Eagles look to defy odds against Falcons
PHILADELPHIA — The top-seeded Philadelphia Eagles will compete in their first playoff game in four years when they host the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC divisional round Saturday at Lincoln Financial Field.
The Eagles lost MVP candidate, quarterback Carson Wentz, down the stretch but still managed to finish 13-3 and earn the No. 1 seed with backup Nick Foles. Ironically, Foles was the quarterback in 2013 when the Eagles fell to the New Orleans Saints 26-24.
The Falcons received the sixth and final playoff spot in the NFC, then promptly traveled to the West Coast and defeated the Los Angeles Rams 26-13 in the wild-card round.
Philadelphia became the first No. 1 seed to open as an underdog in the playoffs. In the last two regular-season games, the offense sputtered under Foles with a 19-10 win over the Oakland Raiders and a 6-0 loss to the Dallas Cowboys.
Foles did sit out the majority of the regular season finale against the Cowboys.
“Yeah, there’s going to be wonder,” Eagles coach Doug Pederson said when asked how his team will respond in the postseason. “But I’m going to tell you, ‘Listen, these guys are football players.’ I think sometimes the outside, whether it be the media, the fans, can make it bigger than it really is. When you boil it down, it’s football at the end of the day. It’s football at the end of the day. Just go do your job.
“Do what you’ve been coached to do all week long and give it your best effort on Saturday. If it’s good enough, great. If it’s not, then we focus on next season.”
Foles was 4 of 11 for 39 yards and an interception against the Cowboys and struggled to throw the ball downfield. Third-string quarterback Nate Sudfeld was 19 of 23 for 134 yards, but the Eagles have repeatedly made it clear that Foles is the starter.
“As much as we and everybody else wants to run the football, you have to be able to stay aggressive in the pass game and get the ball down the field,” Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich said. “Nick has proven that over the length and entirety of his career. He not only can get the ball downfield, he can do so very well. He wants to throw the ball downfield. He’s aggressive in his mindset, as aggressive a guy as I’ve been around. He’s looking to throw it down the field. Some guys are the dink-and-dunk kind of guys. That’s not Nick. Nick is aggressive.
“So we need to be good in the run game and be able to mix in our play-action, take our shots down the field, keep the defense off guard and keep them guessing and that starts with good production on first down,” Reich added.
The Falcons, who finished the regular season at 10-6, are preparing for their second road playoff game. Quarterback Matt Ryan (personal reasons) and wide receiver Julio Jones (ankle, ribs) both missed practice Tuesday but are expected to start on Saturday.
Ryan was 21 of 30 for 218 yards and a touchdown in the 13-point win over the Rams. It was his first road playoff win in three starts.
“We’re not here just to get here,” Ryan told reporters. “We want to make noise while we’re here. This is what it’s all about. It’s about giving yourself the opportunity this time of the year to compete and play in games like this, and to win games like this.”
Ryan led Atlanta to the Super Bowl last season in what wound up being a heartbreaking overtime loss to the New England Patriots. He was able to guide the Falcons back to the postseason once again.
“He’s a hell of a competitor, and those of you that know him know the nice guy you see through the media, but in between those white lines, he is a wolf,” Atlanta coach Dan Quinn told ESPN.com. “I love what he stands for as a competitor, and his teammates know that, too. I thought there’s all sorts of examples, getting hit and bouncing back up, getting ready for the next one. He really showed that kind of toughness to his teammates.”
Ryan, who was raised in nearby Exton, Pa., and attended Penn Charter High School — is 1-3 all-time against the Eagles in Philadelphia.
The Falcons forced a pair of huge fumbles and turned them into 10 points against the Rams. Kicker Matt Bryant also booted four field goals.
“We know that they’re a good team, and we know that they beat us last year,” Atlanta free safety Ricardo Allen told ESPN.com of the Eagles. “We know we’re going to have to go there and fight.”