What more do Eagles have to do to prove they're pretty good?

Nick Fierro
Contact ReporterOf The Morning Call

Incredibly, even now there are some non-believers.

After 17 games of proving themselves over and over — and under the most adverse circumstances anyone could imagine, the Philadelphia Eagles still haven’t won everyone over.

It wasn’t enough that they lost their kicker (Caleb Sturgis), All-Pro left tackle (Jason Peters), most dynamic running back (Darren Sproles), future Pro Bowl middle linebacker (Jordan Hicks) top special-teamer (Chris Maragos) and, finally, their All-Pro quarterback (Carson Wentz) to season-ending injuries and kept winning every single game that mattered on their way to the top playoff seed in the NFC.

It wasn’t enough that they overcame two first-half turnovers and a missed extra point in a lackluster first half of their first playoff game in four years to beat Atlanta on Saturday and advance to the NFC Championship Game.

Maybe even two more wins, which would bring this franchise its first Super Bowl championship, won’t convince everyone.

But that’s OK. The players have learned to live with the outside doubt.

Actually, they’ve come to thrive on it.

After the Falcons beat the Los Angeles Rams the previous weekend, they became the first No. 6 seed in the history of pro football to be favored over a No. 1 seed.

“Just keep on disrespecting and we’re going to keep proving people wrong,” wide receiver Alshon Jeffery said. “We just believe in one another. We won’t care what anybody else says.”

Sure they do. But his point is taken.

What the Eagles have proved throughout a season that would have stretched any of the teams in the Super Bowl era well beyond their breaking point is that they’re unbreakable.

Not unbeatable, necessarily, but definitely unbreakable.

“We believe in each other in this locker room,” defensive tackle Fletcher Cox said. “If we believe the outsiders, we will be all messed up.”

In the game’s closing seconds, with the defending NFC champs 2 yards away from a victory, everybody wanted a chance to make the stop on fourth-and-goal. That’s just the way this team is wired.

Turns out it was second-year cornerback Jalen Mills, isolated on Hall of Fame-bound receiver Julio Jones. There was contact, before Jones made a pivot to get to the sideline as quarterback Matt Ryan rolled right on a designed play.

Then Jones slipped to the ground.

No call.

He was able to pop back to his feet, but not in time to keep the ball from sailing over his head and falling incomplete.

Ballgame.

“That’s what you dream of — a fourth-down stop on the goal line with time running down,” Mills said. “You can’t ask for nothing better. As a competitor, you always want to be the guy to make that play.”

Fellow cornerback Ronald Darby was jealous.

“I wanted to be the one to make the play, to be honest,” he said. “It’s just like a feeling that you can’t explain. It’s like something out of a movie.”

Never on that final Atlanta series, which featured a potentially crushing fourth-and-6 conversion, did any member of the defense have any doubt. Not even for a moment or two during the drive, Atlanta’s longest of the game in yards gained (74) and number of plays (14), did the team think about anything other than how it turned out.

“We just said, `hey, somebody go out here and make a play,’ ” defensive end Brandon Graham said. “It was going to come down to another fourth-down play. It just happened to be in the red zone.

“We were just out there talking positive, saying `hey, we’re the best red-zone team in the league, let’s go out there and prove it.’ And we went out there and did it. We couldn’t let them in.”

As much confidence as the defense had in themselves, the offense had in Nick Foles, the backup thrust into action when Wentz went down.

All Foles (23-for-30, 246 yards, 100.1 passer rating) did in this game was quietly outperform his Atlanta counterpart, Matt Ryan (22-for-36, 210 yards, 1 TD, 86.6 passer rating).

Had Foles not been as good as he was on this night, the Eagles almost certainly lose, especially after turning the ball over twice in the first half and missing an extra point.

In a game that required just 11 points to win, Foles gave them more than enough.

Another way to look at it would be that if Foles had faltered, the Eagles would have found another way to somehow come out ahead.

After all, that’s what they’ve been doing all season.

Why should Saturday’s game have been any different? Or next Sunday’s conference championship game against Minnesota or New Orleans.

Saturday’s win was such a breakthrough too — the first time long-time Eagles like Graham, Cox and Jason Kelce tasted a postseason victory and the first tight end Brent Celek, an Eagle since 2007, experienced in his home stadium.

They were headed for this all along.

It should be obvious to all by now that nothing was going to stop them.

They might not win it all, but they won’t be broken.

That much is certain.

nfierro@mcall.com

Twitter @nickfierro

610-778-2243

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