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Mission Accomplished: No. 1 Seed For Eagles

Posted Dec 25, 2017

There are going to be some games in the course of a 16-game NFL season when the offense just … can’t … get … anything … going. Monday night was one of them for the Eagles. Fortunately, the defense and the special teams were there to do the heavy lifting as the Eagles surged late to beat Oakland, 19-10, and clinch the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs ...

There are going to be some games in the course of a 16-game NFL season when the offense just … can’t … get … anything … going. Monday night was one of them for the Eagles. Fortunately, the defense and the special teams were there to do the heavy lifting as the Eagles surged late to beat Oakland, 19-10, and clinch the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs.

The conference comes through Lincoln Financial Field when the Eagles take the field in the postseason the weekend of January 13-14.

“It’s a great feeling because that’s the biggest goal we had in the regular season,” said Pro Bowl right tackle Lane Johnson, who held Pro Bowl defensive standout Khalil Mack to four total tackles and zero sacks. “It doesn’t matter how you do it. We’ve done it, and now we can look forward to knowing what’s ahead of us.”

To get there, the Eagles have had to overcome so, so much. Picked to finish as an also-ran in the NFC East prior to the season, the Eagles won nine straight games to set up the division, and have taken three of the last four games in the critical month of December to secure the No. 1 seed in the playoffs. They are 7-0 at home, with five of those wins coming by double digits. They are doing what winner's do.

And while there are plenty of things to work on between now and the start of the playoffs, the Eagles have developed a thick skin, a winner’s mentality, and the understanding that if one group is struggling, another unit will be there to pick up the slack.

“That’s what good teams do,” quarterback Nick Foles said.

On Monday night, it was Foles and the offense that struggled mightily. The offense gained just 216 total net yards, with 58 of them coming on an 11-play drive on the second series to score a touchdown on a Foles screen pass to running back Jay Ajayi. The Eagles led 7-0 at that point and maybe the thought in some circles was that Oakland, in town since Saturday during Christmas weekend, would roll over and let the Eagles soar.

But the Raiders, now 6-9, did not do that. The Raiders played grind-it-out football and put a real scare into the Eagles. They ran for 137 yards, the most the Eagles have allowed all season. They scored on a Derek Carr 63-yard touchdown pass to Amari Cooper that beat a busted Eagles coverage.

Oakland’s defense swarmed the Eagles after that early Philadelphia touchdown drive, cutting off the main artery of the passing game – the big-play wide receivers – and limiting them to five catches and 40 yards.

So the Eagles had to win with defense, and they did that, taking the football away five times, a season high. And they did it on special teams on a cold, windy night, as Jake Elliott boomed a 48-yard field goal to provide the winning points, and Donnie Jones punted the Eagles out of trouble all night on his eight kicks, averaging 39.3 yards net. No need to apologize for anything. The Eagles are 13-2, tying a franchise record for most wins in a regular season.

“It’s not always going to go the way you want,” defensive end Chris Long said. “You are going to have games like these. But we didn’t lose our composure or our confidence and we just kept fighting and grinding and we found a way to win the football game. That’s what counts.

“We now have the No. 1 seed in the playoffs and that is a great feeling. Teams have to come here and play us with the best fans in the NFL cheering us on. That’s a good position to be in. When you step back, that’s where you want to be.”

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Long played a big part in the defensive heroics with a sack and a forced fumble on a third-and-8 play and he added a ton of pressure (four hurries) on Carr. Long was out there for most of the second half with Brandon Graham sidelined by an ankle injury, and with the defensive holding forth in poor field position.

Really, Long is typical of what this Eagles team is all about. He signed a two-year contract to play here and be part of a defensive end rotation. He accepted his role. He stepped up as a leader on and off the field. And he’s made big plays all season long.

“Everyone has,” he said. “That’s why we’re 13-2. Everybody has played a part.”

It’s been a long and wonderful ride for the Eagles through 15 games. They still have one game to go, Sunday against Dallas, and it’s going to be a party atmosphere on New Year’s Eve. There’s been plenty of angst the last few weeks with close wins at Los Angeles and New York and Monday night’s nail-biter against Oakland. The Eagles aren’t playing their best football right now.

But they will work on getting back that razor’s edge. They have time on their side. They have the schedule working in their favor. And they have the we-will-find-a-way mentality that makes champions.

“Everybody picks everyone up,” wide receiver Torrey Smith said. “That’s how we’re approaching it. We are picking each other up. It may not be our best football right now, but we’re still winning games. You look in the win column and we have 13, more than any other team. It feels good to be in this position.”

That’s the biggest theme from this one, a night when a lot didn’t go right for 59 minutes and then everything changed on a Ronald Darby interception of a Carr pass that set up Elliott for the winning points. Derek Barnett picked up a fumble as the Raiders tried a desperation series of laterals and scored a touchdown to account for the final score, and the Eagles exhaled in the locker room after the game.

Goal No. 3 was accomplished on Monday night - win the division, earn a first-round bye, and now secure home-field advantage. On to the playoffs after Sunday’s regular-season finale, with so much more ahead for this 13-2 football team.

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