Eagles defense carries Nick Foles most of the way, and he eventually finds the finish line

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Eagles quarterback Nick Foles fumbles the ball on the snap from center in the second quarter of the game at Lincoln Financial Field on Christmas. Foles recovered the ball.

Like the temperature, Nick Foles’ passer rating kept going down all evening, right up until the Eagles’ final possession, when Foles dinked and dunked the Eagles within range for Jake Elliott’s game-winning 48-yard field goal.

The Eagles ultimately clawed their way to what they came for, a 19-10 Christmas night victory, the margin widened by a final-play fumble recovery touchdown, the win giving them home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. But before hitting four passes in a row, for 21 yards, in the wake of Ronald Darby’s interception of Derek Carr at the Eagles’ 47 with 54 seconds remaining, Foles was shaky enough to raise huge questions about how much home field will matter.

“I didn’t play good enough,” Foles said after his second start of the season. “Absolutely. I gotta play cleaner … I’ll look at the film, I’ll improve … This was a crazy, sloppy game. I thought our defense played wonderful [shaking loose five second-half Raiders turnovers] … That’s huge.”

Eagles coach Doug Pederson said he hasn’t decided how much Foles or any of Monday night’s starters will play in the regular season finale New Year’s Eve against Dallas, but he said with only two healthy quarterbacks, Foles probably will see some action.

Pederson said that his team faced too many third-and-long situations, after missed assignments or penalties on first or second down. “We couldn’t find a rhythm,” he said.

At the end of the first quarter, Foles’ passer rating was 112.5, with Carson Wentz’s backup 3-for-5 for 25 yards and a touchdown, on a 17-yard screen to Jay Ajayi. At the half, 89.2, Foles 12-for-21 for 119 yards and that touchdown. Thirty-three of the yards came on a final-minutes drive on which Foles threw the ball away on third-and-4 from the Raiders’ 15, then Elliott missed a 33-yard go-ahead field goal in a vicious crosswind – wide right at the goal posts through which he eventually blasted through the winner.

“That’s a good team,” Foles said of the 6-9 Oakland Raiders. “I saw ’em a lot last year when I was with Kansas City … I thought they came out and played really aggressive on defense. We didn’t execute on third down,” going 1-for-14.

At the end of the Eagles’ first drive following the 25-yard field goal that gave the Raiders a 10-7 third-quarter lead, it was 87.0, Foles 13-for-23 for 129 yards and the TD. At the end of the next series, on which Foles missed Torrey Smith on fourth-and-19 from his 13, the passer rating was 83.5, Foles 13-for-24  for 129, and yes, the long-ago, half-forgotten TD, back when the Lincoln Financial Field crowd was sure its Christmas was going to be capped with its Eagles showing that they remained a potent playoff force, even with Wentz watching from a box, following season-ending surgery for a torn left ACL.

The next series ended in an Ajayi fumble inside the Raiders’ 30, but the Eagles got the ball back on the next snap when Mychal Kendricks helped force a Marshawn Lynch fumble. Foles hit Nelson Agholor off play action, 12 yards to the Raiders’ 18. It was his longest completion of the second half, and only the third ball caught by an Eagles wide receiver.

But then Foles overthrew an open Zach Ertz at the goal line, gained only a yard on a short pass to Ertz, and threw behind catchless Alshon Jeffery. Jeffery was all alone in the middle, stationary, and saw the ball all the way, turned back to catch it, but it bounced off his hands, and Elliott was left to tie the game with a 35-yarder. Oh, and Foles ended that series 15-for-29 for 142, with a 77.1 passer rating.

At that point, the Eagles had one third-down conversion in 10 attempts. When Wentz went down Dec. 10, the Eagles were second in the league in converting third downs. The Raiders came into last night not only having been eliminated from playoff contention but standing 27th in third-down defense.

It got worse for Foles, whose previous start against the Raiders was that fabled seven-touchdown day in Oakland, back in 2013. He had all day to throw on third-and-12 but ended up taking a 16-yard sack, backing punter Donnie Jones into his end zone.

Then, after a 48-yard missed field goal by Oakland kicker Giorgio Tavecchio, the Eagles had the ball, the crowd was pumped … and Ertz volleyed a high Foles pass on a screen into the hands of the Raiders’ Reggie Nelson, who earlier had dropped a sure pick-six.

“It doesn’t fall solely on Nick,” said Ertz, who was the game’s leading receiver, with nine catches for 81 yards. “I didn’t have a perfect game, by any mean … The leaders of the team have to play better on offense, and that’s what we’re going to focus on.”

Malcolm Jenkins kept the Raiders from going ahead by ripping the ball away from running back Jalen Richard at the Eagles’ 15, but the offense couldn’t do anything there, either, Foles missing Jeffery, wide-open, as Foles was being hit. Foles’ passer rating stood at 57.0 – 15-for-32 for 142, a TD and a pick.

“It was [bleepy],” right tackle Lane Johnson said, when asked about the offense’s evening. “It was [bleepy] from the get-go. “The defense won us the game. We got a lot of work to do. We weren’t able to establish a run game [78 yards on 21 carries]. “When you can’t do that, you make it one-dimensional. Just wasn’t clicking.”

When the Eagles got the ball on a punt with 2:19 left in the game, at their 12, Foles had completed three passes in the second half, for 23 yards, in 11 attempts. With an interception.

But Darby got Foles the ball one more time, and Foles did just enough — finishing 19-for-38 for 163 yards, the TD, the pick, and a 59.4 rating — to keep this week from being super-ugly, heading into what everyone in Philadelphia assumed would be a meaningless finale.

“We all knew what we had to do right there” after Darby’s interception, Foles said. “You could tell everyone was determined. We were able to execute on some pass plays, to get the ball within field goal range.”

The finale will be meaningless, except Pederson might want to give Foles a little more work with his receivers, before that playoff bye week.

“I’ll continue to trust the coaches. I’ll do whatever they say,” Foles said. “I’m always ready to go.”

 

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