By Michael Donovan
You could’ve cut the tension at the Linc yesterday with a knife.
But there’s no way security would have allowed it!
So, it was left to the tremulous Eagles fans to fend for themselves.
Which meant, worry!
It was late in the second quarter and the Eagles had a one-point lead. Carson Wentz had just fumbled the ball away, giving the Falcons the ball at the Eagles’ 42. Two plays later, starting cornerback Nolan Carroll left the game with a concussion, bringing inLeodis McKelvin, who hadn’t played until then because his hamstring injury was still bothering him.
As safety Malcolm Jenkins put it, McKelvin was “kind of on a flat tire.”
The Atlanta Falcons tried taking advantage of McKelvin. After all, they had the highest-scoring offense in the NFL, averaging 33.9 points per game, with the leading receiver in the NFL in Julio Jones.
Yet the Eagles managed to pull out a 24-15 win because McKelvin mostly held his own, the offense controlled the ball behind the running of Ryan Mathews and Wendell Smallwood, and just enough big plays from quarterback Carson Wentz.
“It was definitely a team win, especially defensively, giving our team a chance to stay patient, stay calm in a tight game, coming up with big stops and holding them to field goals when they did make plays,” Jenkins said. “That gave our offense an opportunity to take their time and make plays.”
By doing so, the Eagles (5-4) remained perfect at home with a 4-0 record even though they played an imperfect game.
McKelvin, for one, was burned badly for a 76-yard touchdown to Taylor Gabriel to start the fourth quarter. That gave the Falcons a 15-13 lead.
“I got greedy,” McKelvin said sheepishly.
But there he was with 1:27 left, intercepting Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan and enabling the Eagles to clinch the victory.
“[Shoot], there’s more time on the clock and the game ain’t over with,” McKelvin said on recovering from giving up the touchdown. “You never beat yourself up just because something happened. In the game or whatever, as a defensive back, you keep yourself in the mood, in the game, and go out there and have confidence in yourself. That’s how I feel. I gave up a touchdown and go out there and make a play, and now it’ll be erased.”
The offense made sure of that.
The Eagles’ plan all along was to control the ball as long as possible in order to keep Ryan and Jones off the field. The Eagles held the ball for 38 minutes, 10 seconds, compared to 21:50 for the Falcons.
Mathews had a season-high 109 yards rushing on 19 carries. He became the first Eagles running back to surpass 100 yards rushing since DeMarco Murray had 122 last Oct. 19 against the Giants. Smallwood added 70 yards on 13 carries.
In all, the Eagles had a season-high 208 yards rushing. Wentz, meanwhile, was an efficient 25 of 36 for 231 yards.
“Listen, that’s an explosive offense on [the Falcons’] side,” Pederson said. “Atlanta has a great offense and I felt coming into this game that we were going to have to possess the ball.”
Still, the Eagles struggled to score points after rolling down the field on their opening drive for a touchdown. On that 12-play drive that took up 7:14 of game time, Mathews had 34 yards rushing, more than he had the previous two games when he had 25 yards.
Caleb Sturgis missed a field goal on the next drive. But the defense kept the Falcons out of the end zone, allowing two second-quarter field goals.
The only problem was the Eagles had to settle for field goals as well. It finally seemed to catch up to the Eagles when Ryan connected with Gabriel, who got well behind McKelvin, giving the Falcons a 15-13 lead with 13:15 left.
On the ensuing possession, the Eagles were called for a delay of game penalty on 3rd-and-7 from the Falcons’ 31, pushing the ball back to the 36. On the next play, Wentz threw over the middle to Jordan Matthews inside the Falcons’ 20. Matthews was hit in the helmet as he stretched for the ball by safety Keanu Neal, which could have been a 15-yard penalty for hitting a defenseless receiver.
It wasn’t called, much to the Eagles’ chagrin, and Sturgis missed a 55-yard field goal attempt.
Pederson said he asked the referee for an explanation and didn’t get one. He wouldn’t comment further.
The Eagles got one more chance. This time, they marched down the field and Mathews finished off the drive with a 5-yard run.
Then McKelvin made his play on defense when Ryan went to Jones, who finished with 10 catches for 135 yards.
“That was huge,” defensive end Connor Barwin said. “That’s a veteran move by him … Leodis got beat on that double move. Some guys would cave. He’s a veteran, been around for a long time. He moved on, forgot about it and made the play of the game.”