PHILADELPHIA — The feeling of disrespect was inescapable inside the Philadelphia Eagles‘ walls this week.
Right tackle Lane Johnson said his team was being treated like the Cleveland Browns despite being 13-3 and the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs. There were signs placed all over the building drilling home that this team was being undervalued and overlooked, according to linebacker Nigel Bradham. Even the team janitor got into the act, telling reporters as they walked through the hall leading to the locker room, “It’s us against the world, baby! They’re counting us out!”
It was everywhere.
“Disrespect will not be tolerated!” he said.
The defense used that edge to subdue a potent Falcons attack and muscle the Eagles past the Falcons, 15-10, and into the NFC Championship game. It took every last ounce of will, as Matt Ryan engineered a drive late and had the Falcons set up deep in Eagles territory, but his fourth-down pass to Julio Jones in the corner of the end zone fell incomplete, giving the Eagles their first postseason win since the 2008 season.
Quarterback Nick Foles got it going in the second half, doing just enough to support an inspired defensive effort.
The Eagles were the first top seed in NFL history to enter its first playoffs game as an underdog. The opening half showed why. Foles was awfully shaky in place of the injured Carson Wentz and the team fumbled four times, losing two of them. Both turnovers led to points for the Falcons, who entered halftime up 10-9. The only reason it was that close was because a wayward Foles pass caromed off a Falcons player and landed in the hands of Torrey Smith for a 20-yard gain, setting up a 53-yard field goal from rookie kicker Jake Elliott as time expired.
Foles found a rhythm in the second half, though. Going against a stiff wind, he connected on five passes of 10-plus yards during a third-quarter drive – three to receiver Alshon Jeffery – to set up a go-ahead field goal from Elliott, who added another in the fourth to make it a five-point game. The fact that they were unable to punch the ball in on that fourth quarter drive despite making it down to the five-yard line nearly cost them, but the defense bailed them out.
Running back Jay Ajayi played an important role in the game. He tied a season high with 15 carries for 54 yards, and broke loose for a 32-yard gain on a screen pass – sprung by a pair of blocks from guard Stefen Wisniewski – on the fourth-quarter scoring drive.
It was an ugly win, but it counts just the same. The Eagles players were defiant this week, convinced that they had enough even in Wentz’s absence to get the job done. They were right – barely.