LANDOVER, MD – Rodney McLeod had no doubt, none at all. As the entire FedEx Field crowd – at least 60 percent of them Eagles fans – held their breath as officials reviewed an apparent McLeod interception in the end zone with 24 seconds remaining in Sunday's game against Washington, McLeod told his teammates "I got this. Don't worry about a thing."
"I knew I made the play," McLeod said after the call was upheld and the fans and the Eagles sidelines went crazy celebrating a 20-16 win over the Football Team. "I credit Anthony Harris and the defensive line for putting some pressure up there at the line of scrimmage, and then I just saw the ball and went after it. Dove for it, knew I caught it. Great feeling. Amazing feeling. It's a blessing, it really is. It's something that's never happened to me before and to have it happen in such a big moment, I'm just so happy about it."
McLeod celebrated by jumping onto the Eagles' bench as the fans – most of them adorned in Midnight Green and White – screamed their love at him. It was that kind of emotional, hard-fought game as the Eagles won their fourth straight and seventh in the last nine times out. Playing Washington for the second time in less than two weeks, the Eagles found themselves in an early hole, trailing 16-7 at the half, and then fighting and scrapping and clawing their way to daylight.
It wasn't easy. It wasn't pretty, not in the least. But it was a win. As the Eagles departed FedEx Field, they kept their attention on what was straight in front of them – finishing the season strong.
"We started slow again and we need to be better, but we kept fighting," tackle Lane Johnson said. "That's what this team is all about. We've been winning like this all year. Every part of the team is doing their part and contributing, and today it was the defense stepping up and making a game-saving play."
Philadelphia turned it up in the second half, blanking the Washington offense in those two quarters and chipping away with the offense. A 14-play, 75-yard drive to open the third quarter ended on Boston Scott's second touchdown run of the day, a fourth-and-goal dive into the end zone from the 1-yard line. Linebacker Genard Avery ended a Washington drive late in the third quarter when he sacked quarterback Taylor Heinicke for a 13-yard loss that backed Washington at its 18-yard line, and the resulting Ryan Winslow punt was returned by Jalen Reagor to the Philadelphia 43-yard line. A couple of first downs later, the Eagles were in field goal position and Jake Elliott's 42-yarder gave the Eagles their first lead, 17-16, early in the fourth quarter.
Then the defense stepped up again, as cornerback Avonte Maddox had coverage on a fourth-and-4 throw to wide receiver Dax Milne and Philadelphia took over at their 49-yard line with 7:31 to play and a chance to ice the game. The Eagles didn't get the touchdown they wanted, but they took 5:10 off the clock and moved into Elliott range again and he was on point with his 41-yard field goal attempt. With 2:21 to play, the Eagles' defense took the field with the game on the line.
"That was the first time I've been in that situation, with so much on the line, in the NFL," said defensive end Josh Sweat, who had a huge day with 1.5 sacks, two passes tipped, and two quarterback hurries. "It was a lot of fun. We knew we had to get off the field, simple as that."
Except that it wasn't simple at all. Washington dinked and dunked and converted three third downs and gained four first downs and finally reached the Philadelphia 20-yard line. First down. Thirty seconds remaining. An enormous game on the line. Heinicke took the snap and stood in a firm pocket and threw down the middle looking for tight end John Bates. Harris had coverage underneath on Bates and the ball was slightly overthrown. McLeod, over the top, dived for the football and made a sensational catch. Then he kneeled in the end zone, ran to the corner of the end zone to celebrate with Eagles, and waited, along with everyone else, for the replay.
Not that there was any doubt in his mind.
"It feels so great, to make this play in this kind of game. Coming back in my hometown, it's just so special," said McLeod, who had an interception a week earlier to help turn the game around in the win over the New York Giants. "I'm just doing my part. Everybody contributes on this team and here we are with a whole lot to play for."
As the Eagles expected, Washington played a hard, physical game and came out strong on its first drive to take a 7-0 lead. Then it was 10-0, and then 16-7 at the half. And then, all Eagles.
"Sometimes it isn't pretty," said tight end Dallas Goedert, who caught 6 passes for a game-high 71 yards. "It's always tough to play a team twice in such a short period of time, so all that matters is that we came here and won the game. That's how you do it in the NFL. It's late in the season and there was a lot at stake. We came up big."
As they have done in this turnaround season, the Eagles found a way. The running game gained 118 yards on 34 carries and Hurts played very well, completing 17 of 26 passes for 214 yards to go along with 44 big yards on the ground. Most important, the Eagles didn't turn the ball and they were aggressive, converting 3 of 4 fourth downs.
"There was no panic. Everybody stayed calm. I can't tell you how many times Anthony Harris said to me, 'Don't worry, we've got this. We've got this,'" said Head Coach Nick Sirianni, who became one of four head coaches in NFL history to earn a winning record after starting the season 2-5. "That goes to great leadership and that's been so important all season. It sure was today. When you have great leadership, somebody is going to step up and make a big play. We got that today when we needed it most."