NEW ORLEANS - The Eagles were rolling.
It didn't just look like the Eagles were going to make it to the NFC Championship Game, it looked like they were going to do it easily. It looked like they were about to avenge that butt-whooping at the hands of the Saints in November with a butt-whooping of their own.
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The Eagles scored 14 points on Sunday at the Superdome before the Saints were able to gain a single yard.
"Obviously, got off to a really, really good start," center Jason Kelce said. "Put 14 points up really quickly, which makes this even more frustrating."
Frustrating is a good word. Because after an incredible start on Sunday, the Eagles offense sputtered, stalled and became altogether ineffective in their 20-14 divisional round loss (see Roob's observations).
In so many games this season, the Eagles offense bailed itself out of holes after starting slow. In one last strange twist of fate from the 2018 season, the exact opposite happened in what would be the final game of the season.
Early in the second quarter, the Eagles had just made it to about midfield, threatening to go up by three scores. They were about to erase Brandon Graham's mistake of not falling on his forced fumble. They were about to drive down the field, go up by three scores and put the game out of reach for the Saints.
Then Nick Foles underthrew a pass down the left sideline to Zach Ertz and every single person, all 73,027 in the Superdome, felt the momentum shift.
"Yeah, you felt it. You felt it a little bit," head coach Doug Pederson said. "Listen, we had a lot of confidence even at that point. We were moving the ball. We stayed in rhythm. Even on that drive, we felt that we could (score) had we hit that play. It kind of changed after that point. Credit the Saints for executing."
Look at the Eagles' offensive production before and after the interception:
Before: 169 yards on 20 plays (8.45 yards per play) and 14 points
After: 81 yards on 26 plays (3.12 yards per play)
So while Alshon Jeffery nobly accepted blame for the loss after he missed a catch that was intercepted on the Eagles' final drive (see story) the entire Eagles offense was out of whack after the first quarter.
"We just didn't really execute as an offense," Zach Ertz said. "They didn't really change. They did what they do. They're a very exotic defense as a whole, lot of different coverages, a lot of different fronts, moving the front around. We just didn't execute it. It falls on us. But at the same time, they have a lot of good players on their team and they deserved to win."
It also didn't help that the Eagles lost Pro Bowl right guard Brandon Brooks to a torn Achilles in the first quarter and lost Jason Peters late in the game with a back injury. After averaging 4.4 yards per carry in the first quarter, the Eagles had just nine yards on seven carries the rest of the way. The Saints made them one-dimensional.
Sure, the Eagles' defense gave up some points and that 18-play drive they allowed was a killer. But if I told you the Eagles would go on the road and give up just 20 points to Drew Brees and the high-powered Saints offense? You would have taken that in a heartbeat.
"Great job by our defense," Jason Kelce said. "We just didn't sustain it offensively."
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