The Nick Foles magic carpet ride is over.
After an excellent liftoff in the airspace inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, it encountered turbulence midway through the second quarter. Foles and the Eagles could never recover from the tailspin, and they crash landed just a few blocks away from the Mississippi River on Sunday.
It didn’t go down without a last-second attempt to stay airborne, but a Foles pass to Alshon Jeffery with less than two minutes to play slipped through Jeffery’s fingertips and was intercepted by Marshawn Lattimore. That sealed the New Orleans Saints, 20-14 win in the Divisional round of the playoffs.
The top-seeded Saints will host the No. 2 seed Los Angeles Rams in the NFC Championship Game next Sunday. As for the Eagles, well, the defense of their Super Bowl title came up just a little short.
“It’s tough because it’s so final,” head coach Doug Pederson told reporters in New Orleans. “You’re here at the end of the season, there’s no more football for 2018. I told the guys to keep their heads up. We set out on a journey way back in OTAs, and we keep talking about having no regrets, leave everything on the field.
“They did that this afternoon. They battled right to the end. We had opportunities. So proud of them, proud of the season, proud of the adversity that we faced all season long; found our way to get into the postseason.”
It was the first loss in the postseason for Pederson, who had won his first four playoff games.
The Eagles faced more adversity during the game, losing Pro Bowl right guard Brandon Brooks, who tweeted afterward that he tore his Achilles. Throughout the game, Fletcher Cox was in and out with a foot injury, one that had him in a walking boot afterward. Michael Bennett also played after getting hurt. So did Rasul Douglas. In the final quarter, Jason Peters wasn’t in because he had a back injury.
Still, it looked like the sixth-seeded Eagles were going to pull out some more late-game magic when Saints kicker Wil Lutz missed a 52-yard field goal and they took over at the their own 42-yard line. A 16-yard completion to Zach Ertz and a 15-yard roughing the passer penalty were key plays that sent the Eagles to the Saints’ 27.
The Eagles tried to run one more play before the two-minute warning, and it would be the last play their offense would run this season. It was the one that led to Lattimore’s second interception of the game.
"I let the city of Philadelphia down," Jeffery told reporters. "It happens to the best of us."
Jeffery, who had five catches for 63 yards, said he would take the drop intot he offseason and remember it while he's training.
The team consoled a disconsolate Jeffery on the sideline.
“It’s hard, it’s really hard, because he’s down,” said Pederson, “but for me, it’s just about staying positive. Listen, he’s made many, many big catches or us this season and he will continue to do that. I just told him he has to keep his head up, don’t let one play define you. It’s not who he is. He’s too good of a player. He’ll embrace it and he’ll be better for it. But I told him to keep his head up and keep plowing.”
Foles also talked to Jeffery.
“For it to end, it is tough with these guys, but we were able to spend time in the locker room and that’s what this game is about is relationships,” Foles told reporters. “You tell him you love him. This game is tough, not everyone can do it, those moments you tell him you love him and keep going.”
The Eagles got off to a quick start, scoring two first-quarter touchdowns. The first was aided by an interception from Cre’Von LeBlanc on the first play of the game. The Eagles took that turnover and went 76 yards in seven plays, ending the drive with a 37-yard throw from Foles to Jordan Matthews and it was 7-0 with 10:41 to play.
On their next possession, the Eagles went 75 yards in 10 plays, with Foles finishing it off on a one-yard sneak to make it 14-0 with 4:37 remaining in the first quarter.
The Eagles had trouble scoring in the first quarter all season long, getting points in just four first quarters in their first 13 games. Since Foles took over, though, the Eagles scored points in the first quarter in five straight games.
After that explosion, though, the Eagles offense completely dried up.
“I’ll have to look the tape to see what stalled out the running game, what stalled out the offense,” center Jason Kelce told reporters. “It’s very frustrating.”
The momentum began to swing the Saints’ way when Foles threw his first interception to Lattimore on a deep route to Ertz early in the second quarter.
“I was trying to get the ball down field, should’ve been a foot further maybe, but he made a good play,” Foles told reporters.
The momentum really got rolling on that ensuing New Orleans series when coach Sean Payton called for a fake punt on fourth-and-one at his own 30. The snap went to Taysom Hill, who scooted four yards for a first down. The Saints finished the drive on a fourth-and-goal throw from the Eagles’ 2-yard line to Keith Kirkwood, a product of Temple University.
It was 14-10 at halftime, but the Eagles’ first possession of the second half went three-and-out in the third quarter.
The Saints broke the Eagles’ back with a mammoth drive that went 92 yards, using 18 plays and us 11 minutes, 29 seconds. Along the way, they overcame two holding penalties and a false start. Drew Brees picked up a first down on a second-and-20 and a third-and-16, both times finding Michael Thomas, who set a New Orleans postseason record with 171 yards on 12 catches.
The drive ended with a two-yard throw to Thomas and the Saints had their first lead at 17-14 with 1:40 to go in the third quarter.
The Eagles ran the ball just three times in the second half, but they didn’t have many plays, with the Saints winning the time of possession, 37:50-22:10. For the game, the Eagles had 16 rushes for 49 yards.
The Saints converted 8 of 15 third down tries to the Eagles 2-for-7.
So this was the end, and this team will not look the same again.
The Eagles have plenty of decisions to make with some key players. One is Foles.
“I’m not going to worry about it right now,” said the quarterback. “I think I’m just going to do what I can to enjoy this flight back with my teammates and see what happens.”