If it weren't for a last-second run-back on a fumbled lateral, the Philadelphia Eagles would have ended Monday night's clash against one of the NFL's worst-ranked defenses with just 13 points and one touchdown to show for it. A win is a win, of course, and there wasn't any greater win for Philadelphia in 2017 than on Monday against the Oakland Raiders -- an ugly but important affair that secured the Eagles the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoff picture. But even five turnovers by Jim Schwartz's revived defense over the course of the Raiders' final eight series almost wasn't enough for the Birds, who fell short on all but 14 third-down plays, gained a season-low 216 yards and somehow barely eclipsed an inept Derek Carr in the game's final minute. Quarterback Nick Foles, the man charged with replacing MVP candidate Carson Wentz, assumed most of the blame for the Eagles' offensive woes after the 19-10 decision, and rightfully so. His lone interception came on a fourth-quarter throw that tight end Zach Ertz should've caught, but he also avoided at least two other picks thanks only to stone hands in Oakland's secondary. Misfires on just about every other drive, including plenty second-half series, weren't much better as he and Carr orchestrated plenty of work for their respective teams' punters. And yet hidden amid Foles' uninspiring return to the No. 1 job at home, where the Eagles could hypothetically host the conference title game, is another reason Philadelphia looked lifeless against Oakland. It also happens to be maybe the biggest key to a postseason turnaround for this 13-2 contender. The running game. On their second offensive drive of the night, the Eagles marched methodically down the field, leaning heavily on the ground before Foles found October trade acquisition Jay Ajayi for a screen-pass score. Things clicked. Ajayi and bulldozing complement LeGarrette Blount combined for seven carries, one of which was called back on a penalty, on that first scoring series. So, officially, on that drive: Six carries, 31 yards (5.1 per carry) for Ajayi and Blount.
Jay Ajayi might be the biggest key to a playoff turnaround for struggling Eagles
CBS Sports | Dec 26