Kenjon Barner switched mouthpieces at halftime, going to a smaller model.
This would not be worthy of mention, except for the circumstance. The only touchdown the Atlanta Falcons scored in the Eagles' 15-10 divisional round victory Saturday happened when the wind blew a Matt Bosh punt into a crowd of players, well short of Barner, the Eagles' returner, midway through the second quarter.
Barner said he yelled "Poison! Poison! as loud as he could, but the players setting up their blocks didn't hear him. The ball caromed into Bryan Braman, who was unable to fall on it. The Falcons' LaRoy Reynolds recovered at the Eagles' 18, and six snaps later – including two Eagles penalties – Atlanta took its final lead of the game, at 10-6. At the time, it seemed a possibly fatal blow to an Eagles team that came in as the underdog, with little margin for error.
"I think it was just a freak thing," Braman said. "The ball just bounced 10-12 yards laterally. I've just got to do a better job of making sure we hear Kenjon."
"On that punt, really every punt, there was a lot of movement going on in the air," Barner said. "You don't feel comfortable. … It was a ball that I could have gotten to, I just didn't feel comfortable getting to" and trying to make a running catch as the wind swirled.
In the final minute of the first half, Braman partially blocked a Bosh punt, though initially he was called for roughing, and the Eagles got the ball only after the replay official changed the ruling. The punt went just 22 yards, and the Eagles ended up getting a 53-yard field goal from Jake Elliott that changed momentum going into the half.
"I knew I tipped the ball. If they were going to come back and say it was a penalty, that's on the refs, that's not on us," Braman said.
The Eagles wanted to run the ball, and they were going to need Jay Ajayi to do it.
Ajayi's afternoon had an ominous start when he fumbled on his first carry, but he recovered to rush for 49 first-quarter yards before rushing for only 5 yards during the remainder of the game. He helped in the passing game with three catches for 44 yards — including a 32-yard gain on a screen that was the longest pass play by either team — although he had a third-down drop with the Eagles in scoring range.
"I feel like I did some of the job," Ajayi said. "To be honest, I feel like I played poorly, though. Obviously, the fumble first carry – can't do that in a big game. The drop as well – I feel like I could have executed a lot better today. …Our other running backs made a lot of plays, so I just think coming in next week, I need to play better."
Ajayi was noticeably absent for much of the second quarter after his standout first quarter. Coach Doug Pederson attributed it to a lack of plays; Ajayi said it was the way the offense was scripted and he needed to stay in the game mentally.
Ajayi said the Falcons were determined not to let the Eagles run the ball in the second half. He thinks the big emphasis this week will be red zone offense.
"We're going to need to [do better in the red zone] to win the Super Bowl and win the NFC championship," Ajayi said.
Eagles kicker Jake Elliott nailed three crucial field goals, from 21, 37, and 53 yards. He also missed an extra point and sent a kickoff out of bounds.
"Obviously, an up-and-down day, didn't start the way I wanted it to," Elliott said. He said he "overthought" the extra point. "I think I bounced back like I kind of have all year, and luckily was able to make some big kicks down the stretch."
His 53-yarder came with one second remaining in the first half and set the record for the longest field goal in Eagles playoff history. It came after a sequence to the one that led to his 61-yard game-winner against the Giants in September, because Alshon Jeffery made a sideline catch to set up the attempt.
"It felt a little like deja vu there," Elliott said. "Luckily we got the opportunity. I think it carried some momentum going into the half."
Elliott said the wind was tricky, but it was a great learning experience.