A team that has shown resilience and resolve and absolutely no panic all season emerged from the locker room for the third quarter of Sunday's game against the New York Giants with one thing in mind: Make a play to seize momentum of a tie game that was, frankly, sluggish all the way through the first half. The Eagles then delivered on a series of plays to change the course of the game and take control on the way to a 34-10 win that lifted their record to 8-7 with two games remaining in the regular season and placed the Eagles in the seventh spot in the NFC playoff picture.
"It was huge coming out in the second half, to be able to put our team in a position that I was able to, I think it created a lot of momentum," said safety Rodney McLeod who turned the game around on an interception on the opening drive of the third quarter. "That's what we talked about at half, just coming out and showing who wanted it more. I think we responded the right way. My interception helped and then we just kept rolling from there."
In a dominating third quarter, the Eagles outscored New York 17-0 thanks to an interception that the offense turned into seven points, a 39-yard punt return that led to a field goal, and a couple of great receptions that capped a 5-play, 57-yard touchdown drive to give the Eagles a 20-3 advantage.
The defense stepped up on the second play of New York's first possession of the second half on a second-and-10 play from the Giants' 25-yard line when strongside linebacker Genard Avery pressured quarterback Jake Fromm, making his NFL starting debut, and Fromm's throw over the middle intended for wide receiver Kenny Golladay was intercepted by McLeod at the 45-yard line and returned to the 21-yard line. Five plays later, running back Boston Scott ran left and burst into the end zone from 5 yards out, giving the Eagles their first lead of the game at 10-3.
"Somebody was going to make a play," Scott said. "Whether it was the offense or the defense, it was just going to happen. That's the kind of team we are. We had to be patient and go out and make the play. Tough first half, but we didn't let it get to us. We just came back and played better in the second half."
The second big play came courtesy of punt return man Jalen Reagor, who showed his explosiveness moving up to catch a punt in the middle of the field and then cutting to his right and finding open space for a 39-yard return to the New York 21-yard line. Jake Elliott turned that big play into three points with a 37-yard field goal to put the Eagles ahead 13-3.
"It was really me just being aggressive and using my abilities and trusting myself and listening to the coaches telling me to be aggressive," Reagor said. "It's honestly just one of those 'feel' things. ... I've been watching (former NFL great) Devin Hester a lot as well and watching D-Jack (DeSean Jackson) and implementing my own game, my own, way and just trusting myself. I knew it was bound to happen. I stayed patient and when that time came it felt good to make a play and give a spark to the team."
After the defense – which dominated all day, more on that later – held New York on its next possession, the Eagles went on the offensive at their 43-yard line and, helped by a Jalen Hurts 39-yard completion to wide receiver Quez Watkins, who made a terrific leaping grab, Philadelphia was in scoring position at the New York 9-yard line.
Three plays later, Hurts rolled right and threw to wide receiver DeVonta Smith, who had gone in motion from the left side of the formation to the right, as Smith ran toward the right pylon in the end zone. Hurts made a good throw in a tight window and Smith made a sensational grab in traffic that initially was ruled a touchdown. Then the officials announced a reversal of the call, and then announced that the play was under review, after which the original call stood as Smith somehow got both feet down – including a right toe drag that was just incredible – as he was falling out of bounds.
Smith did his version of the Moonwalk and scored his fifth touchdown of the season. He led the Eagles on Sunday with 5 receptions for 80 yards on 7 targets. On a day when the running game was "limited" to 130 yards on 30 attempts and Hurts completed 17 of 29 passes for 199 yards and two touchdowns, Smith's play was magnified and it was huge and, technically speaking, it was incredible – perhaps even better than the touchdown he scored in Denver or the sideline catch he made on Tuesday night against Washington.
"I would say the one today was better (than the sideline catch against Washington)," Smith said. "I was going backwards so I had to drag my foot and I felt like Michael Jackson."
Just like that, it was 20-3 Eagles and the rout was on. Philadelphia put together a 10-play, 75-yard drive that ended as Hurts faked a handoff to Scott and threw to his right to a wide-open Lane Johnson for the 5-yard score, making it 27-3. Johnson's score represented the first touchdown by an Eagles offensive lineman since the 2010 season when Todd Herremans did it against Dallas. To continue the good times, McLeod broke up a pass intended for wide receiver Kadarius Toney and linebacker Alex Singleton was there to intercept the pass and race 29 yards into the end zone to put the Eagles ahead 34-3 with more than 10 minutes remaining in the game.
And on a perfect, mid-50s day-after-Christmas afternoon in South Philadelphia, the Eagles moved into the seventh and final playoff spot in the NFC playoff picture. Postseason destiny is officially in their hands.
"It's the exact position we knew we could put ourselves in," Singleton said. "Every guy in that locker room is ready to be here and knows we're supposed to be here. We're ready to continue to put our best foot forward and finish these last two weeks, and most importantly against Washington next week, strong."
Here are the best photos from Week 16.