It was cold.
The Cowboys’ starters beat the Eagles’ backups, 6-0, in a meaningless finale that left the faithful chilled of body and of heart.
If the Eagles are lucky, it will stay cold. It might be their only chance.
At kickoff, it was 19 degrees with a 17-mph wind that made it feel like 3 degrees … or, in other words, about 6 numerals smaller than Nick Foles’ passer rating, which was 9.3.
Now, that’s cold.
Since Carson Wentz’s season ended with a knee injury in Los Angeles in Game 13, the weight of expectations shifted to the narrower shoulders of Foles. Since Foles’ four-touchdown, fool’s-gold performance against the Giants in Game 14, those expectations have steadily dwindled. He has proved every team in the NFL correct in their offseason evaluation of him; that he isn’t a viable NFL starter. Foles has compiled a 46.9 passer rating in the last five quarters, one of which he played yesterday, before Doug Pederson had seen enough, and pulled him.
But all is not lost. Not if Fletcher Cox and Mother Nature cooperate.
The Eagles have a stout defense, led by Cox, the Pro Bowl tackle. That defense will be rested after the bye next week; doubly so, since seven of the first 12 players either played little or not at all Sunday.
The Eagles have three running backs, each with a distinctly different running style: Jay Ajayi, the slasher; LeGarrette Blount, the battering ram; and Corey Clement, the projectile. The Birds led the NFC in rushing entering Sunday.
The Eagles also have a quarterback who, in cold and windy conditions, in consecutive weeks, played poorly enough to make third-stringer Nate Sudfeld the most popular man in southeastern Pennsylvania.
With home-field advantage throughout the playoffs and a first-round bye, when the Birds play again it will be the second weekend in January, when the average high is about 40 degrees. They’d better hope it’s below average. As long as they don’t ask too much of St. Nick, and as long as the defense continues to play well, the cold can be their ally.
“It’s going to be a big advantage. It’s different when you’re talking 20s and 30s,” said veteran safety Corey Graham. “When you’re talking about when it feels like 3 degrees — it’s going to be tough for those down-South teams coming up here. It’s definitely going to be an advantage for us.”
As he spoke, the five other NFC teams most likely to all play either in the south, or in domes, or, in the Saints’ case, both. Seattle was alive, too, but even the Pacific Northwest isn’t like the northern Mid-Atlantic come January.
The Vikings can replicate cold conditions in practice, but they play their games indoors. Besides, they’re the No. 2 seed, so they’re irrelevant for three weeks. Yes, it’s damp in Seattle and it can be chilly in Charlotte, but both places average highs of about 50 degrees in January. Root for Carolina, if only to see Cam’s outfit if it’s 17 degrees.
Atlanta, New Orleans and LA? That’s where Philadelphians take their winter vacations.
Graham knows cold. He was drafted by the Bears, played the last three seasons in Buffalo, his hometown, and went to college at New Hampshire. When he played in Baltimore, in 2012 and 2013, he didn’t even bother to bring a coat.
He knows what its like when the cold creeps so far into your fingers and toes that they stop hurting; that is, until they begin to thaw out. Now, so does defensive back Jaylen Watkins, who’s as Florida as navel oranges.
“My hands are still frozen. My joints just started hurting. I’m starting to feel the aches, now that they’re warming up,” said Watkins.
And he lined his muff with toe-warmers.
Still, it warmed his heart when he heard the Cowboys complain about playing a meaningless game in Arctic conditions:
“One of the guys over there — I’m not going to say his name — was, like, ‘Y’all got every playoff game here? That’s definitely going to be an advantage to you guys. It’s too cold right now.’ ”
That anonymous Cowboy might have a point.
Matty “Ice” Ryan, a Philadelphia native, didn’t get his name by playing on frozen tundra. Yes, he was a bad-weather beast at Boston College, but nowadays he plays indoors with the Falcons.
Jared “Trump Hands” Goff had to overcome a little-digit stigma for the Rams to make him the No. 1 pick last year. He has 9-inch mitts, and you know what they say: Small hands … small chance holding on to the ball in the cold.
Carson Wentz has a full inch on Goff. Size matters.
This explains, of course, why Drew Brees led the Saints to a playoff win at Lincoln Financial Field on Jan 4, 2014, when it was 25 degrees with a 19-degree wind chill factor.
Brees’ hands: 10 1/4 inches.
The quarterback he beat that day:
Nick Foles: 10 5/8.