It had to happen this way, didn’t it?
The defending champion Philadelphia Eagles had to advance by defeating the NFC North champions and their elite defense in magical fashion, with Nick Foles coming through in the clutch just as he did a year ago. In the NFC title game last year, Foles tore apart the Vikings’ defense right from the beginning of the game. In defeating the Chicago Bears and their No. 1 overall defense this year, Foles struggled for a bit before finally finding his footing and leading yet another game-winning drive.
It was not easy, and it did not look easy. It doesn’t tend to when you’re playing these Bears. Chicago held five of Philly’s first nine drives to 23 yards or fewer, and ended two of them with interceptions and forced field goals on the two others. Mitchell Trubisky got off to a slow start but eventually found his footing, and he threw some absolutely fantastic passes to Allen Robinson to put the Bears in position for scores. Even Chicago’s special teams units played well for most of the night, downing two first-quarter punts inside the 5-yard line, and getting a 35-yard kickoff return from Tarik Cohen at the most important moment of the game.
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And the Eagles did not make things easy on themselves. They took a few unnecessary penalties, including an unnecessary roughness from Michael Bennett that extended a Chicago drive. The Eagles had two dropped interceptions and they had a couple conservative calls to punt on fourth-and-short opportunities.
And then they got the ball back trailing 15-10 with 4:48 on the clock, after the two teams had traded quick punts following Allen Robinson’s lead-taking touchdown (which came on one of the aforementioned perfect throws from Trubisky). And Foles went to work. He completed five of six passes to march the Eagles down the field, before they ultimately got stopped on two runs inside the 5-yard line. Foles’ third-down throw to Alshon Jeffery was batted away by the tremendous Kyle Fuller, and that all set up the most important fourth down of Philly’s season.
For a while we heard about how the Eagles’ trade for Golden Tate has not worked out. The Eagles struggled to figure out how to integrate Tate into their lineup, with his skill set largely overlapping with that of Nelson Agholor. But on this play, in this game, Tate came up huge.
The trade looks worth it now.
Of course, we’d be remiss if we did not mention what happened right after Tate found himself in the end zone. (Oh, and what happened before: Bears coach Matt Nagy let about 40 extra seconds run off the clock before calling his first timeout after the Eagles’ first-down run that was stuffed at the 2-yard line. Had he called his timeout prior to first down, the Bears might have had an opportunity to get a closer field goal attempt than they ultimately did.) Cohen returned the ensuing kickoff for 35 yards, giving the Bears excellent field position and a terrific opportunity to get themselves into field-goal range. Trubisky made yet another perfect throw to Robinson, and suddenly the Bears looked like they were going to be the ones that snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.
But that feeling did not last long. Trubisky’s next pass was also complete, also to Robinson. But while hustling up to the line of scrimmage, he kept looking over to the sideline to see if he really needed to spike the ball, which he obviously did. But his reticence wasted a precious few seconds, and that ended up mattering a whole lot. Chicago eventually ran just one more play, a long incompletion down the middle of the field. After a kicker-icing timeout from Doug Pederson, the unthinkable happened.
That’s right, Cody Parkey’s game-winning field goal attempt hit the post and the crossbar, and ultimately fell to the ground, sending the Bears home from the playoffs early. It was a familiar sight for Bears fans, as they had previously seen Parkey hit four posts in one game earlier this year. For this to happen to them in the playoffs as well was just crazy, but then, seemingly everything that happens in Eagles playoffs games when Foles starts is crazy. That’s just how it goes.
Here are a few more things to know about Philly’s thrilling 16-15 win.
Nick Foles recaptures the magic
For a lot of this game, it seemed like every time Nick Foles got something going, he did something bad. Early on he was rolling, and then he threw a pick. When he completed a few passes in a row, he got picked off in the end zone. In the first half Foles was 10 of 16 for 143 yards, but he had those two interceptions, one by Roquan Smith and one by Adrian Amos.
Foles actually did not perform quite as well after halftime in terms of his completion rate or his yards per attempt, but rather than tossing two interceptions, Foles threw two touchdowns — including the game-winner to Tate with just under a minute left in the game. Foles was 16 of 24 just 123 yards after the break, averaging only 5.1 yards per attempt compared to 8.9 before the break. But again, he threw those scores.
The first went to Dallas Goedert on a seam route when the Bears had only 10 guys on the field.
The second touchdown to Tate, of course, came on 4th and goal from the Bears’ 2-yard-line and capped a 12-play, 60-yard drive that ate up 3:52 on the clock and left the Bears with only 56 seconds to drive for their potential game-winning field-goal attempt, which ultimately sailed wide. Tate ran a fantastic route to break free of Sherrick McManis and Foles did the rest.
In our preview of this game we mentioned the Tate-McManis matchup as one the Eagles should try to exploit, but noted that Tate had not really made an impact since arriving in Philadelphia. Tate had only four catches for 44 yards before ending up with the game-winning score, which retroactively makes the trade seem well worth it.
No clear recovery
We have to mention this, right? This game saw one of the most fascinating — and downright weird — interpretations of the catch rule I’ve ever seen in my life. With just south of 30 seconds left in the first half, Trubisky fired an absolute laser down the middle of the field to rookie wideout Anthony Miller. Miller caught the ball and clearly had possession, but it appeared the ball was stripped out on the way down.
Take a look:
That play was initially ruled an incomplete pass because the ref apparently thought Miller did not make a football move (he took like four or five steps after catching it, which counts), so that’s where this whole thing gets extremely weird.
The Bears let the play clock wind all the way down on their next snap, and the booth in New York told the refs to review the play. It looked clear for all the world to see that Miller caught the ball and then fumbled just before he hit the ground … but there was no clear recovery on the play! The ref recovered the ball.
Pretty much everybody watching the game — including Al Michael and Cris Collinsworth and Terry McAulay — thought that meant the Bears would get the ball at the spot of the fumble. Not the case! Tony Corrente came out and explained that the ruling would stand because it was a catch and fumble with no clear recovery, which meant the ruling had to stay as an incomplete pass.
Everybody, everywhere was confused as all get out.
Hours later, I still have no idea what on earth happened. It makes no sense. Oh, and that drive ended in a field goal by the Bears, which meant they took a 6-3 lead into halftime.
Bears defense clamps down but not for quite long enough
The Bears had the best defense in the NFL pretty much all season. Chicago finished the year ranked third in yards allowed, first in points allowed, and first in Football Outsiders’ defensive DVOA. They had an elite pressure unit and an elite coverage unit and an elite run defense.
For most of this game, that all showed up. On Philadelphia’s first nine drives, the Eagles ran 52 plays and gained 293 yards, but scored only six points, thanks to the Bears picking Nick Foles twice — including once in the end zone.
Eagles running backs also gained just 43 yards on 22 carries, an anemic 1.96 per carry. So yeah, the Bears’ defense was terrific. Right up until it wasn’t. On Philly’s final drive of the night, Nick Foles completed six of eight passes for 59 yards and a score.
Trubisky salvages inconsistent night, but it’s not quite enough
Mitchell Trubisky was not perfect in this game — or even anywhere close. He very nearly was picked off twice in the first half, and each throw was worse than the last. He threw a damn near perfect ball in the first half, if his intention was to throw to Avonte Maddox, that is. (This would have stood as an interception had Maddox not bobbled the ball and stumbled on his way to the ground.)
He was later nearly intercepted in the end zone, only to see a defensive back almost drop the ball right into Anthony Miller’s hands. The pass ultimately fell incomplete, and the Bears kicked a field goal to end the drive and take a lead into halftime. Once there, Trubisky’s numbers were pretty ugly.
The Eagles used linebacker Nigel Bradham as a spy on Trubisky for a lot of the night, and Bradham was simply terrific. He ended up with seven tackles (two for loss) and two passes defensed on the stat sheet, but that undersells his impact. He was everywhere, causing problems for the Bears’ young quarterback.
But after halftime, Trubisky threw some absolute dimes, including two long-gainers to Allen Robinson. One of those passes set up a field goal that cut Philly’s lead to 10-9, and the second was a touchdown that gave the Bears a 15-10 lead of their own.
The Robinson touchdown was set up by this throw down the same sideline to Josh Bellamy.
Trubisky ended the night 26 of 43 for 303 yards and the score, and because of the dropped picks, he also finished without a turnover. He even got them into position to win the game with another dime to Robinson on the Bears’ last-ditch drive. But it ultimately wasn’t enough.
Eagles tight ends make big plays at big times
Star Eagles tight end Zach Ertz had a relatively muted game. Ertz set an NFL record for most catches by a tight end in a single season, snaring 116 passes from Foles and Carson Wentz. But in this game, he was playing against one of the NFL’s best units at defending the tight end.
The Bears finished the regular season ranked first in Football Outsiders’ pass defense DVOA, and third overall on passes to tight ends. On the year, they allowed just 69 catches for 641 yards and five scores to players at the position. In this one, they held Ertz to a 5-52-0 line. His final catch of the evening, though, was a huge one, as it extended what was ultimately the game-winning drive.
The biggest plays by an Eagles tight end came from second-round pick Dallas Goedert, who works as the No. 2 tight end behind Ertz. Foles found him up the seam for a score in the third quarter, the second time he’s thrown a playoff touchdown to a tight end.
As Cris Collinsworth pointed out on the broadcast, though, the Bears actually had only 10 players on the field for that snap.
In the fourth quarter, the Eagles found Goedert once again. They fake a screen to the left, faked it back to the right, and then threw it back to Goedert up the middle. He broke a couple tackles and got himself a first down, and the Eagles continued marching right on down the field for the eventual game-winning score.
A few plays later, Foles found Tate in the front of the end zone.
Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen underwhelm in playoff debuts
Throughout this season, Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen seemingly could not get themselves going at the same time. If Cohen was exploding, it came at the expense of Howard, and vice versa. In this one, both of them failed to make their presence felt.
Howard ended the night with just 10 carries for 35 yards while Cohen was stopped for no gain on his only carry and after making a really nice 19-yard catch early (see below) didn’t do much else through the air.
Cohen’s 35-yard kick return with under a minute left in the game set the Bears up with good field position for their last-ditch drive, but it ultimately was for naught, because Parkey missed the field goal.
The Bears’ season as over, as the NFC North champion has now seen its season end at the hands of Foles and the Eagles for the second-consecutive year. The Bears’ draft pick (No. 24 overall) is going to the Raiders as a result of the Khalil Mack trade, and Jon Gruden and company have to be happy that at least one of the two teams that owes them a pick lost this weekend. (The other, the Cowboys, defeated the Seahawks on Saturday night.)
Philly, meanwhile, advances to the divisional round, where the Eagles will travel to New Orleans to take on the Saints. Malcolm Jenkins has called the team’s Week 11 loss to New Orleans the low point of the team’s season. The Eagles went 5-1 down the stretch after that, and have now defeated the team with the NFL’s best defense. The Eagles-Saints game will be played at 4:40 ET on Sunday.
Check out our live blog of the festivities below.