Extra Points: Eagles take unconventional route to first place
By John McMullen, NFL Editor
Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Take care of your business at home and split on the road. That's the conventional route to a successful NFL season and making a run toward the playoffs.
The Philadelphia Eagles have been anything but conventional in 2013.
The Birds recorded their first home win of the season on Sunday, a 24-16 victory over the Washington Redskins, and it only took 11 weeks to do it.
Most teams who haven't tasted victory on their home turf until Nov. 17 would usually be doing their due diligence on a Teddy Bridgewater- or Jadeveon Clowney-type. But, Chip Kelly's bunch is in sole possession of first place in the NFC East with a 6-5 record.
"It is a weight off our shoulders," Eagles wide receiver Riley Cooper said. "Finally get a win at home and give our fans something to cheer about."
Entering Sunday's contest, Philadelphia's drought at Lincoln Financial Field had reached 10 games and nearly 14 calendar months, yet the Eagles still had a share of the NFC East lead in what admittedly may be the worst division in all of football.
A 5-1 road record helped cloud the dismal and troubling 0-4 home mark.
Relief finally came for Philadelphia when nickel back Brandon Boykin intercepted a woeful Robert Griffin III pass in the end zone with under a minute to go.
"It was awesome to get this win at home," Kelly said. "I think that part was a little bit more special than the fact this puts us one up over .500 (on the season)."
It shouldn't have been that difficult, however. The Eagles built up a 24-0 lead by the end of the third quarter before attempting to give it all back against a quarterback who was woefully inaccurate -- especially on downfield throws -- for much of the game.
Boykin himself had two other attempts to end the contest with picks on Washington's ill-fated final drive, just missing when trying to jump a pair of weakly tossed out-routes by RG3, who finished the contest 17-of-35 for 264 yards with two touchdowns and the one INT.
Older fans from outside the City of Brotherly Love who remember Veterans Stadium, its awful turf and a hellacious Buddy Ryan-conceived defense featuring players like Reggie White, Clyde Simmons, Seth Joyner, and Wes Hopkins probably wouldn't recognize the laissez-faire atmosphere at the Linc these days.
The Philly tough-guy mentality has been replaced by an eco-friendly "green stadium" with wind turbines atop the structure that seem to rarely move, sort of like the Eagles' offense on this turf.
When Nick Foles was last seen in this stadium he had his worst game as a professional, completing just 11-of-29 passes for 80 yards before leaving with a concussion during a 17-3 loss to the Dallas Cowboys, a team which happens to have one of the two or three worst pass defenses in the entire NFL.
Conversely, in the subsequent two weeks, Foles has thrown 10 touchdown passes and no interceptions while recording passer ratings of 158.3 at Oakland and 149.3 at Green Bay, the best two-game stretch in NFL history.
By the time Foles ran it in from four yards out with 2:48 remaining in the first quarter on Sunday the Eagles had gone 143:48 of game time, 149 offensive plays and eight-plus weeks on the actual calendar between offensive touchdowns at Lincoln Financial Field.
That's the kind of strange, inexplicable phenomena which could be featured on "Ripley's Believe it or Not."
Kelly joked that he might have the driver of the team bus circle the stadium for a while to make his club think it was a road game.
He didn't do that but the Eagles fans were ready to do their part, egging the Redskins team bus as it entered the stadium, not the classiest move in the world but perhaps a desperate attempt to regain some of the swagger the city once had.
Poor play as the host tends to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. One or two bad things happen early and the fans start getting antsy while expecting the other shoe to drop.
The players in turn get a little tighter when they hear the faithful booing and presto, you have a 10-game home losing streak dating back over a year.
The Eagles got an in between performance from Foles against the Redskins as he connected on 17-of-26 passes for 298 yards with no TDs but also had no turnovers and a 104.3 rating.
The Eagles avoided a rough start which was key and by halftime the party was on as 13-plus months of frustration morphed into celebration, along with the realization that a deeply flawed team would be atop the mountain in the division with just five games left to play.
"Anytime you win it's awesome, Kelly said. "I thought out crowd was fantastic today . They probably deserved it as much as anybody. They were into it the entire game. It was an awesome feeling. There was a lot of energy in that stadium and we needed every ounce of it."
Kelly was being kind. This wasn't exactly Arrowhead or CenturyLink Field and more than a few hit the exits early in order to beat the traffic out of South Philly, not only a sign of the times but also in a strange twist, a distinct plus for the Eagles.
As the latest collapse unfolded, thousands weren't there to fret.
Instead of giving up after playing 45 minutes of the worst football you will ever see, Washington awoke and pressed the issue.
First it was a 62-yard TD pass to Darrel Young, helped along by two Philadelphia defensive backs colliding, followed by a two-point conversion. After an Eagles punt, Aldrick Robinson then quickly turned a badly underthrown RG3 pass into a 41-yard TD. And another two-pointer made it a one- possession game.
"I think we played better in the second half," Redskins receiver Santana Moss said. "As a team I don't know how we get ourselves in some of the situations we do. But, in the end we did make it a game."
Foles seemed to secure a first down and likely the game on the ensuing possession by stretching his 6-foot-6 frame with a 4-yard scramble but a closer look revealed his knee was down one-half yard short of the marker, forcing a punt with 3:26 remaining.
Veteran Donnie Jones uncorked a brilliant 70-yarder which backed the 'Skins up to their own 4-yard line.
"It was huge to make them go that far," Kelly said when discussing the punt. "For our special teams to contribute like that. That's what it takes. To win in a division, you have to be able to play well in all three phases. I thought the punt was huge for us."
Philadelphia would need just about every extra yard Jones gave them.
Griffin was able to convert a 3rd-and-25, along with two other third downs and had advanced Washington all the way to Eagles' 18-yard line. He still wasn't sharp, though, and when defensive end Fletcher Cox put on a strong rush as the seconds waned, RG3 lofted an ill-conceived pass down the seam which Boykin easily corralled.
"It's all about finishing," Cox said. "We thought we would shut them out but things happened. They made a few plays in the second half that they shouldn't have. I had it in my head that something had to happen. I knew a big play was coming, so I stayed calm and I got pressure and he threw the ball."
And by throwing it, RG3 ensured the skid was over and the Redskins were done.
"Our guys fought hard in the fourth quarter," said Washington head coach Mike Shanahan. "We fought hard in that second half, but when you're on the road, you have to play a full 60 minutes."
Bouncing back from 3-6 for a second straight season seemed untenable for the Redskins but if they won in Philadelphia, it was conceivable nine wins could have probably gotten it done this time around, meaning Washington actually had a margin for error, albeit a razor-thin one.
Instead the Eagles took the unconventional route to first place, inching one- half game ahead of idle Dallas.
"We'll take it," Kelly said,
11/17 21:53:43 ET