Sunday, November 17, 2013

Eagles take unconventional route to first place

PHILADELPHIA - Take care of your business at home and split on the road. That's the conventional route to a successful NFL season and making a run toward the playoffs.

The Philadelphia Eagles have been anything but conventional in 2013..

The Birds recorded their first home win of the season on Sunday, a 24-16
victory over the Washington Redskins, and it only took 11 weeks. Most teams
who haven't tasted victory on their home turf by Nov. 17 would usually be
doing their due diligence on a Teddy Bridgewater- or Jadeveon Clowney-type.
But, Chip Kelly's bunch is in sole possession of first place in the NFC East.

"It is a weight off our shoulders," Eagles wide receiver Riley Cooper said.
"Finally get a win at home and give our fans something to cheer about."

Entering Sunday's contest, Philadelphia's drought at Lincoln Financial Field
had reached 10 games and nearly 14 calendar months, yet the Eagles still had a
piece of the NFC East lead in what admittedly may be the worst division in all
of football.

A 5-1 road record helped cloud the dismal and troubling 0-4 home mark.

Relief finally came for Philadelphia when nickel back Brandon Boykin
intercepted a woeful Robert Griffin III pass in the end zone with just 24
seconds left.

"It was awesome to get this win at home," Kelly said. "I think that part was a
little bit more special than the fact this puts us one up over .500 (on
the season)."

It shouldn't have been that difficult. The Eagles built up a 24-0 lead by the
end of the third quarter before attempting to give it all back against a
quarterback who was woefully inaccurate, especially on downfield throws,
for most of the game.

Boykin himself had two other attempts to end the game with picks on
Washington's ill-fated final drive, just missing when trying to jump a pair of
weakly tossed out-routes by RG3, who finished the contest 17-of-35 for 264
yards with two touchdowns and the one INT.

Older fans from outside the City of Brotherly Love who remember Veterans
Stadium, its awful turf and a hellacious Buddy Ryan-conceived defense
featuring players like Reggie White, Clyde Simmons, Seth Joyner, and Wes
Hopkins probably wouldn't recognize the laissez-faire atmosphere at the Linc
these days.

The Philly tough-guy mentality has been replaced by an eco-friendly "green
stadium" with wind turbines atop the structure that seem to rarely move sort
of like the Eagles' offense on this turf.

When Nick Foles was last seen in this stadium he had his worst game as a
professional, completing just 11-of-29 passes for 80 yards before leaving with
a concussion during a 17-3 loss to the Dallas Cowboys, a team which happens to
have one of the two or three worst pass defenses in the entire NFL.

Conversely, in the subsequent two weeks, Foles has thrown 10 touchdown passes
and no interceptions while recording passer ratings of 158.3 at Oakland and
149.3 at Green Bay, the best two-game stretch in NFL history.

By the time Foles ran it in from four yards out with 2:48 remaining in the
first quarter on Sunday the Eagles had gone 143:48 of game time, 149 offensive
plays and eight-plus weeks on the actual calendar between offensive touchdowns
at Lincoln Financial Field.

That's the kind of strange, inexplicable phenomena which could be featured on
"Ripley's Believe it or Not."

Kelly joked that he might have the driver of the team bus circle the stadium
for a while to make his club think it was a road game.

He didn't do that but the Eagles fans were ready to do their part, egging the
Redskins team bus as it entered the stadium, not the classiest move in the
world but perhaps a desperate attempt to regain some of the swagger the city
once had.

Poor play as the host tends to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. One or two bad
things happen early and the fans start getting antsy while expecting the other
shoe to drop.

The players in turn get a little tighter when they hear the faithful booing
and presto, you have a 10-game home losing streak dating back over a year.

The Eagles got an in between performance from Foles against the Redskins as he
connected on 17-of-26 passes for 298 yards with no TDs but also no
turnovers and a 104.3 rating.

The Eagles avoided a rough start which was key and by halftime the party was
on as 13-plus months of frustration morphed into celebration, and the
realization that a deeply flawed team would be atop the mountain in the
division with just five games left to play.

"Anytime you win it's awesome, Kelly said. "I thought out crowd was fantastic
today . They probably deserved it as much as anybody. They were into it the
entire game. It was an awesome feeling. There was a lot of energy in that
stadium and we needed every ounce of it."

Kelly was being kind. This wasn't exactly Arrowhead or CenturyLink Field and
more than a few hit the exits early in order to beat the traffic out of South
Philly, not only a sign of the times but also in a strange twist, a help
to the Eagles.

As the latest collapse unfolded, thousands weren't there to fret.

Instead of giving up after playing 45 minutes of the worst football you will
ever see, Washington awoke and pressed the issue.

First it was a 62-yard TD pass to Darrel Young, helped along by two
Philadelphia defensive backs colliding, followed by a 2-point
conversion. After an Eagles punt, Aldrick Robinson then quickly turned a badly
underthrown RG3 pass into a 41-yard TD. And another 2-pointer made it a one-
possession game.

"I think we played better in the second half," Redskins receiver Santana Moss
said. " As a team I don't know how we get ourselves in some of the situations
we do. But, in the end we did make it a game."

Foles seemed to secure a first down and likely the game by extending his 6-
foot-6 frame with a 4-yard scramble but a closer look revealed his knee was
down one-half yard short, forcing a punt with 3:26 remaining.

Veteran Donnie Jones uncorked a brilliant 70-yarder which backed the
'Skins up to their own 4-yard line.

"It was huge to make them go that far," Kelly said when discussing the punt.
"For our special teams to contribute like that. That's what it takes. To win
in a division, you have to be able to play well in all three phases. I thought
the punt was huge for us."

Philadelphia would need just about every extra yard Jones gave them.

Griffin was able to convert a 3rd-and-25 along with two other third downs and
had advanced Washington all the way to Eagles' 18-yard line. He still wasn't
sharp, though, and when defensive end Fletcher Cox put on a strong rush
as the seconds waned, RG3 just lofted a poorly conceived pass down the seam
which Boykin easily corralled.

"It's all about finishing," Cox said. "We thought we would shut them out but
things happened. They made a few plays in the second half that they shouldn't
have. I had it in my head that something had to happen. I knew a big play was
coming, so I stayed calm and I got pressure and he threw the ball."

And by throwing it, RG3 ensured the skid was over and the Redskins were
done.

"We'll take it," Kelly said,

Bouncing back from 3-6 for a second straight season seemed untenable for
Washington but if they won in Philadelphia, it was conceivable nine wins could
have probably gotten it done this time around, meaning the 'Skins actually had
a margin for error, albeit a razor-thin one.

Instead the Eagles took the unconventional route to first place, inching one-
half game ahead of idle Dallas.

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