The Falcons came into Saturday's Divisional matchup with the Eagles as road favorites. That's the top-seeded Eagles, 3-point home dogs against the sixth-seeded Falcons. Part of that had to do with Atlanta's convincing win over the Rams in Los Angeles in the Wild-Card round. And part of that had to do with an Eagles team forced to start Nick Foles.
But after a sluggish start, Foles settled down, the Eagles' defense stiffened, and the Falcons couldn't convert on a critical fourth down with less than a minute to go that cemented the 15-10 victory and put Philadelphia in the NFC Conference Championship game for the first time since the 2008 season.
Here are six takeaways from the Eagles' win.
This was all about Nick Foles
There were a lot of reasons to like the Falcons on Saturday. The conversation started with Matt Ryan and a well-balanced offense and ended with "They're facing Nick Foles."
In his three regular-season starts, Foles looked nothing like the Eagles quarterback who, in 2013, started 10 games and completed 64 percent of his throws with 27 touchdowns and just two interceptions, and a passer rating of 119.2. There were glimpses, yes, like in Week 15 when he was 24 of 38 for 237 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions in a 34-29 win over a hapless Giants outfit.
But in his last two starts -- against the Raiders and Cowboys -- Foles was 23 of 49 for 202 yards, one touchdown, two interceptions and a passer rating of 48.2. But everything changed against the Eagles. Yes, Foles looked shaky on his first series. His very first throw was the arm punt-iest of arm punts:
But the football gods made it clear early that they were watching out for him. The Falcons were flagged for defensive pass interference on the play. Unfortunately, the football gods made no such promises to Jay Ajayi, who fumbled a play later and set up a Falcons' drive that ended in a Matt Bryant field goal.
But Ajayi made up for the miscue; he had 49 rushing yards in the first quarter and added 44 receiving yards, including 32 on this 3rd-and-7 conversion early in the fourth quarter that set up the Eagles' final field goal:
Foles finished the night 23 of 30 for 246 yards with no turnovers and he took just one sack. And while the Eagles' only touchdown came on a LeGarrette Blount one-yard run, that was the cherry on top of a 14-play, 86 yard first-quarter drive that relied mostly on the running game and in the process allowed Foles to get comfortable. And once he did, he was the best quarterback on the field for the final 30 minutes.
Despite coming into the game as 3-point underdogs, SportsLine's Stephen Oh explained that Philadelphia was still clinging to a win probability of 51 percent, which was contingent on one thing: Foles playing like a replacement-level quarterback. Oh's simulations predicted that Foles would throw for fewer than 200 yards and 1.3 passing touchdowns and if he could limit turnovers (the simulation projects 0.7 interceptions) and lean on the running game (the simulation projects 4.5 yards per carry for the running backs), the Eagles would have a chance to pull the upset.
Well, Foles exceeded the passing totals and even though the Eagles managed just 3.0 yards per carry, the balance -- 30 passes, 32 runs -- was enough to keep the Falcons guessing. And now Foles is one game away from the Super Bowl.
In case you're already looking ahead to the least-likely quarterback showdown, there's a 2.8 percent chance Foles faces Blake Bortles in the Super Bowl.
Falcons couldn't find that offensive balance
A week ago, when the Falcons throttled the Rams, they had 72 total offensive snaps and 39 were runs. They controlled the ball for 37:35, including 13:07 in the third quarter, which started with the Falcons getting the ball and going on a 16-play, 76-yard drive that ended in a Matt Bryant field goal. Of those 16 plays, 12 were runs. Against the Eagles, the Falcons had 59 plays and only 20 were runs. They did average 4.3 yards per carry but the Eagles aren't the Rams; L.A. ranked 22nd against the run, according to Football Outsiders' metrics, while Philly is No. 3. And they're seventh against the run. Put another way: The Falcons needed a near-flawless game plan, especially with Foles playing the way he did. But when it mattered the Eagles' D stiffened, held the Falcons to 4 of 13 on third down, sacked Ryan three times, and held one of the league's best offenses to 281 total yards.
That said, the Falcons still had a chance to win it.
Facing a 4th and 6 with 3:30 to go and trailing, 15-10, Ryan and Julio Jones did this:
But facing another fourth down from the Eagles' 2-yard line, and with just over a minute to go, here's the play the Falcons went with:
Which immediately raised the most obvious question:
Give Ryan half-field with the season on the line yikes— Jon Ledyard (@LedyardNFLDraft) January 14, 2018
I hate when teams cut the field in half— Pete Prisco (@PriscoCBS) January 14, 2018
STOP CUTTING THE FIELD IN HALF IN THE END ZONE— Sean Wagner-McGough (@seanjwagner) January 14, 2018
Also not helping on that play: Jones first fell down, then let the ball slip right through his hands.
This was a penalty
This happened midway through the first quarter:
Eagles safety Rodney McCleod was flagged for unnecessary roughness. Here's our question: How else was McLeod supposed to make a play on the ball? Run around to the other side of Mohamed Sanu and hit him there? Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman even weighed in.
Yea welcome to playing Defense in this Fantasy football age. Better off just letting him catch it— Richard Sherman (@RSherman_25) January 13, 2018
Sherman isn't even wrong.
This was not a catch
On the Falcons' final drive, the play just before Jones' 20-yard grab on fourth down (see above), Sanu appeared to have a first down. But the Eagles challenged that he lost control of the ball as he went to the ground:
Good news: The replay officials got it right.
That was a good overturn. I never thought it was an issue. He did not have full control before the ball hit the ground and did not maintain control. Good decision by New York.— Mike Pereira (@MikePereira) January 14, 2018
The lack of consistency remains maddening.
Not a catch by the Al Riveron regular season standard.— Michael David Smith (@MichaelDavSmith) January 14, 2018
Catch by the standard Riveron used on the Jalen Ramsey interception in the first week of the postseason.
When birds face birds in the postseason, the hometown birds are now 10-0.
There is no such thing as home cookin' when it comes to the guy running the clock, at least not in the postseason:
Some people questioning the one second left on the clock at the end of the half and suggesting home cooking. All clock operators in the playoffs are brought in from other cities. They do not travel in the regular season but do in the playoffs. No home cooking.— Mike Pereira (@MikePereira) January 13, 2018
The Falcons' season again ends in disappointment. The Eagles, meanwhile, will host either the Vikings or Saints next Sunday in the NFC Championship game.
For now, you can relive all the magic from Saturday's live blog: