10 observations from an NFC East title game

10 observations from an NFC East title game

December 29, 2013, 11:00 pm
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Bradley Fletcher celebrates his fumble recovery on the first series of the Eagles' 24-22 victory Sunday. (USA Today Images)

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Ten observations from AT&T Stadium, where the Eagles were inconsistent on offense, shaky on defense and still found a way to win their biggest game in three years.


Brandon Boykin saved the Eagles’ season Sunday night, his sixth interception of the season clinching a close-your-eyes-and-pray 24-22 win over the Cowboys (see Instant Replay).

And now it’s off to the playoffs for a team that was 4-12 a year ago.

1. The Cowboys really have a knack for making Nick Foles uncomfortable in the pocket, something nobody else has really done this year. Foles on Sunday, like in the first Dallas game, rarely had a chance to set his feet and stand in the pocket and look down the field. The difference? Foles this time reacted positively to the adversity. It wasn’t his best game -- the fumble deep in Eagles territory is something he can’t let happen, and he certainly wasn’t sharp all the way through. But ultimately, he made big throws when he had to, got a huge win with a playoff berth at stake, and that’s what it’s all about.

2. Some notes on Foles: He finishes the season with 27 touchdown passes and two interceptions. He had more than twice as many touchdowns as any quarterback in NFL history who threw two or fewer interceptions (Boomer Esiason had 13 TDs and two INTs in 1997). He also became the first quarterback in NFL history to throw 250 or more passes in each of his first two seasons with five or fewer interceptions each year. More on Foles come Monday, but statistically, one of the greatest seasons in NFL history.

3. This wasn’t one of Chip Kelly’s best games as a coach, but what a job he’s done this year taking a dead team and guiding it to the playoffs. The six-win improvement (four to 10) ties the largest in franchise history, and I don’t think the Eagles are finished winning yet (see story).

4. Was shocked the Eagles weren’t able to get any pressure on Kyle Orton. Here’s a guy who hasn’t started a game in two years, and the Eagles just couldn’t get to him. Couldn’t get near him. The Eagles have been inconsistent all year getting pressure -- some weeks great, some weeks bad -- and this was a bad week. A stud, edge pass rusher remains this team’s biggest need moving forward.

5. The Eagles really did a nice job on DeMarco Murray, who ran well early -- 6 for 25 in the first quarter -- but really had nowhere to go after that. Murray was 11 for 26 the rest of the game, finishing with a harmless 51 yards. That was huge.

6. Love using Bryce Brown late in a game. Fresh legs. Brown has gotten over his fumbling problem of last year, and with his speed and power, he’s a perfect change-of-pace back. By the fourth quarter, the Cowboys’ defense had seen LeSean McCoy 23 times. You throw in a fresh Brown for his first two carries of the night and he goes five for a first down and then six for a touchdown against a defense that hasn’t seen him. It wasn’t Kelly’s best coaching performance Sunday night, but I love the way he used Brown.

7. I never, ever, ever complain about refs, but the Cowboys should have been flagged for at least two personal fouls in the first half, one on the late hit out of bounds that got Jason Avant hurt and another on the Brent Celek touchdown. Two blatant cheap shots, and if the refs don’t call 'em, teams keep doing it. Final penalty totals were 6 for 50 for the Eagles and 1 for 5 for the Cowboys. Come on now.

8. The improvement in Mychal Kendricks from last year to this year is remarkable. He’s become such a playmaker. Kendricks as a rookie last year had one sack, no interceptions, no forced fumbles and no fumble recoveries -- one big play. This year, he has four sacks, three interceptions, four fumble recoveries and two forced fumbles. Kendricks on Sunday became only the third linebacker in Eagles history with three interceptions and three sacks in a season. The other two? All-timers Seth Joyner and William Thomas. Kendricks just turned 23 a few months ago. Going to be fun watching him continue to blossom.

9. Once again … I hate the ball in Brad Smith’s hands on an absolutely crucial 1st-and-goal on the 6-yard line with a one-point lead in a game of this magnitude. Smith’s last pass completion was in 2010. You have one of the greatest offenses ever assembled. Just run it. Bottom line: If Brad Smith touches the ball more than LeSean McCoy on a crucial series inside the opposing 10-yard line in your biggest game in three years, something is wrong. Horribly wrong.

10. Finally: Earl Wolff?  Please get better.