There is no question this Eagles team knows it took some luck to be in the playoffs.
Had the Minnesota Vikings knocked of the Chicago Bears on the last game of the regular season, the Birds would have been the ones watching Wild Card Weekend at home.
Immediately after former Eagles kicker Cody Parkey’s 43-yard walk-off field goal attempt hit the left goal post then bounced even more incredibly off the crossbar and back out onto the field, handing the Eagles a thrilling 16–15 comeback win over the Bears at Soldier Field Sunday night, the Birds were deemed by some to be more lucky than good.
It turns out the missed field goal was not another Parkey choke by the kicker who entered the game tied for second in the league for most missed kicks in the regular season with 10.
On Monday morning, the NFL officially changed the 43-yard miss to a block by Eagles defensive tackle Treyvon Hester.
The second-year lineman, who was elevated from the Eagles practice squad to the active roster in Week 5 of 2018. barely got a finger on the ball, but it changed the trajectory enough that the kick hit the upright, dropped down to the crossbar and then out.
Lost in all the replays and sympathy quotes about Parkey were Hester’s own words to reporters after the game.
“Me and Haloti [Ngata] … we got penetration, got the hand up like coach always says,” Hester said. “Tipped off my fingertips. Felt good … actually, I thought I didn’t get enough of it, I thought it was going to go in. When I saw it going in, I turned back around (away from the end zone). Then I heard everybody screaming, I was like, oh, [expletive] … he missed it.”
At his Monday post-game news conference at the NovaCare complex, coach Doug Pederson could not resist throwing out a pun when asked about how so many new and inexperienced players have joined the roster, filling in for injured players and performing well.
“Yeah, you can go all the way back to Treyvon Hester who we activated early in the season off the practice squad and then has a big hand in the game last night,” said Pederson, who received his earned laughter from reporters. “You like that?”
The Eagles (10–7) will face the №1 seed New Orleans Saints (13–3) in the NFC Divisional Round on Sunday at the Mercedes Benz Superdome (4:40 p.m. on Fox).
The Birds go into the game knowing they beat a 12-win team in the playoffs, and it wasn’t by luck.
They will go into New Orleans knowing that they faced some of the best defensive linemen and some of the best defenses in the league during their streak, winning six of their last seven games since getting blown out by the Saints on Nov. 19, 48–7.
Pederson talked about how his offensive line has played so well against all stars such as J.J. Watt, Khalil Mack and Aaron Donald since that loss in New Orleans.
“I think they rise to the occasion,” the coach said. “They rise to the challenge. Every time that — or any time that we hear a lot about our opponent, especially the guys up front — and listen, you have said it. We have played a lot of really good defensive linemen this year, D-ends, D-tackles and it just seems like our guys have really embraced that opportunity and embraced the challenge and they have a great week of practice and preparation.”
The Eagles go into the game this week knowing they have a defense that is playing on a high level, even after losing so many starters on defense, especially in the secondary.
Pro Bowl safety Malcolm Jenkins said he knew his teammate had tipped the ball on the last-second field goal attempt, but also knew the Eagles would never give up while there was still a second left in the game.
“I was talking a lot of trash to Cody Parkey, just hoping he would miss it or something,” Jenkins said. “Hester did a great job getting his hand on the ball. Honestly, I knew we were going to win that game somehow. Even though it took a bunch of tries on the goal line, I knew our offense would get a touchdown and then we’d be on the field as a defense to win the game. Even when we gave up a big play, I knew something was going to happen in our favor to help us win that game. You’ve just got to keep believing. This is a game of inches and, literally, that came down to every inch that we had.”
The Eagles will try to make their second consecutive trip to the NFC title game with a quarterback in Nick Foles who has proven time and again that nothing fazes him, regardless of the stage or situation.
Foles led his team on a 12-play, 60-yard scoring drive in the fourth quarter that ended with a 2-yard touchdown pass to Golden Tate that gave the Eagles a 16–15 lead with 56 seconds remaining.
The drive marked Foles’ second career fourth-quarter comeback and game-winning drive in the postseason. The first, of course, was a 14-play, 75-yard drive that resulted in an 11-yard TD to Zach Ertz in Super Bowl LII. Foles was asked if last year’s success helped him forge this great Eagles run again.
“Not really that, more so what I learned on those stages was how to calm myself in a chaotic moment,” Foles said. “From the outside world, it’s a ton of pressure and just really simplifying in my head, getting in the huddle and looking at the guys that I trust, know what’s on the line for us and know we’re just going to get the job done. It’s just belief in one another. That’s what wins games in the fourth quarter.”
Foles, who finished the Bears game 25-of-40 for 266 yards, two touchdown passes and two first-half interceptions, was asked what he said to the offense going into that final drive.
“It’s like what we always talk about, staying in the moment,” Foles said. “That’s what I’ve been focusing on, that’s what we’ve been focusing on. It was a crazy game. That’s a tremendous team. Playing here, this is a crazy place to play. Our defense did an amazing job tonight keeping us in it. The first half, our offense struggled, I struggled, threw a couple of picks…but the last drive was just staying in the moment, play-to-play, let’s keep going, let’s march. We didn’t have to do anything crazy. We were able to settle down in the second half, make some plays, it was a huge team win for us.” ••