As I took the time to reflect on the Eagles Divisional Round playoff loss to the Saints...a few glaring issues came to mind. The first idea that popped up was how well the Eagles started out the game in one of the toughest and loudest road stadiums to play in, the New Orleans Superdome. Playing a road playoff game in the NFL is hard in itself; and when you factor in the record noise crowd levels that are produced in the Superdome, it becomes one of the most hostile environments to execute your plays. The Eagles did an admirable job of navigating the beginning of the game and weathering the storm. By the way that they started the game, one would have thought that the Eagles were the home team and not the Saints.
However; its not how you begin a game in the NFL, its how you finish and unfortunately the Eagles finished out on the loosing side in 2018. There were many reasons why the Philadelphia Eagles lost this game and we could spend an entire offseason debating those reasons one by one. Furthermore, there wasn't one play that decided the game. Nonetheless, there were six key moments or plays that I can think of...that if any one of those six plays turned out differently...the Eagles win that game. That's why they call it a game of inches and the NFL is a war of attrition. We will highlight these six key plays/moments that could have changed the outcome of the game.
Before the list of plays it is important to note that the Eagles loosing Brandon Brooks (All-Pro Right Guard) early in the first quarter could also be the first reason on the list as A) The Eagles did not run the ball effectively after he left and B) The Saints were able to put way more pressure on Foles the rest of the game causing him to rush many of his passes causing him to be unseasonably inaccurate. Also another key realization that came to mind watching this game that was very evident during his absence...Fletcher Cox is not only the best player on the Eagles roster, but he is also the most important player on the field in any game when it comes to making plays. Here is the list of plays:
- The Brandon Graham strip sack of Drew Brees and subsequent non recovery by the Eagles. This play occurred with .48 seconds left in the first quarter and after a review, the play was called a forced fumble that was recovered by New Orleans Ryan Ramczyk at the Saints 31. Had Brandon Graham just fell on the ball instead of trying to pick up the fumble, the Eagles get at least a field goal and its 17-0 in the second quarter. After a long replay, they ruled that Graham never had control of the football, causing 4th down and a Saints punt. This was what Chip Kelly used to call a "city' fumble as opposed to a "country fumble." When there is a "city" fumble (fumble in traffic) the best play is to just fall on the ball and Graham should have went for the easy recovery instead of trying to extend the play. That's 3 points the Eagles could have desperately used and huge momentum swing.
- Nick Foles Interception #1. On the ensuing drive the Eagles were at the 48 yard line and a deep pass was called from Foles to Zach Ertz. There was only one problem. Foles threw a horrible pass that was well underthrown and Marshawn Lattimore was able to make an easy play on the ball for the pick. Two problems on this play. If Nick throws this ball on a dime Ertz may have been able to score a touchdown (7 more points left on the field) and the Eagles would have been up 21-0. The second mistake on the play was by Zach Ertz, who should have at least contested Lattimore and maybe the ball falls to the turf. Either way the play was a failure and cost the Eagles not only points but further momentum as well.
- The Saints Fake Punt on 4th and 1 on the Saints own 30 yard line, that Taysom Hill rushed for 4 yards on and a First Down. So many things went wrong on this play. First of all, Fletcher Cox and Rasul Douglas were both hurt on this play (which would be a huge factor moving forward in the game.) Secondly, this was a huge gamble by Sean Payton who could feel the game getting away from him, taking matters into his own hands. If the Eagles make that play they are in field goal range again and possibly are able to ice the game with a touchdown. Talk about key moments in the game...this was the turning point where the Saints took back full momentum and got themselves back into a contest that they were conceivably squandering. Fletcher Cox and Douglas were out the entire rest of the Saints drive which ended in a touchdown...bringing us to moment #4.
- With 7:28 to go in the second quarter, the Saints had a 4th and Goal at the Eagles 2 yard line. Of course, on this play Rasul Douglas (CB) was out once again and Josh Hawkins (Practice Squad DB recently called up) was on the field. Well the Saints went right after him as he bit on a double move by Kirkwood and Brees hit him in the corner of the end zone for an easy touchdown. Yes, this only made the game 14-7; however, the Saints were back in the game and the momentum had totally shifted at this point. If the Eagles make that stop they possibly get momentum back and maybe the Saints are deflated. Instead the Eagles gave Brees and company life that they would not give back and of course you watched the rest of the game.
- 18 Plays. 11 Minute and 42 Second Drive. 80 Passing Yards. 32 Rushing Yards. Drew Brees hit Michael Thomas (once again flanked by the reserve Hawkins) 6 yards deep in the end zone to go up 17-14 in the 3rd quarter. Fletcher Cox was once again missing in action (injury) and the Saints took advantage of a tired defense and some costly penalties. This was one of the longest drives in the modern super bowl playoff era. There were several key 3rd and longs that the Saints executed to perfection. There were also several key penalties on the Saints that could have deflated their own balloon. A Max Unger holding penalty negated what would have been a Taysom Hill touchdown pass to Alvin Kamara. Michael Thomas caught five passes alone on the drive including the 2 yard touchdown.
- Nick Foles Interception #2. It was happening again. The Eagles were driving late. The magic of Nick Foles was on fire. And in an instant it was over. Ball goes through Alshon Jeffery's hands and into the waiting arms of Marshawn Lattimore for his second and game ending interception. Folks...I believe had Alshon made this catch...the Eagles are facing the Rams in the NFC Championship instead of the Saints. I firmly believe that if the Eagles executed that play...then Foles finishes the comeback in dramatic fashion and the Eagles win on the last possession. However; it would not be. We know how the game ended. Had any one of these six plays gone the other way...I believe that we are talking about an Eagles win and it would be "get your popcorn ready" time in Philly. Instead its get your mind on and reflection time on a season of what ifs and the game of inches...
BREAKING NEWS...The 2018 Philadelphia Eagles will not be repeat Super Bowl Champs. However; this does not mean that the season was a failure or even a disappointment in my mind because of one major reason...the amount of key injuries sustained vs. the amount of adversity faced vs. the insurmountable odds that were overcome vs. the war of attrition. Ok...well this is more than one reason but nonetheless this is the legacy of this team. The 2017 version of the team overcame many injuries but this team was DECIMATED and I do mean decimated. The Saints game was a microcosm of the Eagles entire season (at one point they were missing Fletcher Cox, Rasul Douglas, Brandon Graham, Michael Bennett, Nigel Bradham, Corey Graham, and Alshon Jeffery.) Wow...its like the game within a game. Or in this case...the game within a season.
Here is a list of Eagles players that were on Injured Reserve:
- Mike Wallace (WR2)
- Mack Hollins (WR4)
- Jay Ajayi (RB1)
- Corey Clement (RB2)
- Josh Perkins (TE3)
- Richard Rodgers (TE4)
- Rodney Mcleod (FS)
- Ronald Darby (CB1)
- Jalen Mills (CB2)
- Derek Barnett (DE2)
- Josh Sweat (DE4)
- Jordan Malaita (LT2).
- Carson Wentz (QB1)
- Alshon Jeffery (WR1)
- Sidney Jones (CB3)
- Rasul Douglas (CB4)
- Jordan Hicks (MLB1)
- Nigel Bradham (OLB1)
- Corey Graham (SS2)
- Avonte Maddox (CB5)
- Darren Sproles (RB3)
- Stefan Wisnewski (OG)
- Lane Johnson(RT1)
- Jason Peters (LT1)
- Jason Kelce (C)
- Haloti Ngata (DT3)
- Tim Jernigan (DT2)
So for the Eagles to begin the season 4-6 and then come all the way back to make the playoffs was a huge success in my mind. The team overcame insurmountable odds to finish where they did after almost every expert to a "T" counted them out. No one expected this Eagles team to finish with a 9-7 record, let alone make the playoffs. And yet we sit here Tuesday afternoon, almost having saw this team upset the New Orleans Saints in NOLA and go to the NFC Championship Game. Yes folks...they were that close to accomplishing what many thought was impossible. And I will go one step further...I firmly believe that had the Eagles won this game that we would be hoisting our second Lombardi Trophy again in February.
So close...but yet so far away. A season of promise. Almost saw another Nick Foles miracle. We saw plenty of Foles magic on display. Where do we go from here? Many questions to answer. What players do we resign? Is Nick Foles staying or is he going? Many questions to ponder as we enter an offseason with more questions than answers. However; one things for sure...the 2018 Philadelphia Eagles season was a season of promise and we have every reason to be proud of this team that battled and clawed and fought their way to the divisional round of the NFC playoffs.
This team that won a wildcard game on the road in Chicago against arguably the best defense all season. A team that won 5 of its last six games to finish 9-7, winning 4 of those 5 on the road. Amazing Finish BIRDS! I see a bright future ahead and many more years of success. Well, that's my season ending review. I hope that you enjoyed it. There will be plenty of time for what ifs and where do we goes but for now its just enjoy what just happened and ponder how good this team could have been if not for all of the injuries. Until next time...this is Jason Voorhees reporting For Philly Rock Radio. Cheers!