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'Next Man Up' Tests Eagles In New Way


LOS ANGELES -They walked out of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum a team with jumbled emotions, thrilled and exhausted and concerned all at the same time. A 43-35 win over the Los Angeles Rams in front a pro-Eagles crowd that clinched the NFC East and a playoff berth for the first time since 2013 had everyone juiced. The sight of quarterback Carson Wentz walking off the field after throwing his fourth touchdown pass late in the third quarter had everyone wondering and asking the same question.

"How serious is the injury suffered by Wentz when he dived into the end zone and was hit directly on his left knee?"

We don't yet have an answer. The Eagles didn't, either, as they flew home on Sunday night, their West Coast swing complete.

Wentz, who set a franchise record with his 33rd touchdown pass of the season on a fourth-and-goal snap from the Rams 2-yard line four plays after suffering the injury, is the big story. There aren't answers now, just reports. Until something official comes in, it's all just speculation.

In the meantime, let's applaud a tremendous Eagles effort that raised their record to 11-2 and gave them back the one-game lead over Minnesota in the NFC's playoff race. There is a road game at the New York Giants on Sunday, followed by home games against Oakland and Dallas to finish the regular season. The Eagles are the better team in all three games, with or without Wentz.

They know that if Nick Foles has to play for an extended period of time, he has a career with 36 starts and 56 touchdown passes. Foles played in the fourth quarter on Sunday and led the offense to a pair of field goal drives and also a crucial run-out-the-clock drive on which he threw a dart to Nelson Agholor for 9 yards to convert a third-and-8 situation.

Foles isn't the athlete who Wentz is, but he's a good, proven NFL quarterback. He's certainly good enough to win down the stretch if the Eagles need him to do so.

"We have all the confidence in the world in Nick," right tackle Lane Johnson said. "He's been around the league. He's been in the playoffs. He knows our offense. He deserves a lot of credit for stepping in today and winning this game for us."

Foles was 6-of-10 for 42 yards in the fourth quarter after taking, basically, zero reps with the starting offense the entire season. Remember, he didn't play in the preseason as he rested his throwing arm, but he's fine now and, yeah, good to go if he needs to be the guy.

"I'm absolutely ready. That's why I'm here. So I'm ready to go, I prepare every day, work every day – if need be," Foles said. "Coach (Doug) Pederson showed a lot of confidence with me and I have a long history with him. He knows I can go out and play so we'll see what happens."

As much as the focus will be on Foles should he have to step in, it's equally important that the surrounding cast does its individual and collective job. The Eagles have a really, really talented offense. They can beat you with the running game that churned out another 132 yards on 32 carries Sunday, with Jay Ajayi leading the way with 15 carries and 78 yards. The Eagles showed again on Sunday the depth they have at tight end, as Trey Burton and Brent Celek combined for three touchdown catches with Zach Ertz sidelined.

The offensive line rallied after left guard Stefen Wisniewski left the game with an ankle injury and Chance Warmack struggled. Isaac Seumalo came in and, while he was beaten a couple of times, battled the great Aaron Donald.


  for the winning points with a Chris Long strip sack of quarterback Jared Goff, then stuffing the Rams on a three-and-out sequence, and then having some fun when Brandon Graham picked off a Rams lateral and ran 16 yards for the let's-go-crazy touchdown to set off the nutso celebration from the thousands of Eagles fans on hand.

"It's been that way all year for us," said Jeffery, who had five catches for 52 yards. "We have a lot of playmakers here. That's not going to change."

Well, there is going to be change if Wentz is seriously injured, but what kind of change remains to be seen. The Eagles had big games all around the locker room on Sunday - Torrey Smith had six catches and 100 yards, Agholor grabbed eight passes for 64 yards, Corey Clement chipped in with 52 yards of offense. This offense rolled up 455 total net yards, 29 first downs, and controlled the football for 39:20 after a first-possession giveaway led to a quick Los Angeles touchdown and a 7-0 lead.

"It was a little rocky at first but we just kept playing our game," Johnson said. "I'm wearing this hat (NFC East Champions) and it feels great. I haven't been to the playoffs since my rookie season. We have a lot more work to do, but we're 11-2 and we're playing good football. The next man has to step up if he needs to."

One thing is for sure: The Eagles have a lot of heart and they're going to play for head coach Doug Pederson and if the path through the NFC's postseason has to go through Lincoln Financial Field, the Eagles are going to have a lot of juice coming from their fans. That helps, no matter who is playing.

"The fans were awesome here. It was incredible," Jeffery said, saluting the thousands of Eagles fans who again turned a road game into a "home" environment.

Now we're all waiting and wondering for an official word. Until then, the focus is on the win, the total team effort and the confidence that if Foles has to be the quarterback moving forward, he will do what the Eagles have done all season: The "next man up" will do his job and let the rest of the team do theirs and the Eagles will be in very good position.

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