The Eagles played well enough through their first 15 games that it didn’t matter how they played in their 16th. They secured the No. 1 seed in the NFC before they took the field in a 6-0 loss to the Dallas Cowboys in the regular-season finale Sunday.
They now have two weeks to figure out how to extend their season beyond a 17th game, and Sunday did little to offer hope that Nick Foles and the Carson Wentz-less offense will knock off a top team in January.
So why should fans be confident in this team?
“Why wouldn’t they be?” safety Malcolm Jenkins asked.
Maybe because of the way the offense played the last two weeks. Jenkins didn’t want to hear it.
“We still won 13 games. No. 1 seed,” Jenkins said. “Everyone’s got to come through Philly. I don’t care if [a reporter was] starting at quarterback. We should be confident in that. …We win one game, we’re in the NFC championship at home at Philly. So yeah, I don’t care who we have at quarterback, who we have at offense, we’d take those odds.”
Jenkins, who has pledged confidence in Foles, touched on a common team-wide sentiment since Wentz’s injury: Everything remains in front of the Eagles, and their success is about more than the quarterback. Win one home game, and they’re hosting the championship game. Win two games, and they’re headed to the Super Bowl. Of course, they need better quarterback play to achieve either.
“I’m not concerned,” coach Doug Pederson said. “I’ve still got a lot of confidence in our offense. It’s not one person or one guy. There is enough to go around.”
Foles started the game because the Eagles wanted to generate offensive momentum, but he did little to calm concern about the Eagles’ postseason prospects during one quarter of work. He lasted four uninspiring drives and finished 4 of 11 for 39 yards with an interception. His quarterback rating of 9.3 was closest to his jersey number – an ugly sign for a quarterback – yet Foles insisted the last two games have not affected his confidence.
“I’d say because I’ve played a lot of football,” Foles said. “I know who I am as a player. And throughout my career and my life, I haven’t always played great games. …And the key is you remain confident because you know who you are.”
The Eagles finished the regular season 13-3, falling short of setting a franchise record. They also lost their first home game of the season. But reaching the postseason healthy was most important, which was why the Eagles sat seven key contributors and six starters, if you include lead running back Jay Ajayi as a starter. Pederson also sat linebacker Nigel Bradham, defensive end Brandon Graham, defensive tackle Tim Jernigan, safety Rodney McLeod, and cornerback Jalen Mills. Defensive end Derek Barnett, who’s a contributing player, was also inactive. And most of the starters who played were pulled before halftime.
That included Foles. His best drive was the first one of the game, when he led the Eagles into Cowboys territory with two first downs. He threw a nice third-down pass to Torrey Smith that would have put the Eagles in field goal range, but the veteran receiver dropped the ball and the Eagles missed a fourth-down attempt from the Cowboys’ 39-yard line.
Had Smith made the catch, maybe the Eagles could have scored on the drive and the conversation in Philadelphia would be different during the next two weeks. Instead Pederson sent Foles onto the field for three more drives in the first quarter – and the offense looked even more lackluster than it did in last week’s dud against Oakland.
Pederson said his plan was to play Foles at least one quarter.
“I thought coming out on our first drive we were able to get a couple of things going,” Foles said. “Obviously as a whole, it’s not exactly what we wanted, but there’s a lot to build on and I’m confident that we will build on it.”
The Eagles stumbled to a three-and-out on Foles’ second drive. On the third drive, he threw an interception on an ugly underthrow to Alshon Jeffery. Penalty flags ruined his fourth drive, with two penalties knocking the Eagles back to a third and 21 and negating a first down. The Eagles were forced to punt. Pederson didn’t want to see any more.
“That was about what they were going to get anyway,” Pederson said, “so it was just time.”
Nate Sudfeld entered the game in the second quarter. If you’re looking for a quarterback controversy, it might be manufactured. Sudfeld brought energy and mobility, but it wasn’t enough to score any points. Sudfeld finished 19 of 23 for 134 yards and a 90.9 quarterback rating. Then again, he played behind three reserves on the offensive line and threw to substitute wide receivers.
“You want to get points and finish drives, but we kind of shot ourselves in the foot a little bit,” Sudfeld said. “I still feel like it was all there, we just kind of didn’t play our best.”
The Eagles defense excelled for the second consecutive week, which should not be taken lightly because the Cowboys played key players such as quarterback Dak Prescott, running back Ezekiel Elliott, and wide receiver Dez Bryant the whole game. The Eagles either sat or relieved many of their key starters. Heralded rookie cornerback Sidney Jones played his first game for the Eagles after being activated Saturday. Elliott’s 103 rushing yards made him the first running back to top 100 yards against the Eagles this season.
The only points came in the fourth quarter, when Prescott hit Brice Butler for a 20-yard touchdown to take a 6-0 lead. (The Cowboys missed an extra point.) Sudfeld couldn’t lead the Eagles to a touchdown, and the Cowboys missed a late field goal. The defense allowed only 16 points during the last two games, which is good timing for Jim Schwartz’s head coaching candidacy elsewhere.
The loyal Eagles fans who endured bitter cold to watch a listless game deserve credit, and their reward will come in two weeks, when the Eagles host a second-weekend playoff game for the first time since January 2005. Foles and the Eagles must play better if they don’t want that to be their only game in the postseason. But the Eagles have answered the call throughout the season, and they finished as the No. 1 seed.
“At the end of the day, today’s New Year’s Eve, 13-3, No. 1 seed going into a home playoff game,” Jenkins said. “Life is good.”
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