2018 NFL Playoffs: Pretty or not, the Eagles have something special in Philadelphia
Behind a cold breeze, the NFC's most overlooked top seed in decades rekindled a fire against Atlanta
When the icy breeze of January air first carried through Lincoln Financial Field on Saturday, it was as if fate itself had blown in from the northwest.
The day before, the City of Brotherly Love was basking in daytime temperatures that reached into the 60s, more than 20 degrees above the historic average for a few weeks into the new year. As the Eagles' 2017 season would have it, however, the weather became sharply Philadelphian just in time for the Linc's first playoff game in four years, shrouding the kickoff of this weekend's postseason slate with an atmosphere tame enough to keep 69,000 standing in staunch support of their hometown gladiators -- and just bitter enough to threaten, say, a defending Super Bowl runner-up that calls an Atlanta dome its own home.
The Falcons obviously didn't , in Saturday's Divisional Round showdown simply because of some brisk winter weather. They didn't disappoint all the oddsmakers and national media who had written off Philadelphia and its No. 1 seed more than any team in almost 50 years just because the turbines atop the Eagles stadium caressed some particularly frosty gusts.
But much like Pennsylvania's inexplicable ability to drop dozens of ticks on the thermometer overnight, the Falcons' stymied efforts and subsequent postseason exit just felt a whole lot like destiny -- for the guys in green.
Quite a few instances would suggest otherwise. There was running back Jay Ajayi's early drive-killing fumble. There were some nervous misfires from quarterback Nick Foles. There was a slew of special teams blunders, from Jake Elliott's off-the-upright extra-point miss and line-drive kickoff out of bounds to an accidentally muffed punt on a fair catch that gave Atlanta possession of the ball in the Eagles' red zone. There was even the Falcons' final drive, a last-minute hurrah that brought the reigning NFC champions within two yards of a go-ahead score -- one that might have left those 69,000 strong as cold as the night and dead as Atlanta's repeat hopes.
Then again, when have a few bumps in the road ever fully rerouted the Eagles in 2017?
Seconds before the Falcons were shut down in gut-wrenching fashion on Saturday, the Linc's video board operator queued up a montage of vintage desperation speeches, most of them delivered by team legends Brian Dawkins and Dick Vermeil. No broadcast commentary nor maxed-out TV volume could have captured the resulting uproar from around that chilly stadium, where fans united on their feet in advance of maybe the loudest celebration to accompany Eagles football since, well, the last time Philadelphia made it all the way to the NFC title game.
The moment was cold, both in the air and the circumstance of potential heartbreak, but in that cold, the Eagles -- first their team, then their fans, then their city -- found fire.
And that was already the story of the Eagles' year entering the weekend. Coach Doug Pederson, after all, didn't freeze when future Hall of Fame tackle Jason Peters went down early in the season. His players didn't freeze when Darren Sproles, Jordan Hicks, Chris Maragos and, most of all, quarterback Carson Wentz joined Peters on the sidelines.
It's obvious, now, why Pederson and team owner Jeffrey Lurie, who got jiggy in the Eagles' post-game locker room like never before, might wonder why anyone could have assumed this week would've been any different -- why this group would finally freeze just because an uninspiring regular-season finale convinced the general public that Philadelphia was as good as playoff roadkill.
Saturday's win, of course, was as close as they come. The performance that earned the "W" almost certainly will not do so again on Jan. 21 if the Eagles' next opponent is anything close to dialed in. There is plenty to be fixed.
If, however, Philadelphia's defying step forward only upped the number of those who doubt these Eagles can make a run (friendly reminder that "a run" now means winning just one more game to go to the Super Bowl), Saturday should be the biggest slice of proof yet that 2017 is something special for a franchise that's been hunting "special" since before the Falcons even existed.
"Who's coming?!" fans hollered from the stands as Foles took the final knee to send Atlanta home, beckoning the Eagles' next opponent. "Who's up next?"
Call it unity, call it coaching, call it talent, or call it fate. The Eagles are battered, but they are persistent. They are limited, yet they are moving on. They've at least.
And come next weekend, when a trip to Minneapolis is on the line, they'll know they've got absolutely one thing on their side: A home base at the Linc, where sometimes, somehow, the wintry air itself is enough to spark a fire that has yet to die out.
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