The Eagles Prove They Are A Team Of Destiny

Eagles Quarterback Nick Foles fumblingLast night, the Eagles met the Carolina Panthers in a marquee Monday Night match-up between two teams battling for their rightful place in the basement of the NFC. The game would be Philadelphia’s biggest test so far this season. Sure, they had lost six straight. But those were against decent football teams. If they truly have aspirations of being the worst team not only in the NFC, but in the NFL, they’d have to rise to the occasion.

They would do just that.

From the outset, it was a hard fought game. On the Eagles opening drive, quarterback Nick Foles marched his team down the field, getting into Carolina’s red zone with relative ease. Things did not look good for the Eagles’ high draft pick aspirations early on. But right then, Foles showed the type of poise that elevates a player from unproven rookie to seasoned veteran. On first and goal, Foles fired a ball directly into the chest of a Carolina defender. It was dropped. Carolina wasn’t going to fall for Foles’s trap that easily.

Foles countered, fumbling the next snap and losing a ton of yardage, setting up a long third and goal. On that down, he’d once again throw the ball directly to a Carolina receiver and it would once again be dropped. If the Eagles wanted this, they’d have to do a better job. They’d settle for a 3-0 lead deficit.

That’s when the defense came on the field and showed the grit and determination it takes to get the job done. They promptly let Carolina receivers run wide open down the seam, critical oversights that would leave the Panthers leading trailing 14-3. The defense was playing like a unit of talented, young players and high profile veterans with a great awareness of the situation. It was the type of leadership this team has needed all season.

Things were looking up.

But following a field goal by Alex Henery –who gets least valuable player for his outstanding performance last night and all season–the Eagles began to falter, squandering their 14-6 deficit lead.

First, the defense got a stop.

Then, Bryce Brown, a rookie starting in place of the injured LeSean McCoy, inexplicably began getting huge gains on the ground. The tipping point would come when Brown scampered 65 yards down the sideline for a touchdown to make it 14-12. It was a rookie mistake by a guy who was clearly caught up in the moment of making his first NFL start. He looked like a deer in headlights.

Andy Reid knew he had to act if he was going to save this loss. So, in a masterful move that shows just why this guy has been so great at losing this season, Reid called for a two-point conversion with nearly 11:00 minutes left in the second quarter. It’s this type of shrewd coaching in big spots that makes legends, and Reid seemed hellbent on cementing his status as such. The conversion would predictably be missed. Following yet another bonehead field goal by the goat, Henery, the Eagles would settle for a 15-14 lead deficit at halftime. There was still work to be done.

During halftime, Reid again showed why he’s the best in the business, tearing into his guys with a fiery speech that ripped the paint off the Eagles locker room. He questioned their commitment to the cause and pointed to Brown and the defense, and their stellar play in the second quarter, as the primary reasons for their current position ahead of the Panthers.

Reid’s message did not fall upon deaf ears and the Birds came out for the second half with the eye of the tiger.

In the opening drive of the second half, the defense would deftly allow Carolina to methodically march down the field, scoring a touchdown to make it 21-15, taking six minutes off the game clock in the process. There was hope yet. On the ensuing possession, Brown would show Reid he also got his message by fumbling the ball away just after the Eagles crossed into Carolina territory.

It had seemed the Eagles were poised to take control of this game. But Carolina, a team nearly as terrible as the Eagles, wouldn’t go quietly into the night. They’d surrender the lead later in the third quarter, on another rookie mistake by Brown, who scored his second touchdown of the night. He’d make up for it, though, by fumbling the ball a second time, leading to a Carolina field goal to make it 24-22. Brown’s two fumbles had erased his terrible first half performance.

Carolina would score another touchdown with four minutes to go to make it 30-22, helped by a plethora of defensive mental mistakes and penalties. It seemed Carolina would wouldn’t be able to hold on. But, in a desperate, last gasp effort to be the worst team in the NFC, Carolina missed the extra point.

It was a valiant effort by the Panthers to leave the door open for a comeback, but the Eagles would have none of it. Rookie Brandon Boykin would become a hero when he returned the ensuing kickoff out past the 40, before getting stripped and losing possession of the ball. The fumble would be the final nail in the coffin for the Panthers and their draft pick hopes, as the Eagles snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

The Birds are one step closer to the top spot in the 2013 draft. Last night’s gutty performance showed they really want it. Right now, it seems like nothing can stand in their way on the road to the top pick.

Looking ahead:

Losing to the Panthers was a big step in getting the top draft pick for the Birds this offseason, but there is still work to be done. They currently trail the Kansas City Chiefs, Jacksonville Jaguars and Cleveland Browns in the standings. As of late, the Jags and Browns have shown a spine, playing much better than they did at the outset. The Eagles should be able to easily surpass those teams in ineptness. The only real challenger for the number one draft pick is the feisty Kansas City Chiefs, who have a lot of experience playing like crap. But with five games left and the way the Eagles are playing right now, I believe they can do it.

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Ryan Dinger

Along with The High Phive, Ryan also writes for Phillies Nation and The Grapevine. While his sports expertise lie with the Phillies and the Eagles, he is a diehard fan and avid analyst of all five major Philadelphia sports teams. Follow Ryan on twitter @Ryanfromjersey.