The stake was ready to be driven through the heart of the champions.
Chicago Bears kicker Cody Parkey needed to make a 43-yard field goal with 10 seconds left in the game to drive that stake through the defending Super Bowl champs. He made his first kick, but the Eagles had called a timeout prior to the snap. His second try – after the timeout concluded - hit the upright. The ball dropped down, clanked off the cross bar and fell to the ground, giving the Eagles a heart-stopping 16-15 win.
Heart-stopping for Eagles fans only. For the Birds, their hearts are still beating loud and clear, with their fourth straight win.
They are among the Final Four teams still left in the NFC playoffs, and have a date in New Orleans next Sunday (4:40 p.m.) to meet the No. 1 seed Saints. The Eagles (10-7) were smoked by the Saints, 48-7, days before Thanksgiving. They have a chance now to make amends for a loss that seemingly ended their season, since it left them sitting at 4-6.
“I think we’re a different football team now than we were then,” head coach Doug Pederson told reporters in Chicago about that loss in New Orleans on Nov. 18 and raised his career postseason record as a coach to 4-0.
Look at the Eagles now: dangerous, red-hot, magical. Pick an adjective. They all apply.
Before Parkey’s miss, the Eagles needed some more heroics from quarterback Nick Foles.
The Bears grabbed a 15-10 lead with 9:04 to play on a 22-yard catch from Allen Robinson, who was a thorn in the Eagles’ side all game long, finishing with 10 catches for 143 yards.
The Eagles’ ensuing drive fizzled after one first down and had to punt the ball back to Chicago (12-5) with 7:02 left.
The Eagles defense, stout throughout, forced the Bears to go three-and-out, with the key play being a seven-yard sack from Michael Bennett (his 10th of the season) on a second-and-12 pass attempt.
The Eagles got the ball back with 4:48 to play, and it was Foles time.
The quarterback methodically drove the Eagles down the field, converting a third-and-nine with an 11-yard completion to Alshon Jeffery, who had six catches for 82 yards in his return to Chicago, the city where he was drafted and played five years. Jeffery’s catch gave the Birds a first-and-goal at the 2 with 1:14 remaining.
It wasn’t until fourth down that they finished the drive, with Foles rolling to his right and finding Golden Tate, who used his quickness off the line then veered right, leaving Sherrick McManis in his wake.
Foles hit Tate for the touchdown with 56 seconds left to give the Eagles a 16-15 lead. Their two-point conversion try, a direct snap run to Wendell Smallwood, was deemed no good despite a lengthy look at the replay to see if the ball crossed the goal line before being swatted out of his hands.
As for Tate, it was his fifth and final catch of the game. He ended with 45 yards and certainly justified the trade deadline deal the Eagles made to acquire him from the Detroit Lions for a third-round pick.
“We called the play and just kind of executed it the best we possibly could, and Foles made a heckuva throw and just made a hands catch and found a way to get in,” said Tate to reporters. “I just put the topper on it, but the guys who got us down there deserve all the glory.”
Indeed Foles found five different receivers on what proved to the game-winning drive, which traveled 60 yards and consumed 12 plays and 3:52 of the clock. The QB was 6-for-9 for 59 yards on the drive.
“From studying those situations when the game is on the line, they like to blitz and bring pressures, so why don’t we move the pocket and put one of our best guys on one of their best guys and let him win,” Foles told reporters.
“There (were) two routes. Golden is primary, so it was really just let him win. It’s really a simple play. He did a great job of really selling his route, hesitation in getting out, and he has great hands as you can see. He made a lot of big plays for us tonight.”
It wasn’t all golden for Foles in this one.
He struggled in the first half, throwing a pair of interceptions, one which came in the end zone after the Eagles had marched to Chicago’s 21-yad line midway through the second quarter.
The Eagles defense, though, kept them in it.
Overshadowed all week by the Bears’ top-ranked defense, the Eagles defensive unit was better.
All-everything defender Khalil Mack played OK, notching six tackles, but he didn’t wreak havoc like he had in so many regular-season games. He didn’t record a sack and was held in check throughout the game, mostly by 36-yard old left tackle Jason Peters.
Meanwhile, the Eagles’ defense held Chicago to just six first-half points, three of which came off Foles’ first interception and gave the Bears good field position.
For the fourth straight game, cornerback Rasul Douglas – an afterthought on this team until Jalen Mills got hurt and was thrust into a starting role – led the Eagles for the fourth straight game in tackles, getting eight against the Bears.
In addition to Bennett’s sack, the Eagles also got one from Tim Jernigan, his first since Nov. 19, 2017 against the Cowboys.
“This is a team win, that’s the best way to describe this game,” defensive tackle Fletcher Cox said to reporters. “The way we came out, the way we fought and it came down to the last play of the game, but it took everybody. … We won a football game against a really, really good football team.
“We just believed in each other, we turned the ball over a couple times, but at the same time, it’s football. We didn’t panic not one time during the football game. I think that’s the biggest thing that’s keeping this team together, nobody is panicking. Nobody is having fits on the sideline when something bad happens, everybody is keeping everybody up. That’s part of growth, that’s part of the way that the leaders try to lead this team.”