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2018 NFC divisional playoffs: Three takeaways from Eagles' win over Falcons

Sporting News logo Sporting News 1/14/2018 Ron Clements

a baseball player holding a bat: Nick Foles © (Getty Images) Nick Foles The Philadelphia offense was not impressive, but the Eagles defense was.

The Eagles shut down Atlanta's potent offense and earned a berth in next Sunday's NFC championship game with a 15-10 win over the Falcons in Saturday's NFC divisional playoff game at Lincoln Financial Field.

The Falcons (11-7) were actually favored to knock off the NFC's top seed, because the Eagles offense has sputtered since starting quarterback Carson Wentz tore his ACL in a Week 14 win over the Rams.

Atlanta's eighth-ranked offense that averaged nearly 365 yards per game was held to 281 yards Saturday.

"That's a really good Atlanta team we beat and everybody's excited," Eagles defensive end Fletcher Cox told NBC Sports. "We got a big team win.

"We'll be ready for next week."

With the win, the Eagles (14-3) will host next week's NFC title game against either the Saints or Vikings, who play Sunday at Minnesota's U.S. Bank Stadium.

Three takeaways from the Eagles' win over the Falcons

1. Eagles coach Doug Pederson had the perfect game plan — Despite a shaky start that included running back Jay Ajayi fumbling on his first carry and two poorly thrown passes by Nick Foles, the Eagles settled down and implemented Pederson's superb game plan. Foles, whose struggles over the final two weeks of the regular season were a big reason the Eagles were home underdogs, finished 23 of 30 for 246 yards with completions to eight different players. He completed just one pass thrown beyond 15 yards as Pederson used a variety of short throws to build his quarterback's confidence.

From there, the Eagles receivers did a great job of getting yards after the catch. Alshon Jeffery was the top receiver with four catches for 61 yards while rookie running back Corey Clement led the team with five receptions for 31 yards. Ajayi, who ran for 54 yards, caught three passes for 44 yards. Foles did get lucky as the Eagles got a field goal to make it a 10-9 Falcons lead before halftime thanks to a fortunate deflection. A Foles pass went off the knee of a leaping Keanu Neal and the ball caromed back to Eagles receiver Torrey Smith.

"We just kept believing in each other. That was it. Our team never wavered," Foles told NBC Sports. "Defense did an amazing job. Special teams.

"That's been the story this year. We all stuck together and believed we could move the ball."

2. Matt Ryan did not scan the field well — The Eagles sacked Ryan three times, but even when the Falcons quarterback had time, he was locked in on either Julio Jones or Mohamed Sanu. When the Falcons reached the Super Bowl last season, they did so largely because Ryan did an incredible job of spreading the ball around. He failed to find his second read on Saturday as 21 of his 36 pass attempts were to either Jones or Sanu. Jones finished with nine catches for 101 yards on 16 targets while Sanu had three receptions for 50 yards on five targets.

Ryan's final pass, on a fourth-and-goal from the 2, was incomplete as he tried to force it to Jones in the corner of the end zone.

Taylor Gabriel, who had two catches for 4 yards, was the only other Falcons receiver with more than one target. Ryan's best pass may have been an improvisational throw as the Falcons capitalized on an Eagles turnover to take a 10-6 lead in the second quarter.

A muffed punt, which bounced off the feet of at least two Eagles players, led to a Falcons touchdown. Ryan did his best Brett Favre impression to spin away from pressure before lobbing a short pass to a crossing Devonta Freeman for a 6-yard score.

Ryan was the 2016 NFL MVP because he made plays like that, but he was not nearly as productive in 2017 and was hamstrung by play calling and the Eagles defense Saturday.

3. The Saints-Vikings winner will represent the NFC in the Super Bowl — While Foles did not turn the ball over Saturday, he also did not throw a touchdown pass and did little to instill much confidence in the Eagles offense. Philadelphia's defense is among the league's best, but the Vikings have the NFL's top defense and the Saints defense ranks third with 20 interceptions.

Whether it's the Vikings or Saints who win Sunday, the Eagles defense might be on the field too much and the game could get away from the Eagles despite the benefit of homefield advantage.

Related slideshow: NFL postseason (Provided by photo services)

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