Timmy Jernigan jogged over to his quarterback during warmups. He knew Nick Foles didn’t need any advice, motivation or even a reminder, but the defensive end wanted to give him one last message. Play the play, Jernigan whispered to him. I don’t care what happens, if the worst happens, we will always get you the ball back. Every time you come off the field, we’re going to try to make [the drive] three plays and be right back so you got a fresh start.
Foles nodded and dapped him up. And then he went right ahead in taking care of business for the Eagles, leading a crucial touchdown drive late in the fourth quarter that was just enough to steal a 16–15 wild-card round win at Chicago, against a Bears team that had won nine of its last ten games and fell short of a victory because of a missed field goal—a rare double-boink.
Foles has been in this position before, constantly counted out, yet constantly delivering wins. “He’s the ultimate competitor” says Jernigan. “You never see the guy break a sweat. He’s ice cold.”
The Eagles played up their underdog role last year, when Carson Wentz tore his ACL in December and the team was forced to play with their backup QB down the stretch. And even though they came into this season as the defending Super Bowl champs, they can still play that underdog card. Philadelphia underachieved in the first half of the season, and entered December with a losing record. In order to lock up a playoff spot, they had to rely on the Bears, of all teams, to beat the Vikings in Week 17. “We’ve been in the playoffs now for the last five weeks it feels like,” safety Malcolm Jenkins says. “Every game has been a must-win. So to us, [Sunday’s game] was no different feeling. ”
If the theme for the Eagles’ postseason last year was being the underdogs, this year’s theme is playing with house money. “Halfway through the season, everybody counted us out,” Jenkins says. “Nobody expected us to win, [saying] Oh the Eagles are done, their season is over with. It was like, if we lost, then what everyone said about us was right and it doesn’t matter. Or we keep winning. When you have nothing to lose like us you are playing with house money.”
In the first half of the game, Foles threw two interceptions, but he rebounded in his typical clutch style with a 12-play drive late in the fourth quarter that ultimately proved to be the game-winner. The Bears celebrated defense put up a strong goal-line stand, forcing the Eagles’ offense to take all four downs at the goal line to finally score. On fourth-and-goal at the two, the Eagles chose a sprint-out pass as their final attempt. Foles ran out to his right, and side-armed a throw to receiver Golden Tate in the right corner of the end zone for the deciding touchdown. “When the game is on the line, the Bears like to blitz,” Foles says. “So why don’t we move the pocket and put one of our best guys on one of their guys and let them win.”
Philadelphia then attempted the two-point conversion with the hopes of taking a three-point lead. Running back Wendell Smallwood took the direct snap and leaped over the swarm of linemen, but he failed to extend the ball over the goal line, forcing the Eagles to settle on a one-point lead. Foles finished the game with 266 passing yards, two interceptions and two touchdowns.
The Bears got the ball back with 56 seconds left to get in field-goal range, and quarterback Mitch Trubisky—who finished with 303 passing yards, one touchdown and no interceptions—hit receiver Allen Robinson twice to get Chicago down the field and in position for an attempt from kicker Cody Parkey.
Jenkins, who plays on the Eagles field-goal unit, was on the field for Parkey’s 43-yard miss with five seconds left in the game. The Philadelphia safety was teammates with Parkey when the kicker played in Philadelphia for two seasons, and he tried to talk a little smack to throw his former teammate off (Bears players made sure that Jenkins didn’t get too close to their kicker). Jenkins wouldn’t repeat what he said to Parkey, but says, “I was just trying to put the pressure on him. I love Cody and have a lot of respect for him as a former teammate in this league, but when everything is on the line, I am trying to create as much distraction as possible.”
The Eagles iced Parkey during his first kick—which was good, but barely made it through the uprights—but his second attempt hit the uprights and then bounced off the crossbar, defying expectations and cruelly landing in the end zone. No good. “I had a feeling—you knew it was kind of off to the left, and it hit the upright,” Jenkins says. “It almost looked like it bounced in but then somehow the ball landed in the endzone, so it was like, well, I guess he missed it.”
Upon closer examination, Eagles defensive tackle Treyvon Hester appears to have tipped the ball with his left hand and misdirecting it. The Bears’ honeymoon season under first-year head coach Matt Nagy came to an abrupt and jarring halt at the (left) hand of the Eagles.
“We up now, guys are getting back healthy, and I don’t see us getting nothing but more healthy as this goes on,” Jernigan says. “People are going to have to see us for a little while. New Orleans knows what time it is.”
Next, Philadelphia will head to New Orleans for a tough divisional round matchup. The Eagles lost to New Orleans 48–7 in Week 11, which marked a low-point in their season. “I think we’re a different then we were then,” says linebacker Jordan Hicks. “We’re playing well, we got a lot of confidence right now. I like our team a lot.”
Nearly an hour after the game, Chris and Kyle Long met in the hallway outside the Eagles locker room. The two brothers—Chris a defensive end for the Eagles, and Kyle, the Bears right guard—chatted near tables stacked with boxes of Chicago’s own Lou Malnati’s deep dish pizza before the Eagles ride to the airport. Because Kyle had walked over from the Bears locker room, he was standing behind a metal barricade that separated the Bears and Eagles areas. Kyle on one side, Chris on the other. The barricade dividing the opponent brothers is a fitting metaphor for the cruel reality of the playoffs. The Bears stay home for good and the Eagles move on.
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