CHICAGO – This one had been a slog for the Eagles' offense all afternoon at windy, cold Soldier Field. Start. Stops. A big play there, and then a step back. The NFL's best offense couldn't get it in gear for most of the game against the Chicago Bears, so when it came time to a crucial moment – 3rd-and-6, Eagles ball at their 29-yard line with 5 minutes, 35 seconds remaining and holding onto a precious 4-point lead – the Eagles dialed up a play that required timing, precision, and a whole lot of trust.
Quarterback Jalen Hurts dropped back and looked right for a streaking A.J. Brown, working against cornerback Jaylon Johnson, who shadowed Brown for most of the day. The two were engaged in hand-to-hand combat as Hurts threw a perfect pass that Brown, who created just enough separation, caught at the Chicago 37-yard line. Brown, tip-toeing on the sideline, managed to stay inbounds at the 30-yard line and went all the way to the Chicago 3-yard line before he was tackled.
"He (Johnson) wasn't letting me get inside, so we wanted to take advantage of some room on what he's giving me," Brown said. "Jalen gave me a great ball and I ran up under it and, to be honest, I felt like I was out of bounds. And then I made the catch and I was so tired. I was dead tired. It didn't matter if I scored a touchdown or not. I was just glad I caught the ball. I tried to score, I did, but I knew that if I didn't get there, somebody else would put it in the end zone. And that's what happened."
The 68-yard gain set up a Hurts 1-yard scoring run three plays later and Hurts added a two-point conversion to give the Eagles a double-digit lead in the 25-20 win, Philadelphia's 13th in 14 games. It wasn't the most artistic of wins against a scrappy and physical Bears team, but it was enough as the Eagles moved another step closer to winning the NFC East and securing the top seed in the NFC postseason.
Philadelphia (13-1) has a three-game lead in the NFC East on Dallas (10-4), which lost on Sunday in overtime at Jacksonville. The teams meet on Christmas Eve in Dallas. Minnesota is 11-3 and the Eagles have beaten the Vikings in their head-to-head meeting back in Week 2. An Eagles win over the Cowboys on Saturday secures the NFC East, the first-round bye, and home-field advantage. The NFC playoffs would come through Lincoln Financial Field in January.
Brown added the finishing touches on the win a bit later, lining up on the left side of the formation and running a slant against cornerback Jaylon Jones, catching the Hurts pass to gain 12 yards and converting a crucial third-and-6 play just after the two-minute warning.
"That was my second route of the day on 31 (Jones). I knew him from college (the two played together at Mississippi)," Brown said. "I played ball with him and was familiar with him. I attacked him vertically and ran a good route and Jalen gave me a good ball."
And it was over. Whew …
Brown was a monster in this one, catching 9 passes for 181 yards on 16 targets.
"It was cold, it was tough to breathe, but we got the win and that's a great thing," Brown said. "Tough game."
The Eagles struggled, turning the ball over three times and working hard to keep Bears quarterback Justin Fields under wraps on a day when the temperature in Chicago was in the teens and the lake-effect wind was swirling. But the Eagles never wavered. Never panicked. They just stuck with the game plan and won behind the production of Hurts (376 total yards of offense that included 61 rushing yards and 3 touchdowns on the ground). Brown and DeVonta Smith (5 catches, 126 yards) combined for 14 receptions and 307 yards as Hurts repeatedly threw to the outside against single coverage.
"When you see that," Smith said, "your job is to win and that's what we did today."
The defense did its part, too, registering six quarterback sacks and keeping the dynamic second-year quarterback Fields from doing too much damage. Fields gained 95 yards on 15 rushing attempts and he threw two touchdown passes, but the Eagles allowed only seven points after the three giveaways and had one critical takeaway late in the third quarter.
"They kept battling. It was a tough, tough game," said safety K'Von Wallace, who started at safety for the first time this season and had eight total tackles. "We did enough to win the game. We did our job and we're leaving here with the win. It feels great."
Even with the on-again, off-again performance, the Eagles put up some impressive offensive numbers: They converted 9 of 16 third downs, rolled up 421 total net yards, scored 2 touchdowns in 3 red-zone visits, and scored both times they were in goal-to-go situations.
The offense stayed the course after starting slowly.
"It was good complementary football," right tackle Lane Johnson said. "The defense had some key stops until we got it going and then we made some plays at the end to keep drives alive and put the ball in the end zone. That's how you win games in this league."
None of the plays were bigger than the Hurts-to-Brown strike that converted a third down, put the Eagles at the 3-yard line, and illustrated again a huge difference between this team and most of the rest of the NFL: When the Eagles needed it, they got it.
It doesn't matter who makes the play, somebody steps up.
"That makes us special," said Brown, who now has 74 receptions for 1,201 yards (both career highs), and 10 touchdowns this season. "A win feels great no matter how you get it."