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Earning a bye week gave the Philade
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Earning a bye week gave the Philadelphia Eagles an opportunity to work even harder.
No mini-vacations. No golfing. No beach trips.
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, the Eagles (13-3) kicked off preparation for next Saturday’s divisional playoff game by holding their toughest practice since training camp.
Players put their pads on Wednesday and got after it on the indoor field as starters faced off like it was a hot day in August instead of a frigid January afternoon.
”The guys in this room aren’t afraid to work, grinding, enjoying the process, enjoying the small things a lot of people don’t like to do this time of year,” Pro Bowl safety Malcolm Jenkins said. ”We understand the significance of the situation we’re in and we want to take advantage of the time we have. Guys didn’t want to be off for the whole week. We want to get better.”
The Eagles are the NFC’s No. 1 seed but no longer are Super Bowl favorites after losing MVP candidate Carson Wentz in Week 14. Oddsmakers have three NFC teams listed ahead of Philadelphia.
quarterback Nick Foles played well the first five quarters he filled in for Wentz, then struggled in the last five. He was 20 of 48 for 279 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions versus 23 of 49 for 202 yards with one TD and two picks. Foles and the rest of the starters sat out the final three quarters of a 6-0 loss to Dallas that prevented Philadelphia from setting a franchise record for regular-season wins.
The defense looked sharp in the last two games, but had a tough three-game stretch on the road to start December.
So, members of the team’s players’ council told coach Doug Pederson they wanted to practice in pads instead of going through walkthroughs during their bye.
”It’s not a punishment thing; it’s not coming directly from me,” Pederson said. ”It’s what the players want. I listen to my guys. I think they understand that there is a sense of physicality that we have to get back to. So you get back into pads and it sort of refocuses the guys a little bit.”
Of course, there was no tackling at practice, but the intensity level was much higher.
”We were moving around, moving fast,” Foles said. ”Pads are different
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, and getting to move in pads, getting to throw in pads is a good thing.”
Even the receivers welcomed the change of pace.
”All gas and no brakes now,” Alshon Jeffery said. ”You have to keep working hard and we wanted to go out and compete against one another.”
The Eagles are in the postseason for the first time since a 26-24 home loss to New Orleans on Jan. 4, 2014. Foles rallied Philadelphia from a 20-7 deficit late in the third quarter and tossed a 3-yard touchdown pass to Zach Ertz for a 24-23 lead with 4:54 remaining, only to watch special teams allow a long kickoff return that helped set up a winning field goal.
The NFC East champions will host the Saints (11-5), Panthers (11-5) or Falcons (10-6) on Jan. 13. They’ll be seeking their first playoff win since advancing to the 2009 NFC championship game as the sixth seed.
Expectations outside the locker room are low. Many folks are predicting Philadelphia is the most likely team with a bye to be one and done. Panic-stricken fans even called for Pederson to bench Foles for second-year pro Nate Sudfeld, who threw his first career pass against the Cowboys. Sudfeld was 19 of 23 for 134 yards. Pederson actually was asked by reporters to confirm that Foles was indeed the starter.
Obviously, he’s not benching Foles for a guy who just made his NFL debut.
”He’s the guy now,” Pederson said. ”But, he doesn’t have to feel the weight of the entire team. This is a team sport. We have to play great defense, obviously, and special teams has to own up to their jobs. Then offensively, we just have to be better all around. I want Nick to embrace it; he has embraced it. At the same time
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, the guys around him also need to own their jobs and their responsibilities going forward.”
AP NFL website: Philip Rivers doesn't need to see anything more from Patrick Mahomes. In fact, he'd prefer not to see anything more.
The Chargers' veteran quarterback can already tell his young Chiefs counterpart is the real deal.
Rivers witnessed it up close while Mahomes threw four touchdown passes and led Kansas City to a season-opening 38-28 win over Los Angeles on Sunday in the second-year quarterback's second career start.
Rivers met up with Mahomes on the field after the final whistle and gave a few words of praise to the next big arm in the AFC West.
"I think he has a chance to be a really, really awesome player," Rivers said. "He has some arm talent. I'd like to borrow his arm every now and then. Some of those throws, he can really throw it, and shoot, he's really accurate."
After an offseason of preparation and a preseason that included some tantalizing throws , Mahomes was poised and prepared from the start at StubHub Center. Although he went just 15 of 27 for 256 yards, Mahomes made no turnovers while connecting on several exceptional throws that showcased his vaunted arm strength and his growing touch in equal measure.
Afterward, Mahomes largely shrugged off his success and praised his teammates, showing the maturity that the Chiefs love.
"It felt comfortable out there," Mahomes said. "It helped that we game-planned well. I feel like I was seeing it well and getting it to other hands. There's definitely stuff we have to keep working on. There was stuff I could have hit that I didn't. Little things that I need to improve."
Those little things were dwarfed by Mahomes' ability to make big plays 鈥?with plenty of help from Tyreek Hill and De'Anthony Thomas, of course. The Chiefs' speedy playmakers also have no doubt about Mahomes' ability to handle the responsibility thrust upon him after Alex Smith's departure for Washington.
"Every time Pat steps into the huddle
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, he is very comfortable," Hill said. "With the play-call, he was like, 'OK, guys, let's drive this ball down their throat.' As a receiver, tight end, offensive line, we were like, 'We have a great leader in our huddle.'"
Mahomes' 284-yard performance in last year's regular-season finale at Denver played a role in persuading the Chiefs to leap into the future without Smith. Mahomes promptly became the third quarterback in Chiefs history to throw four touchdown passes in an opener, joining Len Dawson in 1963 and Smith last season.
Mahomes repeatedly found Hill , who finished with seven catches for 169 yards and two TDs, including an exceptional 58-yard catch-and-run in the first quarter. Mahomes got credit for another TD on a 1-yard shovel pass to Thomas
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, who grew up a few miles from StubHub Center.
Mahomes also completed three passes to Sammy Watkins, the Chiefs' expensive free-agent acquisition as a big-play threat. And his best throw might have been the 36-yard TD pass feathered perfectly to fullback Anthony Sherman late in the third quarter.
Hill made sure Mahomes played with a lead all afternoon by returning a punt 91 yards for a TD after the Chargers' opening possession. The big play provided a lesson to Mahomes on controlling his emotions.
"It was hard after Tyreek returned the punt," Mahomes said. "I tried to calm myself down and run the offense. Last year, having that Denver game, I knew when I went out there I was too excited. I needed to calm myself down before making a mistake first."
The Chargers racked up 541 yards and would have kept it close with their division rivals if they hadn't made two huge special teams mistakes. But Rivers realizes he's in for a few years of tough matchups with the Chiefs and Mahomes, whose potential looked unlimited in the cozy confines of the Chargers' temporary home.
"I haven't seen a ton of him, but he was really accurate today on some of those balls," Rivers said. "He seems to have (an arm) that can throw it from any arm angle, and he was poised. He's got a chance. That's what I was kind of trying to tell him after the game. Whether he wanted to hear it from me or not, he's got a chance to be really awesome. Just be steady and keep going. It's just too bad he's in our (division for) those two games (every year)."
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