PHILADELPHIA – Fly Eagles Fly.
With the wind and against it.
With Nick Foles engineering several long drives, Jake Elliott converting three field goals, and the defense getting stingy in the tightest spot, Philadelphia moved into the NFC championship game with a 15-10 victory over the Atlanta Falcons on Saturday.
Foles directed brilliant marches of 74 and 80 yards in the second half — one into the whipping wind, the other with it — and Elliott atoned for missing an extra point by converting from 53 yards at the end of the second quarter, and from 37 and 21 in the second half. Then the Eagles (14-3) held when Atlanta (11-7) got to the 9-yard line with a first down, and to the 2 on fourth down.
When Matt Ryan’s final pass sailed over Julio Jones’ head in the end zone, Philly could celebrate its first playoff victory since the 2008 season.
Despite going 13-3 to earn the No. 1 seed, the Eagles entered the game as 3-point underdogs against the sixth-seeded Falcons (11-7). They used it as motivation and now it’s on to the next one as they continue pursuit of the franchise’s first Super Bowl title.
“If we believe the outsiders, we will be all messed up,” Pro Bowl defensive tackle Fletcher Cox said. “We went out and proved we can be the real winning team.”
Next Sunday, the Eagles will host either Minnesota or New Orleans for the conference crown. The Eagles last made the Super Bowl in the 2004 season, losing to New England.
“I mean, we just kept believing in each other,” said Foles, who became the starter when Carson Wentz, a leading MVP contender, injured his knee in December. “That was it. Our team never wavered, defense did an amazing job, special teams — that’s just been the story this year is that we just all stuck together. . .”
Foles finished a very efficient outing by going 23 of 30 for 246 yards.
The Falcons, of course, memorably blew a 28-3 second-half lead to the Patriots in last year’s Super Bowl. They will not get the opportunity to atone for it, though Ryan got them close at the end. Jones had nine receptions for 101 yards, and Ryan was 22 of 36 for 210 yards on a difficult day to throw.
Despite being underdogs as the No. 1 seed, the Eagles showed plenty of moxie.
“Just keep on disrespecting and we’re going to keep proving people wrong,” receiver Alshon Jeffery said.
A masterful 74-yard, 12-play drive on which Foles was 5-for-6 for 70 yards — the only incompletion was Jay Ajayi’s drop — led to Elliott’s 37-yard kick into the wind that made it 12-10.
The Eagles put together their best drive, an 80-yarder covering 14 plays, yet again faltered close to the end zone. Elliott added a 21-yarder with 6:02 remaining after coach Doug Pederson briefly considered going for it on fourth-and-1 at the Atlanta 3.
“It was tricky out there, really gusty,” Elliott said.
Patriots 35, Titans 14
In Foxborough, Massachusetts, first, New England tuned out a week full of off-field drama. Then, the Patriots silenced Tennesse to earn yet another trip to the AFC championship game.
Tom Brady passed for three touchdowns and 337 yards, and New England cruised past the Titans to advance to their seventh consecutive conference title game.
New England (14-3) will host the winner of Sunday’s divisional matchup between Jacksonville and Pittsburgh.
It was Brady’s 10th career postseason game with at least three TD tosses, moving him past Joe Montana for the most in NFL history. James White caught a touchdown pass and ran for another, and Danny Amendola had 11 catches for 112 yards.
New England’s victory came on the heels of a week filled with turmoil following reports of discord involving Brady, coach Bill Belichick and team owner Robert Kraft.