As the NFL celebrates it’s 100th year, NFL Films recently put together a terrific list of the Top 100 plays in league history.
The Eagles were well represented on the NFL Films list, but here, we go through the process of filling in the gaps, as there were obviously a number of plays in team history that were left out.
In this post, we’ll present the final plays, the very best 10 plays in Eagles history. And if you missed our previous lists:
10. 4th and 1 vs. Dallas (1995)
We talk a lot about Doug Pederson’s aggressiveness, and almost always in a positive light. Pederson pushes the envelope and is perhaps the most aggressive coach in the league when it comes to going for it on fourth down. It served him well in winning Super Bowl 52 and we’ve criticized other coaches for acting cowardly in situations that clearly call for a more aggressive approach. But in this case, Barry Switzer was aggressively stupid.
As the clock clicked down toward the two minute warning of an early December match-up in 1995, the Birds and ‘Boys were tied at 17. Dallas was facing a 4th and 1 at their own 29. Strangely, Switzer decided to go for it and ran Emmitt Smith off left tackle. Switzer clearly had no respect for Ray Rhodes’ defense and figured his future Hall of Famer, running behind a slew of Pro Bowl offensive linemen, would pick up the first down easily and then march down the field for the winning score.
But the Eagles stuffed Smith. John Madden and Pat Summerall couldn’t believe their eyes. Eagles defenders were jubilant and the Vet crowd was going bananas. However, no one noticed the side judge waving his hands as the play was being snapped, signalling the two-minute warning had been reached before the play began. Dallas had been given a reprieve and surely Switzer wouldn’t go for it again, right?
In one of the dumbest decisions in NFL history, Switzer not only decided to go for it again, on the road, at his own 29, he also ran the same exact play. The Eagles stuffed Smith again and then went on to kick a 42-yard field goal to give them an incredible 20-17 win (Madden’s incredulousness is simply too good here, too).
Switzer would go on to win the Super Bowl with Dallas later that year, beating the Birds in the divisional round of the playoffs. But that victory, and that play, has lived on as perhaps the single greatest moment in the Eagles’ rivalry with the Cowboys.
9. Julio Jones is denied (2017 Divisional Playoffs)
We don’t like to think about how close the Eagles came to losing their NFC Divisional game against the Falcons in 2017. It’s not a pleasant thought.
On the Eagles’ final drive, they had a chance to be aggressive and go for it on 4th and 1 from the Atlanta three-yard-line, ahead 12-10. Instead, Pederson kicked a 21-yard field goal that made it a five-point game. That field goal became important when Matt Ryan took Atlanta down the field in the final six minutes and advanced the ball to the Eagles’ three-yard line.
Had the Eagles gone for it and failed to convert, Atlanta could have kicked a game-winner. But by playing it safe this time, they required the Falcons to punch it into the end zone. Sometimes, the safer play is the smarter one.
On 4th and goal from the three, with 19 seconds left, Ryan rolled right, avoided pressure, and waited for his star receiver, Julio Jones, to get open. He never did, and Ryan threw a pass that went through Jones’ hands (he would have landed out of bounds even if he’d caught it), giving the Eagles a dramatic, 15-10 victory, sending them to the NFC Championship Game.
Up to that point, that was the most dramatic finish of any postseason game in Eagles history, and it was perhaps the greatest defensive play in team history, too. Up to that point. But there would be more to follow, of course.
8. 4th and 26 (2003 Divisional Playoffs)
The most improbable Eagles’ postseason moment happened in 2003. The Eagles, who came in as the No. 2 seed in the NFC, fell behind 14-0 to the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Divisional round, but mounted a furious late rally to tie the game at 14. However, the defense allowed a late 4th quarter field goal to Brett Favre’s Packers to make it 17-14.
Donovan McNabb and the Eagles offense had one more chance to try and make some magic happen, but the offense couldn’t move the ball and, after a sack, McNabb was faced with a 4th and 26. The game was over. Another crushing postseason disappointment was upon us. Then, the incredible happened. McNabb fired a pass over the middle that was somehow caught by Freddie Mitchell, who had to reach behind him haul to haul in the pass for a 27-yard gain and a first down.
No one could believe it. The Packers were stunned. The defensive coordinator was fired on the spot (he should have been). The Eagles marched down the field and kicked the tying field goal, watched as Favre gifted the Eagles an interception on a mind-blowingly stupid heave in overtime, which was run back by Brian Dawkins deep into Green Bay territory. David Akers would kick the game-winner, and the Eagles had won.
Unfortunately, their season would end the following week against Carolina in the NFC Championship Game. But 4th and 26 will live on forever.
7. Flea Flicker to Torrey Smith AND Patrick Robinson’s 1st quarter INT (2017 NFC Championship)
After hearing from the commenters, who were 100% right in this case, I decided to cheat and include BOTH the Smith flea flicker and the Robinson 1st quarter interception.
The interception return by Patrick Robinson helped dig the Eagles out of an early 7-0 hole made it a 7-7 game midway through the first quarter of the 2017 NFC Championship Game, completely changing the game around. But when we look back at this game, the signature play is the flea-flicker touchdown to Torrey Smith.
The Eagles led 24-7 and got the ball to start the second half. On 1st and 10 from the Minnesota 41, Nick Foles and Corey Clement pulled off the perfect flea flicker, with Foles finding Smith with a beautiful pitch and catch for the touchdown that cinched the game and let everyone know they could relax and enjoy the second half in grand fashion.
Winning the first two NFC Championship Games had seemed like such a chore, and it was incredible to watch the second half of that game stress-free, knowing a trip to the Super Bowl was the final result. Both plays are worthy of being in the top-10, and I don’t want to bump anything else out, so we’ll include them both.
Yes, I’m cheating. I don’t care, it’s my list.
6. Miracle at the Meadowlands II (2010)
DeSean Jackson’s walk-off punt return touchdown in 2010 capped off one of the greatest regular season games in team history in which the Eagles, led by Mike Vick, overcame a 31-10 deficit midway through the 4th quarter to beat the Giants, 38-31.
You don’t need a ton of information on this one. Just enjoy the highlight.
5. Miracle at the Meadowlands I (1978)
I know many of you probably think the DeSean Jackson punt return should be ahead of this, but you really have to understand how incredible the original Miracle really was.
In 1978, the Eagles were fighting for a wild card spot when they went into the Meadowlands to take on the Giants, and trailed 17-12 as the clock clicked down in the final seconds. All the Giants had to do was take a knee and the game was over. There Eagles were out of timeouts and there was literally nothing the Eagles could do to prevent a defeat.
However, two plays before, the Giants had tried a running play and, during that play, a fracas had broken out. Players were fighting with each other and, perhaps as a result of some bad feelings, the Giants decided to continue running the ball. That’s when quarterback Joe Pisarcik fumbled a hand-off to fullback Larry Csonka, which incredibly bounced right into the hands of Herman Edwards, who raced 27 yards into the end zone for a 19-17 victory that was as improbable as they come.
There’s a reason it was called a “miracle.” It really was. There was no skill involved. The football gods came down, entered the Meadowlands, knocked the ball out of Pisarcik’s hands, into the arms of Edwards, and gifted the Eagles a victory. This play also led all teams to start “taking a knee” to end games so that nothing like this would ever happen again.
And, unlike the DeSean Jackson game, which was tied at the time of his miracle, the Eagles were losing when the original miracle occurred. That’s what makes this one better than DeSean’s punt return.
4. Zach Ertz TD (Super Bowl 52)
For the record, I never once believed this touchdown would be overturned. It was so obvious that Ertz had become a runner after he caught the ball that I was never stressed, not for one second, that this touchdown wouldn’t stand.
Look, there was nothing spectacular about this play. It was a slant pass, a slant pass Ertz has practiced and executed thousands of times with Nick Foles, Carson Wentz, everybody. But it was the touchdown that gave the Eagles the lead in Super Bowl 52, a lead they would not relinquish. Honorable mention, of course, goes to the 4th and 1 catch earlier in the drive one of the most clutch plays I’ve ever seen. It probably should have gotten a spot in the top-30, but honestly, you could pull out 10 plays from Super Bowl 52 for this list, and that would have felt like overkill.
3. Wilbert Montgomery TD run vs. Dallas (1980 NFC Championship)
For decades, Wilbert Montgomery’s 42-yard touchdown run against the Cowboys in the 1980 NFC Championship was unquestionably the greatest play in team history. It was the best play from what was, until Super Bowl 52, the greatest game the Eagles had ever played, and it sent the Birds to their first ever Super Bowl over their hated rivals.
The run was a thing of beauty (clip starts at 7:13) and his first quarter score put the Eagles on the board first, 7-0. Dick Vermiel had his boys playing at a level they hadn’t before and, behind a dominant defense and 60,000 fans foaming at the mouth, dominated the Cowboys for a 20-7 victory and a trip to New Orleans against the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl XV.
2. Brandon Graham Strip Sacks Tom Brady (Super Bowl 52)
These last two choices are going to be controversial and, frankly, if you had the Brandon Graham strip sack at No. 1, I couldn’t blame you. This was, after all, the play the nailed down the Eagles’ first-ever Super Bowl title, against the Patriots, humiliating Tom Brady in the process.
I’m left wondering why the Eagles didn’t use Graham as a defensive tackle to rush the passer more often in this game. Whenever they did, he caused disruptions that foiled the New England offense. He was only used in this way four or five times, but in the end, the last time was enough.
This was the moment we all realized the Eagles actually were going to win the Super Bowl. This was the play. Everyone watching felt sure that Brady was going to march his team down the field and at least threaten to take the lead. With a five-point lead, he would have had to score a touchdown, but it felt like he was going to at least bring the Patriots to the Eagles’ doorstep.
It’s a play that came out of nowhere and made you realize that the impossible was actually going to happen.
1. Philly Special (Super Bowl 52)
It ranks as the 10th-greatest play in NFL history and it should have been higher.
It’s something to beat the Patriots. It’s something to beat them in the Super Bowl. But it’s a whole other thing altogether to beat them in the manner in which Pederson did in Super Bowl 52, and this was the signature play from the greatest game in franchise history.
Going for it on 4th and goal from the two yard line was the right decision, and is a decision we wouldn’t blink at anymore. But at the time, it still felt like a huge gamble and, to be honest, it was. When Pederson called a timeout, I assumed he was going to change his mind, but instead, he and Foles got together to call one of the greatest all-time trick plays. In fact, how could it not be the all-time greatest trick play ever?
The coordination it took to pull this play off was remarkable. The balls to call it was extraordinary, and it caught Bill Belichick and the rest of the New England Patriots completely off-guard. It was also a spit in the eye to Brady, who dropped a trick pass that was thrown to him earlier in the game.
The Philly Special is an iconic play. I mean, the name itself will go down with The Minneapolis Miracle, The Immaculate Reception and The Catch as plays remembered simply by their nicknames. And it’s No. 1 on my list.