After eight seasons in football hell, Chris Long is just four quarters away from hoisting the Lombardi Trophy for the second year in a row. But, he insisted Thursday that he is no more responsible for his good fortune now than he was those playoff-less 2-14 and 1-15 and 6-10 and 7-9 seasons with the St. Louis Rams.
“Me being on two Super Bowl teams in a row is just that I’ve been on two Super Bowl teams in a row,’’ the Eagles defensive end said. “It has nothing to do with me. I’m just a lucky dude that made some good decisions in free agency.’’
Not quite. A year ago, maybe you could make a case that Long was mostly along for the ride when he won a Super Bowl with the Patriots, who just happen to be the Eagles’ opponent on Feb. 4 in Super Bowl LII.
But not this season. This season, he’s been an important part of the Eagles’ defensive success as an edge-rusher in Jim Schwartz’s wide-nine, 4-3 scheme. He tied for third on the team in sacks with five and was second in pressures with 38. He also had a team-high four forced fumbles.
In last week’s win over the Vikings in the NFC championship, it was his throw-altering pressure on Case Keenum that forced the underthrown, first-quarter pass that was picked off by cornerback Patrick Robinson and returned for a game-tying, momentum-shifting touchdown.
And it was Long who alertly recovered Keenum’s second-quarter fumble deep in Philadelphia territory after Derek Barnett’s strip sack.
“Everybody wants to do their job well,’’ Long said. “I got a thrill out of being there [New England] last year. And I was certainly a part of it.
“I had to do some things that weren’t natural to me. But I was happy to do them because it was a blessing to be there. It was a great team.
“This year, my role’s different. I’ve actually taken less snaps than I did there. But the snaps I’m taking here, I’m doing what I do [best]. And I can be more proud of my individual contributions as far as the quality of football I’m playing.’’
Finding a better fit
Long is a natural 4-3 end who was used a lot inside in the Patriots’ multiple fronts. He played 65 percent of the defensive snaps last year. But his playing time dropped off significantly in the post season.
“I’m just lucky to have played for him for a year,’’ Long said of Patriots coach Bill Belichick. “When you play for a guy who’s that awesome a coach, you look at football different. I learned a lot from him.
“Even when I called him before I hit free agency, I said, ‘Hey, I don’t want to waste your time. I don’t know if I have a spot [on the team] or not. But at 32 years old, if I’m going to play at a high level, a level I can be proud of, I need to play more in-position.’ He understood that from the beginning.’’
Belichick spoke glowingly of Long this week.
“He did a great job for us,’’ he said. “There was no better teammate or guy that tried to embrace the program than Chris. But in the end, he probably was a better fit there for his skills and for this point in his career than maybe we had for him. He probably made a good decision.’’
While the Eagles deserve credit for signing Long to a one-year deal, it was Long who called them about playing in Philadelphia.
“Where I was last year, I had a bunch of people that were, like, you’re crazy for leaving the Patriots. And you suck. You’re old. You’re washed up,’’ Long said. “I’m like, I need to get on a team.’’
Love at first sight
The team he wanted to get on was the Eagles. He looked at Schwartz’s scheme and felt it was an ideal fit for him. He also was impressed with the core of young talent they had. He knew it wasn’t going to be Rams redux.
It also didn’t hurt that his wife, Megan is a South Jersey native.
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He called Connor Barwin, who was released by the Eagles just before the start of the free-agency signing period, and asked him about the organization. Barwin gave the Eagles and the city of Philadelphia rave reviews. He told Long he’d absolutely, positively be a great fit there.
“I said, ‘Well, I’ve got to get hold of somebody there and let them know I’m not dead and that I want to keep playing and I have a lot [left] in the tank,’ ’’ Long said. “Of course, you tell somebody that. But then you have to go out and prove it.’’
He called executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman and told him he wanted to play for the Eagles.
“He could easily have said, ‘Nah, dude. You’re too old,’ or ‘We looked at your tape last year [and weren’t impressed],’ ’’ Long said. But he was like, ‘Yeah, awesome. It would be great.’ From there, we just made it work.
“Connor was right. The coolest thing he loved about this place – and he was really civic-minded – was the city of Philly. As great as everything is in here, the thing I love the most about Philly is Philly.’’
Throw in a second straight Super Bowl trip, and Long is right. He’s a lucky dude.
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Figuring the Eagles
–Nick Foles has a 155.8 third-down passer rating in the Eagles’ two playoff wins. He has completed 15 of 18 third-down attempts for 229 yards (12.7 yards per attempt) and two touchdowns. Thirteen of his 18 third-down attempts, or 72.2 percent, have produced first downs. That’s night-and-day compared to his third-down passing numbers in the 10 regular-season quarters he played after Carson Wentz got hurt. He had a 61.6 third-down passer rating in the regular-season. Completed just 11 of 27 passes and averaged 3.2 yards per attempt. Just five of his 27 third-down throws resulted in first downs.
–The Eagles have done a good job of staying out of third-and-longs the last two weeks. Just eight of their 27 third-down situations (29.6 percent) in the postseason have been eight yards or more, and they converted four of those eight. During the regular-season, 99 of their 230 (43.0 percent) third downs were eight-plus yards. That was the 10th most third-and-longs in the league.
–What happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object? We’ll find out on Super Bowl Sunday when the Patriots have the ball on first down. New England averaged an NFL-best 6.40 yards per play on first down during the regular-season. The Eagles had the league’s best first-down defense, giving up just 4.26 yards per play.
–Foles has a 121.7 first-down passer rating in the Eagles’ two playoff wins. He’s completed 18 of 23 passes for 224 yards and one touchdown on first down.
–Foles has started three playoff games in his career and has yet to throw an interception in 96 attempts.
–Foles, who was just 2-for-13 on throws of 20 or more yards before the Minnesota game, was 4-for-5 for 172 yards and two touchdowns on 20-plus-yard throws against the Vikings.
–Tight end Zach Ertz had eight catches against the Vikings. Five of them were on third down. All five produced first downs. Alshon Jeffery and Corey Clement each had three third-down receptions.
–In the Eagles’ two playoff games, 68.5 percent of their offensive plays have been run out of shotgun. That’s just slightly less than in the regular season (69.7).
–Ninety of the Eagles’ 110 rushing yards against the Vikings came on first down. They averaged 5.0 yards per carry. They averaged just 2.4 yards per carry on first down against the Falcons.
This may sound like nitpicking considering that the Eagles gave up the fourth fewest points per game (18.4) in the league this season.
But they’ve given up points on their opponent’s first possession in seven of the last 10 games, including last week’s NFC championship win.
The Vikings took the opening kickoff and drove 75 yards on nine plays for a touchdown. Case Keenum took advantage of uncharacteristic confusion by the Eagles’ back seven and hit a wide-open Kyle Rudolph with a 25-yard scoring pass.
The good news is it was the only points the Eagles gave up the entire game. The bad news is it’s been happening far too often lately, and they’ll be facing a Patriots team in Super Bowl LII that has scored on their first possession in six of their last nine games.
“Teams make plays,’’ defensive tackle Fletcher Cox said. “Minnesota came out and drove the ball down the field. But when you go back and look at it [on film], we missed a lot of tackles on that drive. We can’t do that going forward, myself included. I think I missed two tackles on that drive.
“I think emotions took over on that first drive of the game. Once guys settled in, we played our defense. Now that they’ve played in the NFC championship game, they know what can happen when you let emotions take over. It cost us seven points. That could’ve been costly later in the game.’’