Snow, wind, ice can't slow LeSean McCoy, Eagles
PHILADELPHIA -- It speaks quite well of the Philadelphia Eagles and where they might be headed this season that they weathered this particular storm. The driving, game-altering snow that turned the game into a mini-Winter Olympics. The 14-point third-quarter deficit that seemed to take their breath away and rob them of all mojo. The combination of challenging and unforeseen factors that threatened to deliver a damaging gut punch to the worst-to-first dreams harbored by Chip Kelly and his NFC East-leading Birds.
This wasn't the way the Eagles envisioned things going during their visit from high-powered Detroit in Week 14. But sometimes the best results come from the improvisation skills you learn along the way, when all heck breaks loose and you're forced to deal with four inches of newly fallen snow and a gameplan that just became obsolete.
When it was really coming down on Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field, and the Eagles could barely see their way forward, they made the game-turning decision to just go with it, embrace the elements and run downhill. From that point on, the snow wasn't the only thing that came in flurries. So did the points, for Philadelphia.
The result was a resounding and record-breaking 34-20 victory over the first-place Lions, in a game that saw Philadelphia run for almost 300 yards and score all its points in the second half -- including 28 in the game-deciding fourth quarter. The Eagles stopped trying to make their offense fit the inclement weather, and simply let running back LeSean McCoy run north and south, with spectacular success.
McCoy finished with a franchise-record 217 yards and two long touchdowns on 29 carries, despite starting the fourth quarter with just 69 yards and no scores on 18 attempts. He broke Steve Van Buren's 1949 Eagles single-game rushing record of 205 yards -- Steve Van Buren -- and had a mind-boggling 148 yards and two touchdowns (40 and 57 yards) in the fourth quarter alone. All told, 244 of the Eagles' 299 yards on the ground came after halftime.
"We learned that with the weather it was very difficult to go lateral and we felt like we had to get a downhill game going,'' said Kelly, the Eagles' first-year head coach who normally likes to mix it up plenty between the passing game and the running game. "I thought LeSean just did an outstanding job. We've been trying to preach here just hitting things downhill.''
Things were indeed going downhill for the Eagles in the first half, but just in a general sort of way. Philadelphia had minus-2 yards of offense in the first quarter, and at halftime had only produced 90 yards of offense and trailed 8-0. But the Eagles didn't flinch, even after they tied the game 14-14 early in the fourth quarter on McCoy's 40-yard scoring run, only to immediately give up Jeremy Ross' 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown -- his second return touchdown of the game, along with a 58-yard third-quarter punt return.
Two special teams touchdowns allowed usually spells certain defeat. But there was nothing usual about this game, from the minute it started. Though the weather forecast only called for a wintry mix and maybe an inch of snow, to start after halftime, the field was covered with a blanket of white an hour before kickoff. And then it just kept falling and piling ever higher, making every step treacherous and essentially taking the kicking game out of the equation. The Lions tried the only point-after of the game (there were no field goal tries), and it was easily blocked, never getting higher than the Eagles at the line of scrimmage.
Player after player, and coaches, in the winning Philadelphia locker room said they had never played in such driving and deepening snow. And even though it looked like the Eagles were playing on skates for much of the first half, their perseverance was impressive.
"Never played in anything like that, [and] I've never seen anything like that,'' said Eagles receiver DeSean Jackson, who caught a team-high four passes for 59 yards, including a 19-yard Nick Foles touchdown toss, to open Philadelphia's scoring in the third quarter. "When you're a kid from California, you dream about playing in weather like this. As a kid you dream about playing in snow and having fun and sliding around. From the start of the game to the end, it was crazy. They [the Lions] did a great job in the first half, but once we calmed down and continued to do what we do, run the ball and pass when we can, that's what this team is all about.''
The Lions and their well-decorated defensive front dominated the game in the first quarter, and for most of the first half. But once the Eagles softened Detroit's defense up with a couple Nick Foles deep balls in the third quarter, including a 44-yard completion to the sliding Riley Cooper, the holes started opening a little more consistently for McCoy. And he didn't dance as much as normal with the ball. He got upfield and made big gains, against a Lions defense that limited its most recent six opponents to 70 yards rushing or fewer.
"Nick hitting some balls and completing them gives [the defense] something else to look at,'' McCoy said. "You just didn't have the normal footing and traction that you get when you're stopping and cutting. Sometimes I couldn't really plant. I can usually plant on a dime. But it all worked out.
"I've actually played all of my football in Pennsylvania, and this is the worst game that I've ever played in weather-wise. It's my best game, too.''
NFL historians and well-read fans might recall that Van Buren, a Hall of Famer and the best runner in Eagles history, memorably helped Philadelphia win the 1948 NFL championship in a snow storm, rushing for 98 yards and the game's only score in the 7-0 win over the Chicago Cardinals. But now, the Eagles and the City of Brotherly Love have another epic snow game to fondly recall. With another star running back having led the way.
"I know now,'' said McCoy, when asked if he was aware of Van Buren's performance in that long-ago blizzard. "It doesn't surprise me. I actually wanted some tape of him. He was pretty good and very dominant.''
Right back at you, Shady McCoy. The Eagles' best offensive weapon re-took the NFL rushing lead with his monster day, bypassing Minnesota's Adrian Peterson, who was hurt in the first half in a loss at Baltimore. McCoy has 1,305 yards rushing this season on 261 attempts, for a 5.0-yard average, with seven touchdowns on the ground and another via the pass.
More importantly, the Eagles have won five in a row, to take back possession of first place in the NFC East at 8-5, a half-game ahead of Dallas (7-5), which plays Monday night at Chicago. Philadelphia has doubled its win total from 2012 (4-12), and the Eagles gained confidence from enduring Sunday's conditions and coming out the better for it.
"It was insane,'' Philly tight end Brent Celek said. "Sometimes it felt like there were eight inches of snow out there. When you would step, you wouldn't be touching the grass. I will remember this game always.''
That's why the win over Detroit was potentially so valuable for Philadelphia. The Eagles won on a day in which their offensive scheme could have been rendered useless by the elements, but instead, they adjusted, adapted, executed in a different way, and made a learning experience out of the whole unforgettable tableau of snow, wind and ice. The Eagles even found a way to get the W in a game in which quarterback Nick Foles threw an interception for the first time all season. His 238 passes since his last pickoff are a franchise best.
"To run the ball like we ran the ball, considering the circumstances, that's the thing I think we're most proud of,'' Kelly said. "From a schematic standpoint, we wanted to get the ball downhill. If you started going east and west [today], you were going to continue to go east and west, because you couldn't stick your foot in the ground and make that hard cut.''
In the second half on offense, the Eagles some how managed to stick their foot in the snow and change directions. And just like that, with a running game that couldn't be stopped, they started gaining ground and finding their stride. Now more than ever, the resilient Eagles look like a team that's going places.