Motivated Eagles embrace underdog role

Philadelphia Eagles' Nigel Bradham (53) and Derek Barnett (96) celebrate during the second half of an NFL divisional playoff football game against the Atlanta Falcons, Saturday, Jan. 13, 2018, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)

PHILADELPHIA (AP) Lane Johnson walked off the field wearing a dog mask while teammates barked after the Philadelphia Eagles squeaked out an upset to move within one victory of the Super Bowl.

Keep calling them underdogs. They embraced the role.

“It’s what makes sports fun,” said Johnson, the All-Pro right tackle. “Anything more we can use to motivate us, we’ll use.”

The Eagles (14-3) were 3-point underdogs against the sixth-seed Atlanta Falcons (11-7), the first time a No. 1 seed wasn’t favored to win its first playoff game. They needed a stop on fourth down from the 2 in the final minute to beat the Falcons 15-10 and advance to the NFC title game for the first time since the 2008 season.

After Philly’s newly formed dog pound celebrated on the field, owner Jeffrey Lurie joined the fun by dancing in the circle in the middle of the locker room.

Expectations for Philadelphia plummeted after Carson Wentz tore his ACL in Week 14. They went 2-1 with Nick Foles, losing a meaningless game in Week 17 after starters only played one quarter. Still, oddsmakers and pundits picked the defending NFC champion Falcons to win.

“Since that point Carson went down, nobody has given us a chance,” coach Doug Pederson said. “I understand Carson is a great player, but every week our guys hear we’re not good enough.”

Foles bounced back from a pair of subpar games with a steady performance. He completed 77 percent of his passes (23 of 30) for 246 yards, no touchdowns and no turnovers.

“The biggest thing in our locker room is that we believe in one another and that showed,” Foles said. “We kept working, kept grinding, had faith in one another. In any sport there’s going to be criticism. You’re aware of it because you’re human but we blocked it out.”

Foles outplayed Matt Ryan, last year’s NFL MVP. He led two impressive drives, one into the wind and one with it. Foles made a big-time 15-yard throw to Alshon Jeffery with 1 second left in the first half to set up Jake Elliott’s 53-yard field goal that cut Atlanta’s lead to 10-9.

“You guys doubted him, we never doubted him,” Jeffery said. “We believe in anybody lining up back there at quarterback. We believe we still have 21 other guys out there.”

Losing Wentz, an MVP candidate, was the biggest blow during a season in which several standout players were hurt.

Nine-time Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters, versatile back/return specialist Darren Sproles, playmaking linebacker Jordan Hicks and special teams captain Chris Maragos each suffered season-ending injuries.

“Biggest emotion is for the team, for the guys, the resiliency, backs against the wall, people discounting us,” Pederson said.

The Eagles will host the winner of the Saints-Vikings game next Sunday. They’ve haven’t reached the Super Bowl since Donovan McNabb, Terrell Owens and Co. lost to the New England Patriots 24-21 in February 2005.

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