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December 23, 2018

Final observations: Eagles 32, Texans 30

Eagles NFL
1223_Nick_Foles_USAT James Lang/USA Today Sports

Nick Foles does it again.

The Eagles did their best to give their home crowd heart attacks on Sunday, but they got the job done in the end. A Jake Elliott field goal as time ran out kept their season alive, with the 32-30 win over the Houston Texans being enough to keep them in the playoff hunt in next week's season finale.

A lot to take in from this one. Here's a quick version of what I saw, with more thoughts from the PhillyVoice crew to come.

The Good

• Zach Ertz will not be thrilled about how he set the record for most receptions in a single season by a tight end. He fumbled the record-setting catch, only to have Dallas Goedert scoop it up and save him from shame.

Either way, Ertz's season has been nothing short of remarkable. The reason people obsess over volume records is that they are a symbol of consistency, of people who show up day after day, week after week, and get the job done. With the offense as bipolar as it has been this year, there was never any doubt about what Ertz was bringing to the table.

The company that Ertz passed along the way to his record — Tony Gonzalez, Jason Witten and more — tells you everything you need to know about the season he has had. Ertz has blossomed into one of the league's elite players at his position, and he deserves every ounce of praise he will get when the season wraps up.

• Nick Foles unleashed an absolute beauty down the field to Nelson Agholor late in the third quarter, finding the USC product for a huge touchdown on the first play of Philadelphia's drive.

The best thing you can say about Foles over the last couple weeks is that he has been smart about the sort of risks he has taken. Yes, he has missed some throws. Yes, he has made some poor decisions. But the shots he has taken have been pretty calculated, putting faith in his guys to win one-on-one battles without exposing the team to unnecessary risk. And with some exceptions, they have rewarded his confidence.

The big-play element they've been missing most of the year has been there with Foles at the helm. And while it takes a whole team to deliver them — blocking up front, receivers beating their matchups — a lot of it simply comes from Foles. He's giving the team and his targets a chance, and you can't ask for anything more than that.

His confidence in this group has also manifested itself in success on third and fourth down. Foles absolutely killed the Texans on later downs on Sunday, staying calm when pressure came in order to deliver the ball where it needed to go.

I don't have any interest in fanning the "quarterback controversy" hysteria, but give Foles his props. Over the last year, he has earned that and then some when called into action.

• The ski masks came out early in the fourth quarter, and rightfully so. Chris Long came up with a huge strip sack of Watson, and the Fletcher Cox half of the Long-Cox partnership scooped the ball on the sideline, setting up a big celebration for the Eagles' defense afterward.

I was slightly bummed we didn't get to see Cox rumble, stumble, and bumble toward the end zone with the ball in his hands, but when that's the biggest problem, you count your blessings. A massive (and timely) takeaway for the Eagles with the Texans already reeling from Foles' monster throw.

By the way, Chris Long had a monster second half. He hasn't flashed as much this season as he did during the Super Bowl run, but he picked a good time to have his best game of the year.

• There was a time when people called him "YAC Ertz" pejoratively for Ertz's apparent inability to pick up yards after the catch. The Houston Texans probably feel bewildered that this was ever a thing:

Ertz broke Witten's record and added some damn style points on top of it. Hell of a year.

• I know this was a Texans play, but couldn't exclude this catch from DeAndre Hopkins. Absolutely insane.

Houston going away from him Sunday was a gift.

• Jake Elliott missed an extra point, but he made the field goal when it really mattered, so we'll call it a wash.

The Bad

• Darren Sproles was mostly excellent on Sunday. He made an absolutely baffling decision to run sideways before the first-down marker early in the second half, and it took a fourth-down sneak from Nick Foles to make up for it. Not his finest moment.

• It looked like Foles had momentum to build on heading into the second half. The Eagles were moving the ball on offense despite some misfires from the QB, and I thought that was a reason to be optimistic about the second-half attack.

We had to wait a bit on that. Foles came out and threw a ghastly interception on Philadelphia's opening drive, handing the ball to Houston around midfield.

The only positive on this Foles turnover was the defense stepping up. They forced the Texans into a quick three-and-out, bailing out the offense in a big way.

• It seems extremely bad that the Eagles traded a third-round pick for Golden Tate when it appears he struggles to get on the field at this point. Richard Rodgers was getting snaps on the outside in the second half. Richard Rodgers!

• It's not easy to contain Deshaun Watson, but boy did the Eagles make it look especially tough. Every time it looked like a Texans play was dead in the water, Watson bought time with his legs and got out of the pocket, neutralizing whatever pass rush the Eagles offered. The sequence in the fourth quarter where the Eagles whiffed on sacking him 3-4 times was absolutely sickening, and Watson made them pay with a huge completion down the field.

That was the story of the game, basically. If they had contained Watson on say, 2-3 more plays on Sunday, this one isn't even close. But he wore down the Eagles over time, and man did it make things far too close in the end.

• Brutal fumble from Josh Adams late in the fourth. The game was close to being over, and Adams gave the Texans a flicker of hope when he put it on the turf. Protect the football, young man.

Brutal missed extra point from Jake Elliott.

Brutal job of downing Cameron Johnston's excellent punt late in the game, with LaRoy Reynolds losing his mind for who knows what reason. Just a lot of inexcusable miscues from different players on different parts of the team. Maybe there's a reason this team entered the game 7-7. 

The Ugly

• Bill O'Brien should be kicked out of the league for punting on fourth-and-short at midfield in the third quarter. What a coward.

• Was a bummer to see Demaryius Thomas go down with what looked like a serious injury early in the fourth quarter. Hope he's able to bounce back (and that it wasn't as serious as it looked).

• It's a lot easier to extend drives when you can intentionally ground the ball without picking up a penalty.

It's also a lot easier to extend drives when defensive players have no idea what they're allowed to do to make a tackle. Jimmy and I spent enough time roasting the officials earlier that I won't go in on them again here.

Wait, who am I kidding, yes I will. The blown call on the two-point conversion, where Nick Foles was thrown to the turf by his facemask, is pretty effing huge in a game that was by less than three points. There was absolutely no excuse to miss that call — it was clear as day in real time and even clearer with the benefit of replay.

It is pure comedy watching these guys blow calls every week. They miss the big ones, the routine ones, the tough ones, every sort of penalty they can possibly call, they screw up in some way. They don't favor teams, they just flat-out suck.

• Nick Foles took a monster hit on the game's final drive, and man was I glad to see him get back up and finish the game after staying on the ground for a while. He deserved to see this thing through, and what an effort from him to get the Eagles into field-goal range.

(He was aided, I should add, by a tremendous Alshon Jeffery catch on the play where he got lit up by Clowney. Kudos to Foles for standing in there and delivering, and to his No. 1 WR for hauling it in.) 

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