Before Jake Elliott etched his name into Eagles lore with a record-breaking 61-yard game-winning field goal in the Eagles' 27-24 win over the New York Giants, the rookie kicker ran to the coaches and pleaded for a chance.
Entering Sunday, coach Doug Pederson determined that the Eagles would attempt field goals as long as 52 yards. But with one second left and the ball at the 43-yard line, Pederson determined that Elliott's right leg offered better odds than a Hail Mary. Elliott even approached the coaches and "prayed and asked for a chance there."
What followed was another miraculous finish against the Giants, along with DeSean Jackson's punt return and Herman Edwards' fumble recovery. The 61-yarder is a franchise record, breaking Tony Franklin's 1979 record of 59 yards. Teammates hoisted Elliott onto their shoulders to carry him off the field.
"It's kind of all a blur to me," Elliott said. "I just know the ball was in the air for a long time real close to that right upright."
What isn't a blur is the Eagles' 2-1 record, with both wins in the division, and Sunday's victory knocking the rival Giants to 0-3. Elliott, who was signed only two weeks ago to replace injured kicker Caleb Sturgis, was the hero Sunday. But the kick was made possible only because of a whirlwind fourth quarter in which the Eagles lost a 14-point lead, came back from a seven-point deficit and a three-point deficit, and improbably positioned Elliott to have the chance in the final second.
"We might have come up short in this game last year, but we've learned to finish games, to finish drives," Pederson said, echoing his postgame message in the locker room.
The Eagles showed a newfound commitment to running the ball, calling 33 handoffs and attempting only 31 passes. They rushed for 193 yards, with Wendell Smallwood leading the group with 71 yards and LeGarrette Blount rushing for 67 yards and a score. Carson Wentz finished 21 of 31 for 176 yards and one touchdown, with Zach Ertz catching eight passes for 55 yards and a score. Darren Sproles left the game with a wrist injury.
The Eagles took a 14-0 lead into the fourth quarter and appeared poised for an easy win until Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr. found his way onto the highlight reel. The Eagles defense was down four opening day starters by that point – Fletcher Cox and Jordan Hicks left the game with injuries, Rodney McLeod and Ronald Darby were out – and the Giants finally took advantage after the Eagles shut them down twice on fourth downs in the red zone.
Eli Manning connected with Beckham for a 10-yard touchdown to cut the Eagles' lead in half, and then the Eagles gave the ball right back to Manning when Ertz fumbled on the first play of the ensuing drive. It took Manning four plays to connect with Beckham again, tying the score when Beckham made an acrobatic one-handed catch in the corner of the end zone that few – if any – other players in the NFL could make. And when Manning hit Sterling Shepard for a 77-yard touchdown to give the Giants a 21-14 lead, the 69,596 fans at the home opener were left wondering how the Eagles surrendered three touchdowns in 5 minutes, 27 seconds.
Instead of collapsing, the Eagles responded. Corey Clement rushed for a 15-yard touchdown in the Glassboro native's first home game, and after the Giants kicked a go-ahead field goal, Elliott tied the game with 51 seconds remaining.
Two penalties set the Giants back from a game-winning drive in the final minute, and they were forced to punt with 19 seconds remaining. Brad Wing shanked it out of bounds — it traveled only 28 yards — to give the Eagles possession on their 38-yard line with 13 seconds remaining and one timeout.
Wentz's first pass sailed incomplete, leaving only seven seconds. At that point, it would be challenging for the Eagles to get the 27 yards needed to reach Elliott's range. Pederson figured a sideline pass would take 5-6 seconds. He called a play they worked on in Saturday's walk-through, with Wentz finding Jeffrey for a 19-yard gain.
"It's a little bit like a Hail Mary," Pederson said. "It's kind of a desperation attempt, but it's something we execute every week. …Alshon did a great job of…coming back and stepping underneath the defender and making the play and stepping out of bounds, having the awareness to step out."
Wentz thought "seven seconds was definitely pushing it with the route," so the play required precision. Jeffery said that if more time was left, he would have fought for yards. With seven seconds, he needed the play to end quickly so the Eagles could have one last chance to at least try a field goal or set up a Hail Mary.
"When I came to the sideline, I asked our special-teams coach if he's ever made a kick that far," Jeffery said. "He said [Elliott] can make it from 61 yards."
In a game, Elliott never made a kick longer than 56 yards. With the aid of wind in practice, he once connected on a 75-yarder. Even Elliott doesn't practice beyond 57 yards in warm-ups. Yet at 4:27 p.m., Elliott's kicked blasted off his right foot and slipped past the bottom right corner where the goalpost meets the upright to make history.
"Quite honestly, I had so much confidence standing there, calmness," Pederson said. "Sounded like a cannon off his foot, great snap, great hold, protection was there. Awesome. Awesome, awesome, awesome."