The Eagles are not dead yet.
They started a late-season push for the NFC East title when Jake Elliott's 43-yard field goal flew through the uprights in the final minute of the Eagles' 25-22 win over the New York Giants at Lincoln Financial Field, completing a second-half comeback that kept their postseason hopes alive and realistic.
Those hopes seemed dim two hours earlier, when the Eagles faced a 19-3 deficit in the second quarter. Then they outplayed the Giants in the second half to move to 5-6 entering next Monday's meeting with the Washington Redskins. They moved one game out of first place with two games left against Washington and one against Dallas.
"Maybe that's the spark we need," coach Doug Pederson said.
The Eagles approached Sunday knowing it was now or never, and they completed a high-pressure holiday week during which team leader Malcolm Jenkins questioned the team's "demeanor" and "fight" in last week's blowout loss to New Orleans.
Pederson was encouraged after a meeting at the team hotel on Saturday night energized his group. The coach's message was that "you can't wait for something to happen and then believe. You have to believe it first and then it happens."
"I didn't talk about, 'Hey, this is a must-win, this is the start of our playoffs,' " Pederson said. "I didn't get into any of that stuff. I just want to make sure they understood that we continue to trust the process … and we can get this thing flipped."
It flipped on Sunday because Carson Wentz led the Eagles on a game-winning drive in the final six minutes. He took the ball with the game tied at 22-22 and moved it into Giants territory before the Eagles faced a fourth-and-1 from the 42-yard line.
Pederson saw it as an opportunity to win the game, and he lined Wentz up in shotgun and trusted him to hit Nelson Agholor on a 12-yard strike down the middle to put the Eagles in field-goal range. They ran the ball three times to drain the clock down to 25 seconds, when Elliott took the field to nail the 43-yard kick.
"Definitely needed that one," said Elliott, who kicked a 61-yarder to beat the Giants in Philadelphia last year. "Hopefully we can build on it."
Wentz finished 20 of 28 for 236 yards and one touchdown. He did not turn the ball over for the first time this season.
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The Eagles trusted their rushing attack, with Josh Adams leading the way with 22 carries for 84 yards and a score. Zach Ertz led receivers with seven catches for 91 yards and a touchdown.
The defense, playing with a depleted secondary and without seven starters from the Week 6 game against the Giants, regrouped to hold New York to only three second-half points. They hit Eli Manning five times and sacked him twice.
"This was a big game for us," Wentz said. "Really mentally, to show the resilience that we did to go down early the way we did and then battle back just built a lot of confidence for all three phases of the game."
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In the first half, they looked like the same Eagles who have disappointed fans throughout the season. The Giants converted a third-and-long on the opening drive, continuing an alarming pattern. Former Penn State star Saquon Barkley caught a 13-yard touchdown pass to give the Giants a 6-0 lead, and it appeared it would be a long day for the Eagles.
The offense tried to answer quickly when Adams rushed for a 52-yard touchdown, but the score was nullified by a holding penalty on center Jason Kelce. Pederson passed on the chance to go for a fourth-and-5 at the Giants' 47, instead electing to punt and play the field-position game.
The field position didn't matter, though, when the Giants were at midfield in five plays. The defense managed to hold them to a field goal, but it was clear the Giants had control of the game early. It was the ninth time in 11 games the Eagles were held scoreless in the first quarter.
The second quarter didn't start much better, as the Giants kicked a field goal to take a 12-0 lead. The Eagles could muster only their own field goal in response.
When Barkley bounced off Eagles defenders for a 51-yard touchdown run to give New York a 19-3 lead, there were deserved boos from the Philadelphia crowd.
On the sideline, though, the defense would not accept that result. It simplified the scheme to ease the communication of the inexperienced players in the secondary. The thought was to emphasize the pressure from the defensive line and allow the defensive backs to play a vanilla scheme, but play it fast. The Giants didn't score again until the fourth quarter.
"I think it was a turning point, especially in the game," Jenkins said. "And who knows about our season, but that could've just continued to snowball out of control. But we weren't going to allow that."
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The offense answered with a six-play, 75-yard drive that finished with Wentz finding Ertz for a 15-yard touchdown. A two-point conversion cut the Giants' lead to 19-11, and Jenkins made sure that was the halftime score when he intercepted a Manning pass while the Giants threatened with a last-minute scoring opportunity.
The message from Pederson at halftime was that 30 minutes remained, and that the Eagles needed to hang tough. Fletcher Cox said the message was to calm down and "do simple better."
The defense forced the Giants to punt on three consecutive drives, including two three-and-outs. The defense started to dominate the line of scrimmage.
The Eagles had a third-quarter field goal to make the score 19-14, and they started the fourth quarter with one of their most impressive drives of the season.
Pederson demonstrated a renewed commitment to the run. On a seven-play, 61-yard touchdown march, the Eagles ran six times. Corey Clement and Josh Adams were the only skill players to touch the ball, and Adams punctuated the drive with a 1-yard score. A two-point conversion made it a 22-19 game.
Pederson said he trusted the offensive line, with linemen telling him in the second half to keep calling running plays. He also wanted to hold the ball more to help the defense.
"Just hard-nosed football cramming it up in there," Adams said. "Those guys on the offensive line put their trust in me and I wanted to make it pay off."
The defense held the Giants on a third down – "held" being the operative word because the Eagles seemed to get away with holding Odell Beckham Jr. in the end zone – to put the ball in Wentz's hands.
Wentz brought the Eagles to field-goal range, Elliott's kick sealed the win, and the Eagles' comeback was complete. It wasn't a decisive result, but it was what the Eagles needed to stay alive this season.
"If you can sign up or fill an application to get all pretty wins, we'd do it," Jenkins said. "Unfortunately, that's not the way it works. …We understand nothing is going to be easy for where we want to go. And I don't think we want it easy, either."
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