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Eagles outlast Rams, clinch NFC East crown

  • By Nick Shook
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A clash between two NFC heavyweights lived up to its billing on Sunday in Los Angeles, with a back-and-forth affair thrilling everyone watching as the Philadelphia Eagles (11-2) outlasted the Los Angeles Rams (9-4), 43-35. Here's what we learned:

1. The Eagles clinched the NFC East crown with their win on Sunday, but lost their most valuable asset. League MVP candidate Carson Wentz hurt his knee in the second half, and NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reports it's believed to be a season-ending ACL injury. The development severely hinders Philadelphia's offense, taking it from a dynamic, explosive attack to one that relies on the run and throws when it needs to. That's what Philadelphia became on Sunday in the fourth quarter, struggling to gain more than a couple of yards at a time with the game hanging in the balance. Fortunately for the Eagles, they managed to do enough with Foles under center and Jake Elliott drilling two clutch kicks to hang onto a win that was topped with a defensive touchdown as time expired.

What's positive moving forward is Foles is still one of the league's better backups. The quarterback was 6 of 10 for 42 yards and looked predictably slow in the pocket. He doesn't own the big arm or uber-athleticism of Wentz, but he's not incompetent. This doesn't exactly torpedo Philadelphia's season, but does significantly hinder their Super Bowl chances.

"Guys have confidence in him," Eagles head coach Doug Pederson said of Foles. "I have confidence in him."

"I'm absolutely ready," Foles said after the game. "That's why I'm here."

2. Other than the Wentz injury, what a game. Two high-level defenses met equally excellent offenses in a game that was clearly played between two playoff-bound and title-contending teams, with former consecutive first-round selections Wentz and Jared Goff going toe to toe through the first three quarters.

This game was the first true high-pressure test for both Wentz and Goff. In a playoff-like atmosphere, each had their ups and downs, with Goff's low point -- the strip sack -- proving to be the difference. Both shined, with Goff finishing 16-of-26 passing for 199 yards and two touchdowns and Wentz posting a line of 23-of-41 passing for 291 yards, four touchdowns and one interception in three quarters of work. Each engineered efficient offenses and moved past the previous class' top two quarterbacks (Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota) on the eye-test scale. Now, without Wentz, the Rams own the lone young arm in contention from the 2016 draft. They also have Todd Gurley (13 carries, 96 yards, two touchdowns). Should there be a postseason rematch, things might turn out differently.

3. Los Angeles doesn't come away with a win, but the Rams should be proud of what Sunday's test proved to them and the NFL: This team can hang with the league's best. After Los Angeles disappointed earlier this season against conference contender Minnesota, the Rams accepted the challenge and battled, including overcoming a 21-7 deficit to take a 35-31 lead in the fourth. In the final three minutes, it looked as though Goff would lead a go-ahead drive, but a Chris Long strip sack gave the Eagles the ball in Rams territory. With Foles, Philadelphia moved very little and had to settle for a field goal -- one that proved to be the difference when the Rams couldn't score the needed touchdown late.

4. Philadelphia moved away from the run far too often -- including on the play on which Wentz was hurt, which originated a whole two yards from the end zone -- and fell in love with the pass, which helped keep this game close for better and worse. Without Wentz, they'll need to reverse course in the coming weeks, and have the stable of backs in Jay Ajayi, LeGarrette Blount and Corey Clement to do it. How much offensive coordinator Frank Reich trusts Foles will be pretty evident in these next three weeks, which will help us, the football-viewing public, determine how much we believe in an Eagles team with a strong defense and a suddenly questionable offense.


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