PHILADELPHIA — The Eagles embraced the underdog role.
Boy, did they embrace it.
So much so that a pair of veterans, right tackle Lane Johnson and defensive end Chris Long, went out and bought dog masks — German shepherd masks, to be precise — to sport pregame in order to get into full character in the days leading up to the game.
“Me and Chris Long were talking [at lunch], and everybody’s calling us underdogs, so hey, let’s go get us a dog mask,” Johnson said. “That’s what we did.”
The sixth-seeded Atlanta Falcons entered Saturday’s divisional-round game in Philadelphia as three-point favorites. It was the first time in NFL history that a top seed was not favored in its first postseason game.
The Eagles organization pounced on this angle, playing up the idea that they were being disrespected. The Eagles even hung up copies of analyst predictions to show how many people were siding with the Falcons.
Philly used that edge to help fight past Atlanta, 15-10, and into the NFC Championship Game.
“When did Carson [Wentz] go down? Since that point, no one’s given us a chance,” said Eagles coach Doug Pederson. “I understand Carson’s a great player, but every week our guys are hearing the same thing. Now, all of a sudden, we’re not good enough? We’re 13-3, best record in football, home-field advantage throughout.
“The guys are gonna motivate themselves based on what they’ve heard for the last month. It really doesn’t matter what you guys talk about, because [our] locker room is united. I’ll go to bat for every one of those guys; I’ll go to war for every one of those guys in that dressing room.”
The loss of Wentz certainly factored into the questions about the Eagles’ playoff viability, as did the shaky play of his replacement, Nick Foles, to close out the regular season. On Saturday, the offense was up and down against Atlanta and found the end zone just once, but it was backed by a lights out defense that came up with a big stand in the shadow of the end zone to close the game.
The Eagles advance as a result and await the winner of Sunday’s game between the New Orleans Saints and Minnesota Vikings. Philadelphia will have home-field advantage once again. And the Eagles certainly earned some respect by taking care of the Falcons, but Johnson is holding onto the dog mask just in case.
“I would imagine we’re probably not going to be favored next week, either,” Johnson said. “At this point in the season; it really don’t matter; it’s anybody’s game.”