney McLeod called out the play, and Jalen Mills heard him. Fourth-and-2 at the Eagles’ 2-yard line, game in the balance. The Eagles expected quarterback Matt Ryan to drop back and throw the football and they expected wide receiver Julio Jones to be the target ...

Rodney McLeod called out the play, and Jalen Mills heard him. Fourth-and-2 at the Eagles’ 2-yard line, game in the balance. The Eagles expected quarterback Matt Ryan to drop back and throw the football and they expected wide receiver Julio Jones to be the target.

“We called out the play, so I had faith that the guys would get the job done and they did,” McLeod said after Ryan’s pass to Jones, contested by Mills in the right corner of the end zone, was high and incomplete and the Eagles had themselves a 15-10 win in heart-thumping fashion at Lincoln Financial Field over Atlanta in the NFC Division Playoff game on Saturday. It was the Eagles’ first playoff victory since the 2008 season and sends them into next Sunday’s NFC Championship Game against the winner of New Orleans at Minnesota on Sunday.

“I was there just in case Matt Ryan decided to scramble or somebody got let loose. We talked about it all week, man. Just do your job. Don’t be Superman. Just do your job very well.”

Mills did his job very well, as did the entire defense, which limited Atlanta to 281 total net yards, 4 of 13 conversions on third down, and only one touchdown in three red zone visits.

On to the NFC Championship Game go the Eagles after a game that was very much what everyone thought it would be: defensive oriented, physical, and extremely competitive.

As for the final play, which ended a drive that began after Jake Elliott’s 21-yard field goal with 6:02 remaining in the fourth quarter put the Eagles ahead 15-10, Atlanta put a huge scare into the crowd at Lincoln Financial Field, which, by the way, did not sit down for an instant on Saturday. The Falcons drove from their 24-yard line, converting one fourth-down play, all the way down to the Eagles’ 2-yard line with 1:05 to play.

Ryan sprinted right and looked and looked and looked and saw the Eagles' secondary covering all of his options. Jones was the target on a stop and then comeback, but as Jones tried to pivot he slipped and Mills rode him, and then went vertical to force the incomplete pass.

“I knew they would go to Julio,” Mills said. “They tested (cornerback Ronald Darby) a few plays earlier on a fade to the other side, so I knew they were coming my way. It’s a moment you dream about. Fourth-and-goal, game on the line, I want them to throw the ball my way. They did it and I knew I had to be physical at the top of the route and I did everything I could.

“The feeling when the ball was incomplete, I can’t describe it. The field was shaking, it was so loud out there. The fans were awesome. It was just incredible. For my first playoff experience, it’s everything I ever dreamed about.”

This was a total team victory. The defense did its part, limiting Atlanta to 86 rushing yards and containing Ryan to 210 passing yards. The offense stepped up, as quarterback Nick Foles completed 23 of 30 passes for 246 yards, compiling a 100.1 passer rating. The running game, led by Jay Ajayi’s 15 carries and 54 yards, had 32 carries for 96 yards and a touchdown.

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Elliott missed an extra point, but he kicked three field goals, including a franchise-playoff-record 53-yarder in the windy conditions to end the half and bring the Eagles to within 10-9 and give them some momentum entering the second half. Elliott then nailed field goals of 37 and 21 yards in the second half to provide the winning points. And Bryan Braman, who had the misfortune of a crazy bounce on a punt hit him and then get recovered by the Falcons to lead to a touchdown, got his fingers on a late first-half punt that went only 22 yards and gave the Eagles a chance to get into field position for Elliott’s 53-yard field goal.

“This is how great teams win,” said wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, who caught four passes for 61 yards, including a 15-yarder with one second remaining on the clock before halftime. “Everyone contributed. Fly, Eagles, fly.”

The atmosphere at Lincoln Financial Field on Saturday was incredible, even with a kickoff temperature of 32 degrees. The Eagles fell behind early with a couple of sloppy turnovers – an Ajayi fumble and then the costly bounce from the Atlanta punt – but gathered themselves and took over in the second half. It was a nasty, physical game. The Eagles didn’t back down, not a bit. And at the end, the crazy celebration was one to remember.

“This is why I came to Philadelphia,” McLeod said. “That was just an amazing experience, and next week the stage is going to be bigger and it’s going to be even more incredible.”

“Huge performance, huge game and to win one like that is how it goes in the playoffs,” defensive end Chris Long said. “You can’t say enough about what this team showed today. I can say this: It was a lot of fun out there. Everybody loved it.”

One step at a time. That’s the approach. That and "WE’RE ALL WE GOT. WE’RE ALL WE NEED." The Eagles ignored the outside noise – most of which said the Falcons would win – and banded together to win a playoff game.

“You knew it was going to come down to the end of the game and as a defense, we want to be on the field,” defensive end Brandon Graham said. “This is what a playoff win feels like. I can get used to this. I like this. We have another big one next week. We have to bring our A game, be even better.

“We just find ways to win, and that’s all that matters. This is sweet. Very, very sweet.”

And extremely telling. The Eagles have faced adversity all season and they did again on Saturday. They didn’t blink. They, instead, found a way to win and stay alive.

“It’s win or go home,” offensive tackle Lane Johnson said, “and we don’t want to go home. We’re loving every bit of this.”

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