What a character win for the Philadelphia Eagles.
The Eagles never trailed in their 24-22 win over the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday night and came up with big plays when it mattered the most.
Nickel cornerback Brandon Boykin’s interception with just over a minute to play clinched the NFC East division championship for an Eagles team that enters January as one of the league’s hottest teams. Nick Foles and LeSean McCoy turned in fine performances and a slew of defensive players came up big for Philly.
The Eagles will host the New Orleans Saints in an NFC wild-card game on Saturday, Jan. 4, at 8 p.m. in Philadelphia's first home playoff game in three seasons.
For now, here are a handful of observations from the most heart-stopping win the Eagles have played in years.
Words can hardly convey the job that Chip Kelly has done with this team all season.
Kelly implemented a new system, a new coaching staff and a new defense for a franchise that was 4-12 last year. He made a midseason transition to his backup quarterback and led his team back from a pair of midseason losses that dropped Philadelphia to 3-5.
The Eagles have won seven of their last eight games to finish the regular season at 10-6 — a six-game improvement over last season despite a roster that didn’t see tons of player turnover. Nick Foles has jelled into a franchise quarterback, LeSean McCoy has emerged as the best running back in the league and the offensive line was phenomenal all season.
Kelly’s unusual tactics, like monitoring his players' bedtimes and eating habits seem to have paid off. The offensive line saw all five starters suit up for all 16 games. There’s no telling how good this franchise can be over the next handful of seasons.
Nick Foles wasn’t perfect Sunday night against Dallas. He made some poor decisions, like an early intentional grounding call, and he fumbled the ball away on a sack. However, he wasn’t given a lot of time to throw, getting sacked five times, but he still turned in a fine statistical performance.
Foles completed 17-of-26 passes for 263 yards, two touchdowns, and zero interceptions. He was stuffed on a 4th-and-goal rushing attempt, but he still led the Philadelphia Eagles to 24 points. Foles’ 124.4 passer rating was his ninth game this season with a passer rating over 100. In fact, he only had two games where his passer rating was under 100.
Perhaps Foles’ most underrated decision was his willingness to take a sack on a third down late in the game rather than throw the ball away. That kept the clock moving to give Dallas less time on its final drive.
Chip Kelly put this game in the hands of LeSean McCoy, who won it for the Philadelphia Eagles. McCoy ran the ball 27 times for 131 yards, averaging close to five yards per carry. He also caught a touchdown on a three-yard pass from Nick Foles.
On the Eagles’ game-clinching drive, McCoy was huge. He carried seven times on the 60-yard touchdown drive and took 5:37 off the clock, with Bryce Brown plunging over the goal line for the go-ahead score.
McCoy finished as the NFL’s regular-season rushing champion with 1,607 yards, making him the Eagles’ all-time single-season rushing leader as a legitimate threat to score every time he touches the football.
The Philadelphia Eagles defense has been fantastic all season. Not enough credit can be given to coordinator Billy Davis for the tremendous job he has done in 2013.
Davis’ defense has come up huge on numerous occasions this year, but never more so than on Sunday night. Inside linebacker Mychal Kendricks continues his outstanding play. He was all over the field, registering a team-high 12 tackles, an interception and a forced fumble. In the last three weeks, Kendricks has 25 tackles, three sacks, three stuffs, two passes defensed, two interceptions and a forced fumble.
Connor Barwin swatted down a fourth-down pass from Kyle Orton, giving the Eagles the ball when they really needed it. Cary Williams made the most underrated play of the game, knocking down a two-point conversion attempt to Dez Bryant late in the fourth quarter to keep the Eagles' lead at 24-22.
Brandon Boykin made the play of the season with Dallas driving near midfield and looking to attempt a game-winning field goal when he stepped in front of a Kyle Orton pass to Miles Austin for a game-sealing interception.
Boykin’s sixth interception of the season saved the Philadelphia Eagles’ playoff chances. Dallas appeared to be in good position to get in field-goal range for the win.
He may just be a punter, but any Philadelphia Eagles fan who has watched Donnie Jones this season knows how good he’s been at his craft.
Late in Sunday night's game, Jones boomed a 56-yard punt which Dwayne Harris of the Cowboys returned just seven yards—a 49-yard net average for perhaps Jones' biggest punt of the season.
Jones didn’t make the Pro Bowl, but he’s had a fantastic year and is an underrated weapon to have.
The Philadelphia Eagles will have a tough matchup next weekend when they host the New Orleans Saints. Drew Brees is a former Super Bowl champion who has very quietly put up another 5,000-yard passing season while throwing for 39 touchdowns.
Fortunately for the Eagles, the Saints are a different team on the road. They've averaged just 17.8 points in their contests away from home, as Brees has thrown just 12 touchdowns to nine interceptions. Simply put, they're not the same team outside of their dome.
Meanwhile, the Eagles are 2013 NFC East champions in their first year under Chip Kelly. They're also a team that no one wants to face in the playoffs.