In one disappointing end to an otherwise incredible season, the Philadelphia Eagles fell 26-24 to the New Orleans Saints at Lincoln Financial Field. Despite a pretty second half from Nick Foles, who ended the game with 195 yards and two touchdowns for a 105 passer rating, the Eagles could not stop the Saints rushing attack. Yes, the Saints RUSHING attack. A Shayne Graham field goal as time expired ended the Eagles season, silencing The Linc.
Here are your big performers, both good and bad, from Saturday night’s loss:
Who Balled: DeMeco Ryans
DeMeco Ryans, the leader of the defense, came to play tonight. Even when the defensive line was allowing runners to break through, Ryans was usually there to prevent a big run. He also had one of the key plays of the game, with an interception of Saints quarterback Drew Brees. He finished with 10 tackles, that interception, and a pass defended.
There was not much to like about the way the front seven played, but Ryans cemented an incredible season as the Eagles middle linebacker with yet another great game. He will be back to captain this improved defense next year as Chip Kelly and Howie Roseman add even more talent around Ryans and fellow linebackers Mychal Kendricks and Connor Barwin.
Who Stalled: Logan/Thornton/Cox
The New Orleans Saints came into this game ranked 25th in rushing. The Eagles came into this game ranked 4th against the run. After watching this game, it’s hard to believe the exact opposite is not true.
Struggling sophomore Mark Ingram (18 carries, 97 yards, 5.4 yards per carry, touchdown) and obscure rookie Khiry Robinson (45 yards, 5.6 yards per carry) gashed the Eagles defensive line all night. Thornton, Cox, and Logan could not stop anyone at the line of scrimmage, continually getting pushed off of the line and failing to shed blocks.
All three also struggled in the pass rush, combining for zero QB hits and zero sacks. Whenever the Eagles rushed only three to drop into zone coverage, Drew Brees had eons to throw. That was a problem against Dallas, and came back to haunt Billy Davis’ unit once again.
Who Balled: Riley Cooper
Yes, I understand that drop really hurt the Eagles. But when you look past that one play, Riley Cooper was fantastic once again for the Eagles with 6 catches, 68 yards, and a touchdown.
After making a beautiful leaping grab in the end zone to give the Eagles a 7-3 lead, Cooper went to work in the second half. He feasted on young Saints cornerback Rod Sweeting. He and Foles ran comeback route after comeback route, and he was always there to convert a key first down for the Birds. In fact, he was the Eagles only consistent target all night.
Cooper will be a free agent after this season; I think Chip Kelly and Co. would be smart to bring him back given the chemistry he has developed with Foles.
Who Stalled: Alex Henery
I have a lot of respect for Alex Henery, and I don’t understand Eagles fans who think a 48-yarder in the freezing cold is a chip shot. It is not, it is a difficult kick.
That said, Saints kicker Shayne Graham, a free agent as of a month ago, nailed four field goals on Saturday night with one of them being a 46-yarder. Henery’s kick was ugly from the start; his range, or lackthereof, has hurt the Eagles before, and it hurt the Eagles tonight.
The bigger issue, however, was his inability to force touchbacks on kickoffs. He consistently came up a couple yards or even more short of the end zone, unacceptable for an NFL kicker. After hearing Chip Kelly mention that in his first quote of the post-game press conference, it seems Henery will not not be wearing Midnight Green next season.
Who Balled: Bradley Fletcher
When the Eagles first announced the signing of cornerback Bradley Fletcher, I basically shrugged it off. A guy who struggled to stay healthy and even start in Saint Louis, I figured he would end up playing a minor role in Chip Kelly’s first season as Eagles head coach.
Boy, was I wrong.
Fletcher has been great for the Birds all season, consistently staying with some of the league’s top wideouts and even shutting them down. He was magnificent tonight, basically dominating one of the league’s most consistent wideouts in Marques Colston. He held Colston to only two receptions and 16 yards, adding a first-quarter interception as icing on the cake. The Eagles coverage was brilliant tonight, and he was a big reason for that.
Who Stalled: Roc Carmichael
Roc Carmichael told me an interview earlier this season that the reason he signed with the Eagles midway through the season was because they finally were willing to “give him a chance.”
Uh… about that.
After a puzzling play in which he kicked the ball into the end zone for a touchback after a beautiful Donnie Jones punt, I was already convinced that he’d lost his spot on the team. He confirmed that by allowing a key first down conversion on a curl route on the one play Cary Williams had to come out of the game. Two key miscues that really hurt his team from a guy with very little room for error.
Who Balled: Nick Foles
I doubted Foles’ ability to perform in “clutch” situations. I doubt no longer.
Nicky Montana was brilliant in the second half tonight, finishing the game with 195 yards and 2 touchdowns. He made a couple of huge passes to DeSean Jackson to move the Eagles down the field, one caught and the other leading to a pass interference penalty, and was very crisp. Due only $1.6M over the next two seasons, Foles will be the starting QB for the Eagles next season and likely several years beyond.
I know a lot of people want to grill him for the sack he took in the first half that pushed the Henery field goal try back ten yards, but it was one mistake. Even if it was big, you can expect that from a guy in his first playoff game. His main focus in the offseason will be how to avoid sacks and get outside of the pocket, so you will not have to worry about that again next season.
Who Stalled: LeSean McCoy
The Eagles’ best player and the winner of the NFL rushing title really struggled tonight against a surprisingly stiff Saints run defense. McCoy had only 77 yards on the ground, averaging just 3.7 yards per carry. He averaged 5.2 yards per carry and 100 yards per game during the regular season.
That is now McCoy’s third straight subpar performance in the playoffs. I don’t think it has anything to do with his ability to perform, but it is disappointing to see him unable to break off big runs in these big games. Chip Kelly can bear some of the blame for not utilizing him correctly, but a lot of it has to be credited to the Saints defensive line and guys like Cameron Jordan and Akiem Hicks who were downright dominant at times.