It took roughly 37 minutes against arguably the worst team in professional football, but Carson Wentz and the Philadelphia Eagles finally figured it out late Monday night in a 23-17 overtime win over their hated NFC East rival, the New York Giants.
First, they remembered they were playing an awful team and an ancient, if effective, Eli Manning. Then, they recalled how offensive football works and started moving the ball downfield against a painfully bad defense.
Finally, and most importantly, they realized what they are playing for: The NFC East title and a home playoff game, as improbable as it may seem. Because with three games left against division opponents, the Eagles are in the driver’s seat, Dallas Cowboys be damned.
For the first three-and-a-half-quarters of what was shaping up to be a laughable loss, it looked like even the inept Cowboys couldn’t keep themselves from an NFC title.
Wentz and his wounded weapons looked like they had forgotten what was at stake. They looked like a team whose January vacations were already planned. Flights booked. Writing on the wall, it seemed.
Thirty-seven minutes in, what was old was new again. Manning was a fresh-faced, eager, 27-year-old, torching Ronald Darby and the Philly defense, finding in Darius Slayton a young Odell Beckham Jr. The once-potent Eagles offense, now adding Alshon Jeffery to a loaded infirmary, was stuck in the mud. New York led, 17-3, and the NFC Least was only further cementing itself as the most devolved division in the NFL.
Two drives into the second half, nothing had changed. Philadelphia gained all of one yard on its first third-quarter drive and 12 yards on its second.
Down his four top receivers and missing a starting running back and a Pro Bowl right tackle, Wentz had his back up against the wall and the season on the line, and he went to work.
Philadelphia’s next three drives netted two touchdowns and a missed but makeable field goal. Wentz, while not perfect, was at least hitting his targets in the hands, and not on the helmet.
In overtime, he was even better, arguably at his best. He found Miles Sanders for 11 yards and Josh Perkins for 13, Greg Ward for eight on a big 2nd-and-10 to put the Eagles into the red zone and Zach Ertz for two yards — and six points — to cap off the drive.
With the best goal-to-go efficiency in the NFL, Philadelphia did what it does best and put the Giants away, and in the process, the Eagles may have just saved their season.
“It’s just a great feeling; the guys were so excited,” Doug Pederson told reporters after the game. “The guys were just thrilled. They know how hard they worked, how hard they battled, how hard they practiced this week. To really trust the process,” Pederson said, “to stay the course — it didn’t look pretty obviously early in this game — so to hang together, something we talked about this week, we did that, and the guys are very, very excited.”
With the win, the Eagles set themselves up to take control of the NFC East, even with players dropping like flies. A healthy cast for the Eagles would’ve given Wentz a receiving corps of De’Sean Jackson and Nelson Agholor and Jeffery. As it were, Wentz went to Perkins (?), Ward (?!) and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside (?!?).
And in crunch time, the Eagles were handing off to Boston Scott, who entered the game having logged all of 94 career rushing yards.
But they pulled out a win. In the second half and overtime, Wentz went a combined 22-of-31 for 228 yards and two touchdowns.
They found a way to improve to 6-7, with Washington, Dallas — in a probably division-deciding showdown — and the Giants left on the schedule. Improve to 9-7, and they’re in.
We’ve seen this team get hot before (albeit with Nick Foles at the helm).
Is it Carson Wentz’s turn?
Is it Pederson’s once more?
You could see the Eagles feeding off Pederson’s energy on the sidelines. Every time the camera panned to him, he was talkative and active, innovating on the fly with a team at far less than 100%. Contrast that with the stoic Jason Garrett, who stood stone-faced on the sidelines during the Cowboys’ 31-24 loss to Chicago last Thursday.
It’s that disparity — the Eagles clearly giving Pederson every last drop, the Cowboys clearly fading behind Garrett — that puts Philadelphia in prime position to steal a bad division.