Eagles use goal-line stand, Elliott FGs to beat Falcons
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Nick Foles was steady, Jake Elliott had a big leg and the defense made one final stop.
The underdog Philadelphia Eagles are heading to the NFC championship game following a 15-10 victory over the Atlanta Falcons on Saturday. They’ll host the Saints-Vikings winner next Sunday.
Despite going 13-3 to earn the No. 1 seed, the Eagles entered the game as 3-point underdogs against the sixth-seeded Falcons (11-7). They used it as motivation and now it’s onto the next one as they continue pursuit of the franchise’s first Super Bowl title.
“If we believe the outsiders, we will be all messed up,” Pro Bowl defensive tackle Fletcher Cox said. “We went out and proved we can be the real winning team.”
Matt Ryan’s final pass sailed through Julio Jones’ arms in the corner of the end zone as Jalen Mills had tight coverage on fourth down from the 2 to secure Philadelphia’s win. It was another disappointing finish for the Falcons, who blew a 25-point lead against the Patriots in last year’s Super Bowl.
“The reason I play this game is to win a championship,” Ryan said. “That’s why we put all of the hard work we put in. When you don’t get that result, it’s difficult.”
Foles outplayed Ryan, bouncing back from a pair of subpar games with an efficient performance. He completed 77 percent of his passes (23 of 30) for 246 yards, no touchdowns and no turnovers.
“The biggest thing in our locker room is that we believe in one another and that showed,” Foles said. “We kept working, kept grinding, had faith in one another. In any sport there’s going to be criticism. You’re aware of it because you’re human but we blocked it out.”
Here’s some things we learned following Philadelphia’s first playoff win in nine years:
OVERCOMING TURNOVERS: The Eagles committed the only two turnovers and won anyway. Jay Ajayi fumbled on the second play from scrimmage inside Falcons territory and a short punt bounced off an Eagles player setting up Atlanta’s 18-yard touchdown drive.
INCONSISTENT OFFENSE: These weren’t the Falcons who lit up the scoreboard on their way to winning the NFC championship last year. Under first-year offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian, the Falcons weren’t quite as sharp throughout the season and their inconsistency showed up at the wrong time. They were shut out in the second half and held to just 118 yards in the final two quarters.
“I think that’s something we have to look at and evaluate this offseason,” Ryan said. “There were too many times we were a little bit inconsistent.”
JAY TRAIN: Ajayi shook off the fumble and ran well until he inexplicably went to the bench for a long stretch. Ajayi had 50 yards rushing on eight carries through Philadelphia’s first drive of the second quarter, but didn’t get the ball again until the second half. He finished with 54 yards on 15 carries and also dropped a third down pass. He did have 44 yards receiving on three catches.
“I feel like I played poorly,” Ajayi said. “The fumble, can’t do that in a big game. I feel like I could have executed a lot better. A lot of the teammates picked up the slack. The defense played lights out.”
CALL OF THE GAME: Eagles coach Doug Pederson ran an inside counter to wide receiver Nelson Agholor that went for 21 yards to the Falcons 3 on third-and-3 on Philadelphia’s touchdown drive. It was the first time he called that play this season.
“It’s a play we’ve had in our arsenal, but never got to it,” Pederson said. “This was just an opportunity to put it in Nelson’s hands with Lane Johnson as a puller and just executed extremely well.”
JAKE’S LEG: Elliott, who joined the Eagles after Caleb Sturgis was injured in Week 1, bounced back after missing his fourth extra point of the season by connecting on all three of his field goals. His 53-yarder at the end of the first half was his sixth in seven tries from beyond 50. That includes a game-winning 61-yarder against the Giants in Week 3.
“It was definitely tricky out there, just really gusty (wind),” Elliott said. “You don’t know what it’s really going to do out there so you just have to hit the best ball you can and take care of what you can control.”
AP Pro Football Writer Barry Wilner contributed.
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