In the end it came down to a rookie quarterback, and Nick Foles made it happen in the most spectacular way as the roars of E-A-G-L-E-S, EAGLES! livened the warm Florida air well into the late afternoon on Sunday.
It was a drive, in a span of 2 minutes, 44 seconds to end the game that said a whole lot about Foles and his next steps forward, and no doubt, Sunday was a day to remember for the Eagles in a 23-21 win over Tampa Bay.
The Eagles erased an 11-point deficit in the fourth quarter thanks to a 1-yard touchdown pass from Foles to Jeremy Maclin on the game's last play that capped a tremendous 13-play, 64-yard drive to give the Eagles their first win in two months' time.
"Everyone stayed together and kept fighting and that's key," said Foles, who completed 32 of 51 passes for an Eagles' rookie-record of 381 yards and two touchdowns. He compiled a passer rating of 98.6 and also ran for a 10-yard touchdown, part of his team-high 27 rushing yards.
The kid was amazing, and, yeah, it's fine to be really, really, really excited about his development after four starts. Foles needed to get a win in his fourth start, and he got it with a fourth quarter that was, in a word, remarkable.
Trailing 21-10 and having lost any momentum gained during a 10-0 first-half lead, Foles took over the game.
He led an 8-play, 72-yard touchdown drive – scoring on an 11-yard pass to tight end Clay Harbor -- to bring the Eagles to within 21-16 and giving the team a glimmer of hope. The defense got off the field after a first down and then Foles took over the offense with a chance to win the game.
He did just that.
With 2 minutes, 44 seconds remaining on the clock and no timeouts to use, Foles went to work from the Eagles 36-yard line.
A first-down screen pass to Jeremy Maclin gained 4 yards. A sack from Michael Bennett, who blew past Dennis Kelly, lost 8 yards. On third and 14, Foles stepped up away from pressure and completed a pass into Tampa Bay territory for Maclin, a gain of 23 yards.
From Tampa Bay's 45-yard line, cornerback Danny Gorrer was called for holding against wide receiver Marvin McNutt, moving the ball to the 40-yard line. A deep throw for a wide-open Riley Cooper was just a bit long as Foles threw early to avoid the heavy blitz pressure. A throw on second down for Jason Avant was incomplete.
On third and 10, with 1:35 to go, Foles threw left for Maclin on a screen pass that gained 9 yards. That set up a fourth-and-1 play, and Foles scrambled for the first down to the Tampa Bay 28-yard line.
Tampa Bay was called for too many men on the field, moving the ball to the 23-yard line with 35 seconds remaining. Three straight incomplete passes left the Eagles in a third-and-10 pickle with 16 ticks on the clock.
Foles saw Jason Avant in single coverage to his right, with a crease of light down the right hashmark. He went to Avant, a perfect throw, and Avant got not only a first down but was tackled at the 1-yard line as the seconds ticked away.
Foles got to the line of scrimmage quickly and spiked the football with 2 seconds remaining. One play left.
Tampa Bay called timeout, which gave head coach Andy Reid and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg a chance to talk things over with Foles. The three of them looked at the play chart, and Foles picked out the play he liked most: Motion right and go to Maclin in single coverage.
"He came off (the field) and he wanted that play. That's the one he liked the best. He was feeling it. Hey, listen, that's a great thing when your quarterback is in tune like that. When he came off he was saying, 'I'm feeling this one right here.' I'm proud of the kid," said Reid.
Foles took the snap and saw Maclin create separation as he moved toward the sideline. Foles threw on the run and Maclin went to his knees to make the catch and gained possession while he stayed in bounds.
It was a perfect throw and catch and a truly astounding ending to a tough game on the road (but to be fair, the Eagles fans in attendance were every bit as loud as the Tampa Bay fans). It said a lot about Foles in his development, and it was a positive moment at a much-needed time.
The defense pitched a first-half shutout for the first time this season and the newly-designed front four did a good job holding down a balanced Tampa Bay offense.
Offensively, the Eagles were pass heavy, an understandable approach given Tampa Bay's No. 1 NFL ranking against the run. Bryce Brown carried 12 times for 4 yards and the Eagles gained just 29 yards on the ground on 16 attempts.
The passing game, though, was terrific after a slow start. Maclin caught 9 passes for 104 yards. Jason Avant, who had a 20-yard gain on an all-time, leaping, one-handed catch, grabbed 7 passes for 103 yards. Harbor chipped in with 6 catches for 52 yards and a touchdown with Brent Celek out after a first-series concussion.
Mostly, though, it was Foles, Foles and more Foles. He stood tall in the face of a relentless Tampa Bay pass rush – he was sacked six times and hurried another half dozen times – and still moved the offense, was cool in the heat and ran a perfect final drive to win the game on the last play. When was the last time an Eagles game ended with a touchdown on the final play of the game when the situation was either score the touchdown or lose the game? Ever? Can you remember?
It was a day to feel good again. This one meant something for a roster filled with young players, backups thrust into starting roles because of injury. It meant something for a head coach who has continued to work with class and dignity through a very tough season.
And then there is Foles, who continues to make the strides you want in a young quarterback. He hasn't arrived yet, no sir, but Sunday was an important step in the right direction. What a final drive! What a fourth quarter (Foles was 11 of 20 for 135 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the fourth)!
The Eagles win! The Eagles win! The Eagles win! In front of so many great fans on the road, it was certainly a plus for the present and no doubt one for the future. The Eagles got it done behind their rookie quarterback who puts one step in front of the other on the way up the NFL quarterback ladder.