Can Eagles win a playoff game without scoring many points? It isn't easy, but … | Bob Ford

Was it the biggest upset in NFL history when Eli Manning’s wild-card New York Giants Giants beat the undefeated New England Patriots in the Super Bowl? You could make that argument.

There are as many ways to win a football game as there are football games. No two are decided in exactly the same manner, and each win comes with a differing degree of difficulty.

One thing past NFL postseasons have taught, however, is that it is very hard to win a playoff game after the wild-card round without scoring some points. As the Eagles and their wounded offense prepare to open the postseason next Saturday in the divisional round, this is the biggest concern before them.

There are other nagging doubts, of course. Defensive end Brandon Graham and offensive guard Stefen Wisniewski need to be fully recovered from recent ankle injuries. The running game has to be an effective clock-eater to take pressure off both quarterback Nick Foles and the defense. The special teams have to come through as they have done only sporadically this season.

But the real bottom line is that Foles and the offense, which totaled just 10 points in the last five quarters he played, probably have to put some significant points on the board to win. In the previous 10 seasons, of the 70 games played in the divisional round and beyond, only four were won by teams that scored fewer than 20 points.

Even if you include the wild-card rounds, which are more apt to contain a pretender or two, it has happened only nine times in the 110 postseason games over that span. That’s a fairly consistent mandate to score at least 20 points, and the Eagles know it. In all likelihood, their ability to advance to the conference championship game will depend on Foles’ ability to create and convert scoring opportunities.

OK, what is the path if that doesn’t happen? Is all lost?


Do the Eagles deserve to be the underdogs?

Not necessarily, and for a primer on how things could turn out fine despite only mediocre offensive production, let’s look at those four instances in the last 10 seasons and focus  on the other paths:

Running game and time of possession

Jan. 15, 2017: Divisional Round, Pittsburgh 18 at Kansas City 16

Le’Veon Bell carried the ball 30 times for the Pittsburgh Steelers on a pretty cold day in Arrowhead Stadium last season. He gained 170 yards and allowed the Steelers to dominate time of possession. They held the ball for 34 minutes, 13 seconds.

Camera icon Orlin Wagner / AP
Le’Veon Bell running from Chiefs free safety Ron Parker during the second half on Jan. 15, 2017.

That limited the Chiefs to 49 offensive plays and 227 yards of offense. For his part, Ben Roethlisberger merely managed the game for Pittsburgh, and the offensive output consisted of six field goals.

Kansas City had just nine possessions. The Chiefs scored touchdowns on the first and the last, but gained just 95 net yards in the seven possessions in between. They just didn’t have enough chances to do more.

One big play at the right time

Jan. 17, 2010: Divisional Round, New York Jets 17 at San Diego 14

Don’t like quarterback Nick Foles all that much? Well, there wasn’t much to like about Mark Sanchez on a day on which he was 12 for 23 for 100 yards, threw his obligatory interception, and emerged with a 60.1 quarterback rating.

Philip Rivers of San Diego wasn’t any great shakes either, but the Chargers would have probably found a way to win if it hadn’t been for a Jets handoff to running back Shonn Greene in the fourth quarter that went 53 yards for what would prove to be the deciding touchdown.

Camera icon Jeff Chiu / AP
Jets center Nick Mangold, quarterback Mark Sanchez (6), and running back Tony Richardson  celebrating a touchdown run by  Shonn Greene against the Chargers.

It was the only New York play in the game that went for more than 21 yards. Green was good all day, rushing 23 times for 128 yards to shorten the game for the Jets, but his touchdown run was the real difference.

Fewer turnovers and penalties than the other guy

Jan. 10, 2009: Divisional Round, Baltimore 13 at Tennessee 10

The Titans were 13-3 in the 2008 season, the best record in football, which is difficult any time, but try it with Kerry Collins at quarterback. Tennessee took care of the football all season, but not against the Ravens in this game.

The Titans fumbled five times and lost the fumble twice. Collins added an interception, and all three of the Tennessee turnovers came inside the Baltimore 20-yard line. Additionally, the Titans were penalized 12 times for 89 yards, compared with eight penalties for 40 yards for Baltimore.

Camera icon Joe Howell / AP
Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco  throwing under pressure from Titans defensive end Jevon Kearse during the first quarter of the divisional playoff game.

Joe Flacco played a clean, if unexciting, game. Flacco was 11 for 22 for 161 yards, just the kind of game Foles could have for the Eagles. The Ravens didn’t really win this one; the Titans lost. It happens.

Strange stuff takes place sometimes

Feb. 3, 2008: Super Bowl XLII, New York Giants 17 vs. New England 14 (at Glendale, Ariz.)

The winning team scored fewer than 20 points in four of the first eight Super Bowls, but it has happened only once in the 43 since, and this was it. Was it the biggest upset in NFL history when the wild-card Giants beat the undefeated Patriots? You could make that argument.

It’s hard to explain how the best scoring offense in the league, averaging 36.8 in the regular season, led by Tom Brady and his 50 touchdown passes, could be so flat in the championship game, but it was. The longest New England gain from scrimmage was 19 yards.

Even so, New York was trailing, 14-10, with 1:15 to play and facing a third-and-5 at its 44 when Eli Manning somehow escaped three sack attempts and threw one of his blind, wobbly soft liners down the field and the receiver, David Tyree, caught the ball BY TRAPPING IT ON THE OUTSIDE OF HIS HELMET! He did. That 32-yard gain didn’t provide the final score, but it might as well have. Manning hit Plaxico Burress four plays later for the winning touchdown.

Camera icon Charlie Riedel / AP
Giants receiver David Tyree trapping the ball against his helmet while defended by Patriots safety Rodney Harrison during Super Bowl XLII.

So, there you go. Maybe Nick Foles will come out and put up 30 points and all this speculation is moot, but if not, there are still other ways. Run the ball, play defense, be opportunistic, be lucky, and catch the ball upside your head. After all, it isn’t always about the quarterback.

Of course, 66 out of 70 times, it kinda was.

Get insights on the Eagles delivered straight to your inbox with Early Birds, beat writer Zach Berman’s newsletter for Eagles fans. Click here to sign up.