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January 06, 2019

Final observations: Eagles 16, Bears 15

Eagles NFL
010619-DougPederson-USAToday Quinn Harris/USA Today

Philadelphia Eagles head coach Doug Pederson in the first half a NFC Wild Card playoff football game against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field.

A vintage drive in the clutch from Nick Foles looked to be enough to get the Eagles a playoff win on the road. But it wasn't until Cody Parkey's last-minute field goal bounced off the upright that Philadelphia could finally breathe a sigh of relief, with the Eagles leaving Soldier Field with a 16-15 win.

Here's some of what I saw as I try to pick my brain off the floor. What a night.

The Good

• Nigel Bradham had a huge, huge game for the Eagles in Chicago. While Mitchell Trubisky is nobody's idea of a dominant passer, he can do some damage when he gets outside the pocket and extends plays with his legs. Bradham made sure that wasn't possible, with Jim Schwartz using him to spy Trubisky and limit his effectiveness on the outside.

Beyond that, Bradham popped up all over the field right when the Eagles needed him. When he wasn't closing down the space for Trubisky, he was making tackles in the open field and helping the Eagles force a bunch of three-and-outs (or close to them) to keep the game close.

While a lot of people were excited to get Jordan Hicks back this year after his last season was cut short by injury, Bradham's return to form late in the season has helped get the defense where they are today.

• Nick Foles had an erratic first half, but he came out ready to rip after halftime. Philadelphia responded in a big way on their first drive of the second half, marching deep into Chicago territory before scoring the game's first touchdown.

The recipient? None other than the rookie tight end, Dallas Goedert, who has been a factor as the Eagles have turned it on in crunch time this season.

It's worth mentioning here that this scoring drive featured Chicago's first two penalties of the evening, both of which were correct calls. The key to winning football games is not necessarily getting a favorable whistle, but making sure you take advantage when the calls do come your way. I would argue that it was Foles' aggressiveness that drew those penalties, with both flags coming on throws down the field to Zach Ertz and Jordan Matthews. You can't win the lottery if you don't buy a ticket.

Taking advantage of the calls that come your way is even more critical in a low-scoring environment like the one we saw Sunday. Excellent job by the Birds there.

• Earlier this year, I would imagine Cre'Von LeBlanc was probably just happy to be in the league with a chance to fight for a spot. Now? The kid had what is probably one of the best games of his life in the biggest game of his life. Talk about a dream come true.

LeBlanc's arm helped stall Chicago's drive (or at least lead to an insane review process) at the end of the first half, and with the Bears on the verge of converting a big third down, LeBlanc made a huge tackle in the open field to stop them short of the sticks.

Kudos to this kid for answering the damn bell. Even sweeter for him that it came at the expense of a team who let him go earlier this year.

• Tarik Cohen is one of the guys you fear when you line up against the Bears on a given week. He's fast, he's versatile, he's the sort of player who can give a defensive coordinator fits. And the Eagles made him a complete non-factor in the game.

In fairness, the Bears did that to themselves to a degree by having the offense go away from Cohen for some unknown reason. But when Cohen (and for that matter, Jordan Howard) had the ball in his hands, the Eagles swarmed him, and didn't allow him to get any sort of momentum going, turning the guy they call "Human Joystick" into a decrepit Frogger machine in the back corner of a dingy arcade.

(And by the way, "Human Joystick" is a recycled nickname in the first place. Shout out to the O.G., Dante Hall.)

(Second by the way: very cool of him to wait until the final Philadelphia kickoff of the game to produce a huge return and bury the Eagles. Made it very dramatic.)

• Excellent, excellent play design by the Eagles on the huge first down reception by Dallas Goedert late in the fourth. Even more excellent? The stumbling, bumbling run he made after the catch, which turned a short gain into a huge first down.

The tight ends were massive on Philadelphia's final drive. Zach Ertz hauled in a throw from Foles that he really had no business bringing down, flashing some impressive hand strength to bring that down across the middle.

• It was not the best day at the office for Nick Foles. But boy, did that dude come through when the Eagles absolutely needed it the most. The Eagles chewed up yards and tons of clock on the drive that put them into position to win the ballgame.

And speaking of which, how in hell was THAT for timing with Golden Tate's touchdown? That third-round pick they gave up for him was being lamented for most of the last month with Tate struggling, and with the damn season on the line, the ball went to Tate. The team was dead in the water if he didn't come through, and Tate came up with the biggest touchdown of the season.

Holy hell, is this team good at producing drama. That trade still might end up being a net loss, but I will say this — kudos to Foles, Tate, and the coaching staff for still remaining confident in him when it mattered.

• The plays were ultimately fruitless, but it was the right call for Doug Pederson to run the ball deep in Chicago territory late in the game. Have to force the Bears to burn timeouts there.

The Bad

• The Eagles have not had a ton of success running the ball to the outside this season, so I can understand not going there in the biggest game of the year. But the Eagles were never going to generate a ton of offense by running the ball right up the middle, and they tried to do that a bit too much throughout the game on Sunday.

Execution is the name of the game, and I don't know that there are great options either way given the personnel. But you have to get creative if you're going to overcome Chicago's front seven, and the Eagles were entirely too predictable when they ran the ball.

Predictable, but most importantly, not good enough. Not sure what they were expecting when they continued to run the same plays that didn't work all game in the fourth quarter. That's on Doug Pederson.

• I love Jason Peters and hope that his greatness is recognized when he hangs up the cleats. He deserves a spot in the Hall of Fame, in my opinion.

But man, he looks just about cooked. The Bears are a difficult matchup for any offensive lineman, and Peters certainly put up a fight, but he's fighting against Father Time and the opponent at this point. He can't rev up the engine as quickly or as often as he used to, and that ends up putting even more pressure on the guys in the backfield.

• Play-calling was far too conservative for my liking as the Eagles got closer to the end of the game. I understand that's a natural product of how the game unfolded — you bet on your defense above all else when the score is 10-9 early in the fourth — but the Eagles have seen their defense buckle late in games time and time again this year. I don't like the mentality of just leaving it in the hands of the defense to win the game, and think you always have to play to win, rather than to not lose.

Doug Pederson is situationally aggressive, but this is an area where I think he can show some more gusto. Foles has rewarded you when you have put faith in his hands, and I believe they could have done that more.

• On the flipside, Foles was very clearly not at his best today. He missed crucial throws that he absolutely would have made during last year's stretch run, and maybe that's a product of the shots to the chest he has taken over the last few weeks. The offensive line play wasn't immaculate, but I don't think Khalil Mack and Co. was responsible for Foles' performance. A lot of this falls on his shoulders.

But look, he has excelled in this role over most of the last two years, and he deserves all the credit in the world for that. He's not perfect. Even the best quarterbacks of all-time have tough games and down periods. At least he came up with a monster drive when it mattered, and as he did way back in the Chip Kelly era, he left the field with a lead. This time, it held up.

• Avonte Maddox was a huge part of Philadelphia's stretch run, but he showed his age during the second half of this game. The Bears hunted him over and over and over again, and Maddox was not up for the challenge.

The biggest problem for Maddox was something we've seen come back to haunt Eagles corners time and time again over the years: double moves. They can bite even the most skilled and wise corners, but they tend to really give young guys trouble as they go for home-run plays on the initial move. Maddox swung and missed far too often in the second half.

The Ugly

• My language while watching this game. Playoff football is stressful.

• Chicago's punt late in the fourth quarter. The Eagles will not complain about it.


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