CHICAGO — The football spun end over end through the lakeside chill, off the right foot of Cody Parkey and toward an inanimate antagonist the Chicago Bears will curse until their final breath. Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles had executed another miracle, the Bears’ invincible defense had yielded, and a loopy NFC first-round playoff game had distilled to the outcome of a flying football and, as cruel fate would have it, 25 feet of yellow steel and aluminum.
The ball bonked off the left upright and fluttered downward, still holding possibility for Chicago’s season. It bounced off the crossbar and up, a momentary tease. It bounded toward the field and landed with a thud, one more story Philadelphia parents will tell their kids at night before tucking them into Kelly green sheets.
The Eagles’ Super Bowl defense continued Sunday evening, surviving on a fourth-quarter touchdown march, then the capriciousness of a football’s bounce. Philadelphia’s 16-15 victory over the Bears provided the latest evidence of its championship toughness and Foles’s witchcraft. The Eagles advanced to the divisional round while the Bears’ 12-win season ended with an unfathomable twist.
In one game this season, Parkey had hit four goal posts on kicks. In the final week of the season, he hit another. The misses drew calls for him to be released, but the Bears stuck with him. Parkey drilled the three previous field goals he attempted Sunday evening, and he even made the final 43-yarder once, only to learn Eagles Coach Doug Pederson had iced him with a timeout. And then, on his final kick of the day, the last gasp of the Bears’ season, he hit the upright again. And then the crossbar, too.
“It’s like you’re running on a treadmill, running on a treadmill and then boom,” Bears cornerback Prince Amukamara said. “Someone just pressed stop.”
But the Eagles will play on because that is what they do. The Eagles were 6-7 less than a month ago when they learned quarterback Carson Wentz had been lost for the season because of a back injury. They turned to Foles, who last year replaced Wentz after an injury and morphed into an un-killable Super Bowl MVP. In his latest star turn, Foles led the Eagles on a 60-yard touchdown drive in the final five minutes, finishing it with a fourth-and-two touchdown pass to midseason acquisition Golden Tate.
The Eagles on Sunday will face the Saints in New Orleans, where their season found a nadir with a 48-7 loss Nov. 18. But how can the Saints feel even a shred of comfort with Foles behind center? In the nine Eagles games Foles has played either in the playoffs or facing playoff elimination, he is 8-1, with victories in his past seven.
“He doesn’t blink,” Eagles defensive end Chris Long said. “He’s, like, that guy.”
Foles’s latest memory happened against improbable odds. After a shanked punt, the Eagles took possession, trailing 15-10, on their 40-yard line with 4:48 remaining.
“I wish I had some sort of storybook thing,” center Jason Kelce said. “Nick is always very even-keeled. That’s one of the things that allows you to be successful late in the game. The worst thing you can do is tense up and do something different than what everybody is expecting.”
Foles threw nine passes on the drive against the NFL’s best scoring defense, on the road, with his season on the line. He completed six for 59 yards. The most crucial may have been an 11-yard strike to Alshon Jeffery on third and nine that positioned the Eagles with a first and goal from the 2.
They had four chances to score. On the first two, running back Darren Sproles slammed pointlessly into Khalil Mack. Jeffery ran an out at the goal line on third down, but all-pro cornerback Kyle Fuller smothered him and knocked the ball away.
The Eagles called a timeout to determine their play on fourth and two, the same down and distance Pederson called a tight end reverse pass in last year’s Super Bowl. If that play was “Philly Special,” this one was Philly Average.
When Pederson and Foles convened on the sideline, they reviewed the first three plays. Sproles’s runs had been called in the huddle as sprint-out pass plays, but with a “kill” attached — Foles could shout “kill!” before the snap if he saw a certain defense and audible to a run.
Pederson and Foles decided the sprint-out pass still made sense. The Eagles knew Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio liked to call “zero” blitzes at the end of games — sending the house, leaving wide receivers in single coverage outside. Moving Foles out of the pocket would buy him time and give him a throwing angle. Pederson, by his recollection, told Foles, “Let’s just run this sprint out.”
The formation — Zebra 88 — called for three wide receivers to the right, with Tate in the middle and Jeffery widest. Jeffery was Foles’s second option on the play, but when he released off the line of scrimmage, he focused on creating space for Tate. He ran to the corner of the end zone and boxed out Fuller.
“Make sure my guy don’t fall off,” Jeffery said. “Let Golden do his thing.”
Tate danced off the line, hesitated with a slight lean inside and darted toward the pylon, sealing off cornerback Sherrick McManus. As Foles rolled right and Tate separated, he saw an easy throw to complete a remarkable drive.
“It’s really just let him win,” Foles said. “It’s really a simple play.”
The touchdown didn’t end the game, though. After the Eagles missed a two-point conversion, Tarik Cohen returned the kickoff to the Chicago 42. Quarterback Mitchell Trubisky moved the Bears to the Philadelphia 25 with 10 seconds left, at which point Parkey trotted on the field.
Parkey felt wind blowing left to right. He heard the whistle blow after Pederson’s timeout and knew he was taking a practice kick. He knew it was good. The teams lined up again, this time with no timeouts left.
Parkey swung his leg. “I thought I hit a great ball,” he said, and maybe he did. In the Eagles’ locker room, lineman Treyvon Hester told the Philadelphia Inquirer he got a finger on the kick. Replays don’t rule out the possibility.
The kick still had enough to sail to the upright, only to doink once, then twice.
“You can’t make this up,” Parkey said. “I feel terrible. I let the team down. It’s on me. I have to own it. I have to be a man.”
As Parkey trotted off the field after praying in a circle of players, he heard boos. Inside the Bears’ locker room, helmets and shoulder pads were stuffed into duffel bags, packed away until spring practice. Inside the Eagles’ locker room, defensive end Brandon Graham told teammates, “We f------ did it.”
One season ended, and one continued, and the width of a goal post, cursed in one city and celebrated in another, was the difference.
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