The Eagles won the NFC East, and secured home field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs in breaking a slew of team and individual records on Sunday when they chewed up the New York Giants’ twos and threes towards a mundane 22-16 victory at Lincoln Financial Field.
The victory gave the Eagles a 14-3 finish, which is a record for victories in a season, while A.J. Brown established a single-season receiving record for yards by a receiver (1,496) and DeVonta Smith created a single-season record for catches by a wide receiver (95).
The Eagles added to their single-season record sack total, giving them 71 sacks this year, finishing one shy from tying the NFL all-time record of 72 by the 1984 Chicago Bears.
The Eagles welcomed the return of quarterback Jalen Hurts, who missed the Eagles’ previous two games, both losses, recovering from a sprained right shoulder. He finished completing 20 of 35 for 229 and an interception. They welcomed back safety Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, who had seven tackles after being out the last five games after suffering a lacerated spleen against the Green Bay Packers on November 27.
But this Giants game should have been a showcase for the Eagles’ offense pounding on a team that surrendered. Though it was a game that the Eagles were in control of from start to finish, you walked away feeling shortchanged, that you needed to see more to be convinced the Eagles are good enough to make a Super Bowl push.
The Eagles will be the No. 1 seed in the NFC for the fourth time in their history. The last time they did it was in 2017, when they won Super Bowl LII. Prior to that was in 2004, when they lost Super Bowl XXXIX and in 1980 when they lost Super Bowl XV.
It was a dubious victory for a 14-3 team filled with uncertainty at the worst time of the season. Hurts, Brown, Smith, and the starters should not have been on the field late in the fourth quarter.
Week 18’s Good, Bad, and Ugly contains plenty of good against the Giants’ not-ready-for-primetime players, some bad and some ugly that will need to be cleaned up in two weeks in the Eagles’ 22-16 victory over the Giants.
The Eagles’ second drive, in which they traveled 80 yards over 12 plays absorbing 6:27 off the clock, while keeping the Giants’ dangerous third-string quarterback Davis “Spud” Webb off the field (Webb completed his first NFL pass, scored his first TD and threw his first TD pass against the Eagles). The series ended on a Boston Scott eight-yard TD run, though it featured a great mix of rushing and passing. The Eagles faced two third downs on the drive, running the ball six times, passing five times and a Giants’ sack. The vital play of the drive came on Hurts’ 37-yard completion to Brown on third-and-nine at the Eagles’ 35.
A.J. Brown’s 35-yard reception to begin the game. On a first-and-10 at the Eagles’ 35, Hurts hit Brown breaking in at the Eagles’ 44 in front of Giants’ back-up cornerback Rodarius Williams as fellow Giants reserves Dane Belton and Cor’Dale Flott converged late. Brown put it into high drive and Flott had to pull him down from behind. Brown’s 35-yard reception snapped Eagles’ legend Mike Quick’s single-season receiving yards record of 1,409 in 1983. It was also a great start for Hurts, completing his first pass after nursing his right shoulder injury the previous two games.
DeVonta Smith’s nine-yard reception on the Eagles’ first play of their second drive on first-and-10 at the Eagles’ 20 established a new Eagles’ single-season record for catches by a wide receiver with 89, snapping the previous mark of 88 by Irving Fryar in 1996.
On Boston Scott’s eight-yard, second-quarter touchdown, made possible by the double-team blocking by right guard Isaac Seumalo and right tackle Jack Driscoll on the Giants’ tackle Henry Mondeaux, and center Jason Kelce teaming with left guard Landon Dickerson on the Giants’ Justin Ellis, creating a great seam up the middle for Scott to the end zone.
The Eagles’ defense, if you want to credit an elite, first-team NFL defense stymying career back-up journeyman Davis Webb as any great accomplishment for getting two three-and-outs on New York’s two opening drives.
Reserve cornerback Zech McPhearson taking down punter Jamie Gillan on the Giants’ pitiful attempt to fake a field goal on fourth-and-eight at the Eagles’ 29. McPherson wrestled the Giants’ punter down for an 11-yard loss on New York’s third possession.
On the Eagles’ fifth possession, Hurts’ eight-yard rollout on a second-and-seven at the Eagles’ 31. It was encouraging to see Hurts on the go again and have the confidence to take off after the shoulder injury. On the same drive, on second-and-1 at the midfield, and big moment was Hurts’ three-yard scramble out of bounds, where he landed on the right shoulder. Hurts bounced right back up.
Kicker Jake Elliott kicking field goals of 32, 52 and 39 yards in the first half to salvage something from failed Eagles’ drives. Elliott was one shining point for a pedestrian offensive output, finishing with five field goals (adding a 54- and 22-yard field goals in the second half).
Sanders dropping a pass on the third play of the second half on a first-and-10 at the Giants’ 34.
Linebacker T.J. Edwards, who had a good season, losing Giants’ converted third-string tight end Lawrence Cager on a third-and-six at the Giants’ 29 for a 16-yard reception on the Giants’ third possession, after the Eagles forced three-and-out on New York’s initial two drives. Edwards later made another crucial mistake by hitting Webb out of bounds on the same drive for an unnecessary roughness penalty at the Eagles’ 46 on second-and-nine after Webb’s eight-yard run.
The Eagles’ first drive of the second half. It featured Sanders dropping a pass, a penalty that wiped out a touchdown and the exclamation point came when Hurts threw his sixth interception of the season. Hurts tried forcing the play, when he tried to squeeze a pass intended for Smith into a congested end zone that Belton picked off. The Eagles then became 1-for-4 in the red zone in a game that they made more difficult than it should have been. Midway through the third quarter, the Eagles’ all-pro starters were up 16-0 against the Giants’ twos and threes. It is not a good look for a team with far larger aspirations than just making the playoffs. The Eagles finished the game 1-for-5 in the red zone—against backups.
Left guard Landon Dickerson getting flagged for an ineligible player downfield on third-and-goal at the Giants’ two on the Eagles’ opening possession of the second half. The penalty wiped out Hurts’ two-yard touchdown pass to Smith in the back of the end zone.
On the Eagles’ last drive of the first half, Hurts getting sacked by Giants’ starting middle linebacker Micah McFadden for a 10-yard loss back to the Eagles’ 20 on a second-and-goal play. Hurts should have gotten rid of the ball instead of holding it and risking injury by trying to make a play. Two plays later, Hurts was sacked again, this time for minus-11 yards, by Giants’ linebacker Nick McCloud. It forced the Eagles into Elliott’s third field goal of the half. The Eagles were 1-for-3 in the red zone in the first half. For a team hoping to build a big lead to rest its starters in the fourth quarter, that was not the way to start.
Joseph Santoliquito is an award-winning sportswriter based in the Philadelphia area who has written feature stories for SI.com, ESPN.com, NFL.com, MLB.com, Deadspin and The Philadelphia Daily News. In 2006, he was nominated for an Emmy Award for a special project piece for ESPN.com called “Love at First Beep.” He is most noted for his award-winning ESPN.com feature on high school wrestler A.J. Detwiler in February 2006, which appeared on SportsCenter. In 2015, he was elected president of the Boxing Writers Association of America.