LeSean McCoy rushes for franchise-record 217 yards as the Eagles storm back from a 14-point second-half deficit to defeat the visiting Lions, 34-20, and take over sole possession of first place in the NFC East.
The forecast called for less than an inch of snow. Instead, Lincoln Financial Field was engulfed in blizzard-like conditions, providing fans and players with memories to last a lifetime.
“I’ve had a few games in New Hampshire when it’s snowed,” Eagles head coach Chip Kelly said, “but nothing like this.”
“Playing all my football in Pennsylvania, this was the worst (conditions) I’ve ever played in,” said Eagles running back LeSean McCoy, who, after a pause, added, “It was the best game, too.”
It was the best game because McCoy broke loose for a franchise-record 217 yards rushing on 29 carries and the Eagles erupted for 34 points during the final 19 minutes, 5 seconds to pull out a crucial 34-20 victory over the visiting Detroit Lions.
The victory, the Eagles’ fifth straight, vaults the Birds (8-5) into sole possession of first place in the NFC East. The Cowboys (7-5) will try to move back into a tie for first place Monday night (8:30 p.m.) when they play at Chicago. A win by the Bears (6-6) would move them into a first-place tie with the Lions (7-6) for first place in the NFC North.
For most of Sunday’s game, the surprise snowstorm was the main story.
“That was a very, very unique game,” Eagles quarterback Nick Foles said. “I’ve never played in a game like that.”
With heavy snow falling, the football was slippery. During the first half, the quarterbacks were about as accurate as the weather forecasters. Consequently, the Lions entered halftime with an 8-0 lead.
The Eagles entered halftime with a lot of questions. The Eagles didn’t move the ball well during the first half. They went three-and-out on their first three possessions. On their fourth possession, Foles threw his first interception of the season, which Chris Houston returned 30 yards to the Eagles’ 20-yard line, setting up Joique Bell’s 2-yard touchdown run with 10:02 remaining in the first half. Bell then caught a deflected pass for the two-point conversion.
The Eagles finally managed a first down on their fifth possession. On their sixth and final possession of the first half, the Eagles drove 79 yards, but the drive stalled at the Lions 10, with Rashean Mathis breaking up several passes to Riley Cooper in the end zone.
The weather was so bad that kicking a field goal wasn’t an option for either team. Both teams, with one exception, also elected to go for 2-point conversions instead of attempting extra points. Executing a snap, a correct hold and the kick seemed too much to get right in the challenging conditions.
McCoy makes magic
The offenses didn’t fare much better early in the second half. The Lions extended their lead to 14-0 when Jeremy Ross raced untouched to the end zone with a 58-yard punt return with 6:37 remaining in the third quarter.
But the Eagles took over the game from that point, relegating the snow to a secondary story, or at least co-star status with McCoy’s heroics and their amazing comeback.
Foles, whose streak of touchdowns without an interception at the start of a season ended at 19, one shy of Peyton Manning’s record, connected with DeSean Jackson on third-and-11 for a first down. Foles then hit Riley Cooper for a long pass down the middle, advancing the ball to the Lions 19. One play later, the Eagles were in the end zone on a 19-yard pass to Jackson that may have been intended for Cooper but was overthrown.
“In that kind of game, it’s like playing in the backyard when you’re a kid,” Foles said. “You just try to make a play.”
Foles (11 for 22, 179 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT) hit Cooper with another big pass, a 26-yarder, on the first play of the Eagles’ next possession. The Eagles didn’t complete another pass on the drive, but Foles tried to go deep to DeSean Jackson twice. A roughing-the-passer penalty on Lions defensive tackle Nick Fairley gave the Eagles a first down, setting up McCoy’s magic.
McCoy burst through the middle of the line, cut to his left, broke an ankle tackle and he was gone. Forty yards. Touchdown. Bryce Brown’s 2-point conversion run tied the game at 14-14.
The Eagles had some wind taken out of their sails when Ross returned the ensuing kickoff 98 yards to regain the lead for the Lions, but McCoy was just getting started.
On the third play of the next possession, McCoy cut to his left as he broke through the line and raced untouched for a 57-yard touchdown. The two-point conversion pass to Riley Cooper gave the Eagles their first lead, 22-20.
Offensive line paves the way
The scouting report said the Eagles weren’t supposed to be able to run on the Lions. With defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Fairley, the Lions had been bottling up opposing running backs. But the Eagles were able to run the ball extremely effectively during the second half, particularly on the left side behind guard Evan Mathis, center Jason Kelce and left tackle Jason Peters.
“Going in, we knew that was a big matchup,” Kelly said. “I thought Todd (Herremans), Jason and Evan did a great job (against the Lions’ defensive tackles).”
Once the Eagles started running, they didn’t stop. McCoy didn’t stop until he set the franchise record for rushing yards in a game, breaking the record of 205 set in 1949 by Hall of Famer Steve Van Buren, who died last year.
“The guys up front gave me so much room to work with,” McCoy said. “Tons of credit goes to those guys.”
McCoy made another highlight film run for 25 yards on the first place of the Eagles’ next possession. That set up a 20-yard play-action run by Foles and a 17-yard run by Brown on the following play. Foles’ 1-yard quarterback sneak on fourth down with 8:18 remaining extended the Eagles’ lead to 28-20.
Weathering the storm
The wintry conditions didn’t seem to affect the Eagles. As far as they were concerned, it was 75 degrees and sunny.
In contrast to the Eagles, the Lions were still struggling with the weather. After another good return and a pass to Bell advanced the ball to the Eagles 25 on the Lions’ next possession, a shotgun snap seemed to surprise Stafford, who made the mistake of trying to pick up the loose ball instead of falling on it. Linebacker Mychal Kendricks recovered the ball. Seven plays later, Chris Polk raced through another gaping hole up the middle for the 38-yard touchdown that sealed the victory.
As they’ve been throughout the Eagles’ five-game winning streak, turnovers were a huge factor. The Lions, who are prone to turnovers in the best conditions, fumbled seven times Sunday, losing three of them. All three fumbles were in Eagles territory, including one at the 2-yard line.
The Eagles carried the ball 46 times for 299 yards and fumbled just once, which Foles recovered.
“To run the ball the way we ran the ball, considering the circumstances, that’s what I’m really proud of,” Kelly said.
The Eagles had a lot to be proud of Sunday. They didn’t get discouraged when they fell behind. They didn’t complain about the weather.
“I think our guys embraced (the weather),” Kelly said. “They had a lot of fun out there.”
It was a lot more fun, of course, once McCoy started making his magic.
That’s when Lincoln Financial Field truly became a winter wonderland.