Mon. Jan 25th, 2021

The Philly Sports Cave

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Eagles Play Underdog Roll All The Way To Super Bowl

6 min read

Home dogs once again and knowing their victory over Atlanta may have created more questions than it answered, the Eagles made a definitive statement in earning the franchise’s third trip to the Super Bowl.

Sunday’s 6:40 kickoff at Lincoln Financial Field guaranteed a few things. First, it meant a full afternoon of tailgating for Eagles Nation, ample opportunity to get whipped into a full frothing fervor. Second, it meant that, before Ed Hochuli could clumsily retrieve his tossed coin and declare that the Eagles had won the toss, the AFC would have its champion, in this case **SPOILER** the New England Patriots.

But, enough about them …

The Philadelphia Eagles elected to kickoff and were immediately made to question their decision when the Vikings executed their opening script of plays to near perfection in a 9-play drive that was punctuated by a 25-yard TD pass from Case Keenum to TE Kyle Rudolph.

Trailing 7-0, Nick Foles led his team on to the field and immediately picked up where he had left off the week before, hitting Nelson Agholor on a Run/Pass Option for 11 yards and a first down. Coach Doug Pederson opted to go downfield on the next play. Torrey Smith was unable to hold on to Foles’ slightly underthrown bomb. Two plays later, Trey Burton failed to keep both feet in bounds on a pass that would have moved the chains and the Birds would have to punt.

Falling behind two scores against arguably the best defensive unit in the NFL could have proven fatal to the home team’s chances. So, the defense needed to make a stand or, better yet, a game changing play. The latter came on the drive’s sixth play, a 3rd and 8 that saw defensive end (and all-around good guy) Chris Long rattle Keenum with an extended right arm that weakened his throw to Adam Thielen on the near sideline. Eagle CB Patrick Robinson was positioned perfectly to cradle the wounded duck and immediately began setting up blockers for an epic return. He was about halfway home going straight down the sideline when he detoured abruptly to his right, outracing the Minnesota offensive linemen and picking up a block from Ronald Darby before squeezing inside the pylon all the way across the field for the 50-yard touchdown.

Momentum is a curious and sometimes fickle force and Robinson’s pick six had basically worked like pressing the ‘Reset’ button. Would Keenum and the Vikes rediscover their opening drive rhythm or had the Birds D wrestled ‘Old Mo’ to their side?

The answer came quickly in the form of a Minnesota 3-and-out and a 12-play 75-yard drive by the Eagles that featured two third down conversions and ended with an 11-yard LeGarrette Blount TD run that put the top-seeded underdogs in the lead on the third play of the second quarter.

Another strong stand by the defense gave the Eagles an opportunity to create a two-score cushion. But, their drive ended with a 3rd down sack near midfield by Danielle Hunter. The Vikings seized upon their opportunity and began an effective march toward a tying score. Over the next six minutes, Keenum led his charges from their own 15 to the Philadelphia 16. On 3rd and 5, rookie DE Derek Barnett raced around a weak block attempt by TE David Morgan for a strip sack that ended the Minnesota drive when Long pounced on the loose ball.

Six plays later, near midfield, Foles was facing a 3rd and 10 and the vaunted Minnesota pass rush. All-Pro DE Everson Griffen made himself evident for the first time all night. But, Foles deftly side-stepped the pressure as Halapoulivaati Vaitai drove Griffen off the play. Buying those few seconds turned WR Alshon Jeffery loose downfield and Foles launched a bomb that hit Jeffery in stride for a 53-yard score and a 21-7 lead with just over a minute remaining in the first half.

Minnesota’s two-minute offense failed to produce an answer and Pederson found himself with 0:29, three times out and an offense that was starting to roll. A successful run by Jay Ajayi was followed by a 36-yard pass to a wide open Zach Ertz and a 13-yard catch and run by Ajayi again, setting up a 38-yard Jake Elliot field goal as the clock expired. The underdogs were taking a 17-point lead up the tunnel and would be receiving the ball to begin the 3rd Quarter.

Halftime did nothing to stem the tide. Foles & Company cruised downfield and quickly found themselves at the Vikings’ 41 with a fresh set of downs. Pederson hasn’t shown much of a flair for trickery, short of the occasional end around or ghost reverse action. But, the situation dictated taking a shot at the endzone and the second year coach decided to unveil a flea-flicker. The veteran Smith played his role brilliantly, as he disinterestedly ambled toward his ‘block’ on Trae Waynes. His sudden burst of speed caught the former Michigan State Spartan flat-footed and Foles tossed another pinpoint deep ball. Smith redeemed his earlier drop as he held on tight while tumbling over the end zone pylon and denied Harrison Smith’s attempt to break it up. It was now 31-7 and it was becoming a distinct possibility that both of these teams would need to make travel plans for the Twin Cities.

In desperation, Keenum drove his team into the red zone and to an eventual 4th and Goal. His pass to Thielen was well defended by Darby. But, the skilled receiver still appeared to gather it for a touchdown as he was lying on the ground. Replay said otherwise and the Eagles took over on downs.

With 6:21 left in the 3rd Quarter, Foles led a methodical drive highlighted by a brilliant touch pass to Agholor that went for 42 yards. The drive devoured the remainder of the third quarter and, on the second play of the final quarter, Jeffery caught his second TD of the game, reaching high above his coverage.

We should note that the crowd of nearly 70,000, which featured the likes of Charles Barkley, actor Bradley Cooper, Eric Lindros, Mike Trout and more, was reportedly louder than any crowd in the 15-year history of the Linc. Well done, guys. The crowd is worthy of mention here because, with the score 38-7, the celebration began in earnest.

The teams traded unsuccessful drives. Then, Minnesota made a final prideful march into Philadelphia territory. With about six minutes to go in the game, Darby appeared to intercept a pass meant for Thielen. The Viking receiver stripped it away from the Eagle defender. But, safety Corey Graham was right there to gather it in for the pick.

Pederson sent Foles out for the final drive, eventually replacing him with backup Nate Sudfeld and allowing the home crowd to give him the raucous ovation he had earned by completing each of his last 15 pass attempts, including 11 of 11 in the second half, in amassing an impressive stat line – 26/33, 352 yards, 3TD. If last week told us what this team could do when they were imperfect, we now know what can happen when their QB is nearly flawless.

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Sudfeld dutifully knelt away the final moments and Eagles fans everywhere kicked off their biggest celebration since 2004.

The Philadelphia Eagles are Champions of the National Football Conference!

Vegas oddsmakers took no time at all in installing the Patriots as 5.5-point favorites in Super Bowl LII. Hmmm … an underdog role. Something tells me that’s not shocking or troubling to anyone at the NovaCare Complex.

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