Nick Foles cracked open the memory vault, and Philadelphia’s defense slammed the door.
That was enough to put away the Atlanta Falcons, 18-12, as the Eagles narrowly held on for a victory Thursday in a game eerily reminiscent of a divisional playoff win last season.
Once again — and at the same end of Lincoln Financial Field — the game came down to a final pass by Atlanta from point-blank range. And once again, the ball fell harmlessly to the turf.
In a January playoff game, the Eagles held on for a five-point victory when All-Pro Falcons receiver Julio Jones was unable to hang onto a fourth-down pass from the two-yard line.
After a forgettable first half, the Eagles came alive by reviving something similar to the greatest play in franchise history, a razzle-dazzle throwback to Foles, the signature play in the club’s Super Bowl victory over New England in February.
Whereas that play was called “Philly Special” and started with a direct snap to the running back, this version was called “Philly Philly” and was a snap to Foles, who handed off. It was the same play the Patriots ran unsuccessfully against them in the Super Bowl (Tom Brady dropped the pass).
“It was a play we put in for this week,” Eagles coach Doug Pederson said. “It was on our third-down menu, and it was the right time to use it.”
“Philly Philly” was good for 15 yards on third-and-five, jolted a slumbering Eagles offense and kept alive a touchdown drive.
On the play, Foles handed off to Corey Clement, who ran left to right and pitched to receiver Nelson Agholor. Foles slipped behind a defender on a wheel route, caught a beautifully placed pass from Agholor and ran safely out of bounds as the packed house erupted.
The play helped set up the first of Jay Ajayi’s two scoring runs. The first, a one-yard plunge, gave the Eagles a 10-6 lead was the inaugural touchdown of the NFL season. But it wasn’t the knockout blow. The teams would trade touchdowns in the fourth quarter, with the Falcons botching an extra point, and the Eagles scoring on a two-point conversion.
But, as was the case in the second-round playoff game, the game came down to the wire.
With the clock winding down, Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan had four incomplete passes from the 10-yard line that ostensibly ended the game.
The Falcons got an extra play from the five, however, after Eagles linebacker Jordan Hicks was flagged for illegal contact. Jones, who wound up with 10 receptions for 169 yards, caught the final pass, but he was unable to get his feet inbounds and the win was secured.
Ryan, who grew up in Philadelphia, dropped to 1-6 when facing the Eagles in his hometown.
“The defense had a hell of a game,” Eagles offensive tackle Lane Johnson said. “Without them, we’re not winning that game.”
For the Eagles, it was a beautiful ending to a muggy, sweltering night.
The NFL doesn’t want players lowering their heads to make tackles. It was perfectly acceptable for players to lower their heads, however, as they jogged off the field after a dud of a first half.
The halftime score was 6-3 Atlanta in a game that featured two of the league’s highest-octane teams. The Falcons led the NFL in scoring two years ago, and the Eagles finished third last season — even after losing star quarterback Carson Wentz with three weeks to go.
The Falcons weren’t necessarily stuck in the mud. They opened the game by driving deep into Philadelphia territory on their first two drives. But on consecutive possessions, Atlanta had four plays inside the 10-yard line and came away with a total of three points. They would get better returns hiding cash in their mattress.
Philadelphia, meanwhile, failed to establish a rhythm with its run/pass options, drawing a smattering of boos as fans restlessly waited for the team that scored 38 points in the NFC title game and 41 in the Super Bowl.
The Eagles had one first down and zero net yards in the opening quarter.
They weren’t prolific in points, but the teams racked up plenty of penalties, with 16 by the Falcons and 11 by the Eagles.
When yellow flags weren’t falling from the sky, rain was. The start of the game was pushed back 45 minutes as a storm rolled through, and fans were directed from the stands into the concourses because of lightning.
Before kickoff, the Eagles staged a “Championship Moment” with the unfurling of their Super Bowl banner and another raising of the Lombardi Trophy.
The national anthem was fairly uneventful, with only one protest.
Eagles defensive end Michael Bennett milled around on the sideline at the start of the anthem instead of standing with his teammates, and plopped down on the bench for the end of the song.
Among those in attendance at the game was NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
In South Philadelphia, there’s a mural that pays homage to “Philly Special,” a simple black-and-white version that uses Xs and O’s. Not exactly like “Philly Philly,” but close.