Here we go again.
The Eagles were still basking in the afterglow of victory when the Vegas sharpies came through with another motivational slap Sunday night – making the Vikings 3.5-point favorites for next weekend’s NFC Championship game in South Philly.
So slip on the German shepherd masks. Cue Alshon Jeffrey’s righteous indignation quotes. Someone teach the Pep Band the theme from “Underdog.” We’ve been handed another gift.
This talented team – and its fan base – played the “no one believed in us” mantra to the max on a bone-chilling Saturday, beating the Atlanta Falcons, 15-10. As I wrote last week, Philadelphia is the underdoggiest city in America. The skeptical odds-makers did this town a huge favor.
Of course, the Eagles backed up their resentment through sturdy defense, a bullying offensive line and – yes – positive play from QB Nick Foles. The maligned QB hit 23-for-30 and had a passer rating of 100.1.
Much of the credit goes to the coaches. Doug Pederson called a creative offense Saturday – consider Nelson Agholor’s misdirection run that gained 21 yards. And, searching for the best way to help Foles, Pederson time-machined the offense back to 2013, when Foles excelled using Chip Kelly’s run-pass options.
Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz was equally brilliant. He blitzed rarely, but always effectively. He rotated personnel to get the most from his defensive line. A full 42 percent of Atlanta’s offensive plays went for zero yards or a loss.
And Schwartz certainly had his team prepared at crunch time. As Matt Ryan lined up his offense to win it – 4th-and-goal on the 2 with 1:05 to go – every Birds defender recognized the formation and knew what was coming.
“It was headed my way,” CB Jaylen Mills said afterward. “I knew it because Jim showed it to us in the film room 100 times.”
Sure enough, Falcons All-Pro WR Julio Jones ran right at Mills, slipped, got pushed in the back by Mills, and then. . . let’s give the call to Merrill Reese:
“Ryan rolls . . . Ryan pumps . . . Ryan is throwing it up in the air . . . INCOMPLETE!”
A season was saved in large part because of homework. Yes, the sexy storyline may be us vs. the non-believers, but this is a smart, mature, talented team that earned this spot in the title game. Hey, a record of 14-3 is no fluke.
So now it’s the Vikings, fresh off their miracle victory over New Orleans. You’ll hear all this week about the stingiest defense in the league (ignoring that the Eagles shut down the run better than anyone). You’ll be warned about Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs, apparently the most-dangerous duo of WRs since Swann and Stallworth.
And you’ll be told that Minnesota’s vagabond starting QB, Case Keenum, is that much better than Nick Foles. I don’t really see the edge there.
If it all fuels Eagles players for another week, so much the better. But here’s the thing: There’s a team in South Philadelphia talented and well coached enough to advance another game. If they can avoid dumb mistakes (oh, those fumbles and missed extra points), the dog masks get to make one more appearance heading into the Super Bowl.