September 08, 2022
Saturday marks the fifth anniversary of the Eagles kicking off their Super Bowl season. It simultaneously feels as if it just happened and that it came 15-plus years ago with the way things have changed for the Birds since. As the Eagles look to make another deep playoff run with sky-high expectations, I want to look back at the plays that defined the 2017 team and what they meant both to the city and to me.
To quote the late, great David Bowie:
We've got five years, stuck on my eyes
Five years, what a surprise
We've got five years, my brain hurts a lot
Five years, that's all we've got
I will add a hyperlink to a YouTube video of all plays in each subhead so you can relive those wild moments all over again. Let's get after it...
This was the play that made me think, "Uh, they might actually be good..." Facing a 3rd and 12 on the Eagles' first offensive drive, Carson Wentz's mobility was on full display. It would become a hallmark of his near-MVP campaign. Wentz evaded Washington pass rushers and found Nelson Agholor deep down the field, connecting for a 53-yard touchdown.
Agholor proved he was no longer the Agholor of old and Wentz illustrated that he had all the makings of a franchise quarterback.
I was speaking with my buddy Mitch about this play the other day. To him, it was a "this only happens to great teams" moment. With just under two minutes remaining and the Eagles up 22-17, Washington had a chance to lead a game-winning drive. It wasn't meant to be for Kirk Cousins. Brandon Graham strip sacked Cousins and Fletcher Cox was in the right place to scoop the ball and score on a 20-yard return touchdown. Cox did a "Thriller"-inspired TD dance after.
The Birds were 1-0 and Philly felt confident, yet no one could've predicted what the next five months would be like.
Jake Elliott, having just been signed off the street the week before, lined up for a 61-yard field goal against the Giants. The Birds were tied 24-24 with New York and with just a second remaining on the clock were trotting out a kicker a lot of fans didn't even know the name of with the season seemingly hanging in the balance.
I'm sure most Eagles fans can remember exactly where they were when Elliott's kick sailed through the uprights. I recall being in the stands and just kind of staring in disbelief as it happened. I looked around at everyone confused. This... is real?
It was the home opener. The official kickoff temperature is listed at 89 degrees, but it felt more like 109 at the top level of Lincoln Financial Field with the sun beating down on me.
Where are the 2017 Eagles if they start 1-2 instead of 2-1? I have a feeling I wouldn't be writing this article if not for Elliott's improbable field goal make.
The Eagles never quite had a running back like LeGarrette Blount in my time following the team. Blount was equal parts loud and bulldozing, a dominating presence on a team that had so many electric personalities. In a Week 4 matchup where Eagles fans took over the Chargers' home (it was a converted MLS stadium in Carson, CA) the Eagles gashed Los Angeles for 214 yards on the ground.
Blount had 136 of those yards and 68 of them came on a single run. With the Eagles up two early in the fourth quarter, Blount turned into a "Runaway Train," as Merrill Reese called him on the team's radio broadcast.
Blount's run showcased that the Eagles could both be a dynamic, pass-first team while also pounding opponents into the dirt when Wentz carried them to early leads.
Doug Pederson left a mark on the NFL with how aggressive his play-calling was on fourth down, in the red zone, and on two-point tries in 2017. Pederson showcased that in the team's Thursday Night Football matchup in Carolina against the Panthers, the game that solidified my belief that the Eagles were true championship contenders.
Wentz, as he did all season in the red zone, fired a touchdown strike to Zach Ertz to bring the score to 16-10 early in the third quarter. Pederson put his faith in his team here, something he would do time and time again this season, and went for two after the touchdown. He gave the ball to Blount, who, of course, bullied his way into the end zone. It was a funky 18-10 score that let it be known that the Eagles would not be cowards.
Is this the defining play of Wentz's Eagles tenure? Wentz's once-trademark pocket maneuverability separated him from the other best passers in the game. Facing a third and eight on Monday Night Football against Washington, Wentz escaped from what assuredly looked like a sack, wiggling his way out of a collapsed pocket for a 17-yard run. Wentz was so deadly on third down in 2017 and this might have been the greatest of his huge third-down conversions.
It was a "What can't this guy do?" feeling that made me think Philadelphia would be watching these magic acts for the next dozen years. Alas. That's a different story.
The Eagles trading actual draft capital for a running back felt totally out of the norm for a Howie Roseman-run Eagles team. Roseman knew, much like the rest of the city, that this team was ready to climb the mountaintop. The Birds swung a trade for Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi, who was coming off a 1,200-yard rushing season in 2016. He made his debut at home against the Broncos with the Eagles wearing their all-black uniforms.
On the fourth play of his short Eagles career, Ajayi exploded for a 46-yard touchdown punctuated with a dive into the end zone. The Eagles destroyed Denver 51-23. The play continued the path of every little free agency move and trade working out for that specific season. Against a vaunted Broncos defense, the win made it known that the Eagles could beat the snot out of talented teams too.
Nothing was possible now. Dreams were shattered. Hopes were evaporated. Wentz went down.
Here's a little personal story. I was in my final semester of college during the fall of 2017. I was doing a bunch of job interviews trying to just get a 9-to-5 gig and survive in the "real" world. A tech company that was recruiting on my college campus liked my media background and offered me a "work trial," where they would give me a week's salary, pay for me to travel to Los Angeles, and work with the normal employees to see my fit in the company. It was basically the internship version of speed dating.
I was supposed to fly out Monday morning. I had convinced the company to fly me out on Sunday instead so I could "recover" from the jet lag sooner. I was obviously working them over so that I could get an early morning flight to LA, buy a ticket to the game, and see the Eagles face their toughest test of the season so far. That all worked out fine. I felt like my life was completely turning around, getting out of school and potentially getting a new job just as the Birds were lifting to Super Bowl heights. I was in awe standing in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. The world was mine.
Then the injury happened.
Diving for the end zone late in the third, Wentz tore his ACL on a play that was called back after a penalty. With his knee shredded, Wentz remained on the field and ended up firing a gutsy fourth-down touchdown pass to Alshon Jeffery. It would be the last throw he made as an Eagle that season.
Before the game was even over, it was known that Wentz had suffered a catastrophic injury. The Eagles had won the NFC East, but I couldn't even enjoy the fanfare from the other Eagles fans who had made the trip out to Southern California for the trip. I was a mess.
I was miserable all week, a horrid fit for that tech job, and headed back to Philly jobless with the idea of a Super Bowl parade in the gutter.
The vibes? They were horrific.
All I could think was that it was "The Year" and they'd never win the Super Bowl in my lifetime.
With many fans' hope dashed and mixed feelings on whether Nick Foles could even win a single playoff game, the Eagles ultimately finished with the best record in the NFC and received a first-round bye. That was thanks to Wentz's stellar play in 2017. Could they beat the reigning NFC champion Falcons when every betting market had them as underdogs? I wasn't too sure!
The fortunes of that game and, really, the whole playoff run flipped with a single play. Foles had been playing poorly early against Atlanta before getting a gift from the gods: A wayyyyyyy off the mark throw from Foles that should've been easily intercepted bounced off Falcons safety Keanu Neal's knee and into the arms of Torrey Smith for a 20-yard gain.
It was yet another instance of a "This only happens to special football teams" moment. The play put the Eagles in position for a field goal just before the first half ended, cutting the Falcons' lead down to just one point. It was a spark for Foles and the last time the Eagles would trail after a half of football for the remainder of the winter.
Jalen Mills took the field believing he was the second coming of Deion Sanders every single play. He was the Eagles' last line of defense against superstar wideout Julio Jones with Atlanta facing a fourth and goal situation, trailing 15-10 with 1:05 remaining in the playoff matchup. The Birds' defense easily read a sprint right rollout from quarterback Matt Ryan, who lofted a pass towards Jones in the end zone. Mills' smart, physical play had Jones out of position and unable to haul it in. Ball game. The Eagles were on to the NFC Championship Game.
This is the biggest "This never happens in Philly" play of the entire season and playoff run.
Hosting the NFC Championship Game for the first time in 13 years, the Eagles got out to a rough start against the Vikings, a squad deemed the team of destiny by many. The Vikings methodically drove down the field and scored on the first possession of the game. 7-0. The Birds got the ball back and punted. The wind was sucked out of the Linc. Visions of Ronde Barber, Ricky Manning Jr., and Larry Fitzgerald danced in the back of Eagles fans' minds. It was the "Days of Future Past" of NFC Championship Game losses.
Everything went wrong until it didn't.
Facing a third and eight from their own 43, Vikings QB Case Keenum dropped back to pass. On the throw, Eagles defensive end Chris Long just got his hand on Keenum's arm to cause an errant pass, one that landed in the arms of nickel corner Patrick Robinson. Robinson scampered all around the field on his way to the end zone, tying the game and sending the Linc into a frenzy I've never seen previously nor since.
The Eagles were alive. Oh, the Eagles were alive.
Bulldozer Blount did it again. With Robinson's pick-6 tying things up and giving the Birds all the momentum in the galaxy, the Eagles smelled blood. An 11-yard touchdown run where Blount splattered Vikings safety Andrew Sendejo into the dirt gave the Birds a lead they would never relinquish.
The Eagles got punched in the face to start the game. They were the ones doing the swinging the remaining three-and-a-half quarters that night.
I always have something to say about Harrison Smith. He was a bit of a Smart Football Twitter darling who rated well on Pro Football Focus, etc. I don't know, man. I've watched a lot of Notre Dame games in my life as an Irish Catholic guy from South Philly. He wasn't all that.
Pederson's aggressiveness was on display that evening against Minnesota. He was relentless. The Eagles were already up 21-7 with just 29 seconds remaining in the first half and the ball on their own 20. Pederson didn't kneel it and head into the locker room hanging his hat on a 14-point lead as an underdog. He went for the throat. The Eagles were able to put Elliott in a position to kick a field goal and go up 24-7 because of a 36-yard catch from Zach Ertz against Smith.
Ertz is the best route runner I've ever seen in an Eagles uniform:
what I think about when Jonathan Gannon mentions Harrison Smith at his press conference pic.twitter.com/FVQNWlOnYz— shamus (@shamus_clancy) July 29, 2022
No one had been shaken out of their shoes like that in Philadelphia since Allen Iverson crossed over Michael Jordan.
Everyone in the building knew the game was over after that.
Eric Rowe got Mossed.
The first touchdown of Super Bowl LII was on a 34-yard throw from Nick Foles to Alshon Jeffrey. Foles let that deep ball hang in the air exactly where Jeffrey could go up and snag it over Rowe, a former Eagle. The Eagles let it be known to the defending Super Bowl champions, the greatest coach of all time, the greatest quarterback of all time, and the whole football world that they were not some pushover underdogs against the mighty Patriots.
He really made that throw and he really made that catch. Wild.
After the most dramatic pause of all time, Pederson told Foles, "Yeah, let's do it." It's a play I don't need to rehash much. You watched it in disbelief just like every Eagles and NFL fan out there. It was yet another example of Pederson putting his full confidence behind guys and believing in them to execute. I still can't believe he called it.
Was this Foles' best throw of the night? Up 22-19 in the third quarter, Foles looked Corey Clement's way, who was working out of the backfield on a wheel route. The window could not have been tighter, but Foles threaded the ball between two New England defenders to a spot where only Clement could catch it.
A lot of my Massachusetts friends from college still complain that Clement lost control of the ball as he was going out of bounds. As someone who's never said a bad word about a referee in his life, I have no choice to be to respect the official ruling of a catch on this one.
With the Eagles down 33-32 to the Patriots and fewer than six minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, things were getting dicey. The Birds faced a fourth and one from their own 45. There was no question that Pederson was going to push his chips to the center of the table and go for it.
Lining up as an in-line tight end to the right, Ertz crossed over the middle of the field and with the help of a little pick action from Brent Celek, hauled in a pass from Foles. Ertz got just over the first down marker to move the chains and keep the team's championship dream alive.
It was the longest yard in Super Bowl history. I don't know if that's physically true, but on a psychological (spiritual?) level, it was.
"Poppin' bottles like I scored the winning touchdown," as Meek Mill once said.
Building off that huge fourth down conversion, Foles and Ertz connected once more, an 11-yard touchdown where Ertz went full body extension on his dive towards the end zone. The Eagles... were winning the Super Bowl with just over two minutes remaining in the game. It was another moment where Foles elevated to another level just unseen for a Philly athlete on a stage of that magnitude.
Cris Collinsworth's absolute meltdown over whether this was a catch or not is burned into my brain.
There's not much I need to say about this play that already hasn't been. It changed people's lives. It changed my life. The GOAT took the field to lead a game-winning drive, as he always did, and came up short because of Brandon Graham.
Is this the worst broadcasting call in the history of championships? Thanks, Al Michaels. He called the play with all the excitement of watching toast pop out of a toaster. Nevertheless, the Eagles won the Super Bowl.
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