Five NFC teams with records as good as or better than the Eagles’ played Sunday, which could eventually mean something if wild-card playoff scenarios come into play, but the Week 13 game likely to have the biggest impact on the Birds’ playoff chances took place on Thursday.
Dallas beating New Orleans, 13-10, didn’t radically change the reality of what the 5-6 Eagles need to do to win the NFC East again, but it brought a sharper, harsher focus to how difficult that task might be.
Dallas is 7-5, with four wins in a row, starting with what was then viewed as an upset victory over the host Eagles on Nov. 11, 27-20. The Cowboys now have a nice, healing break from Thursday to next Sunday, when they host the Birds at AT&T Stadium.
The Eagles will head to Dallas on a short week, after Monday night’s meeting with visiting Washington. But if the Eagles lose Monday, their playoff chances move into the realm of the strictly mathematical, anyway.
Even if the Eagles defeat the Redskins, Dallas remains a game ahead, with a much easier remaining schedule. The Cowboys must travel to Indianapolis the week after the Eagles’ visit, but they finish with Tampa Bay and the Giants.
The Eagles, meanwhile, should they actually defeat the Redskins – giving them back-to-back victories for the first time this season – and then upset the Cowboys, get the reward of heading to Los Angeles to face the Rams. Then they host the surging Texans before finishing up at Washington.
Chances that Doug Pederson’s final postgame news conference of the regular season, in that tiny little visitors’ room under the stands at FedEx Field in Landover, Md., will be devoted to talk about an upcoming playoff matchup? Not good.
The Eagles’ postseason situation really drifted into hope-and-a-prayer territory when they lost those Dallas and New Orleans games, Nov. 11-18. You can go back even further, to the fourth-quarter fold-up at home against Carolina on Oct. 21, when a large chunk of the foundation of a playoff push crumbled away. Last week’s victory over the Giants temporarily smoothed some rough edges, got the talk flowing again of how anybody has a chance in a flawed NFC East – until Dallas shut down the high-flying Saints.
Friday and Saturday, Eagles players said the Cowboys stuffing the Saints – who toyed with the Eagles in a 48-7 home victory on Nov. 18 – really didn’t affect their mood or their prospects at all. We’ll see Monday night whether that is really the case.
“We’re pushing all of our chips in” against the Redskins, right tackle Lane Johnson said. Yes, the Saints could have helped the Eagles a little, but “that’s the thing in this league – you shouldn’t have to ask for any kind of help,” Johnson said. “We put ourselves in this predicament, so we’re going to have to try to find our way out of it.”
The only way forward, the Eagles say, is to not dwell on everything that has to happen for them to have a shot at defending their Super Bowl title, but focus on each step as it comes. There is no point to looking past Monday night, and 6-5 Washington.
“The only thing that we need to focus on is who’s in front of us and who we play against. I don’t focus on anybody else,” wide receiver Nelson Agholor said. “I didn’t look for [the Saints] to do anything. If anything, I was watching the tape to see how to prepare for Dallas … because that’s who we’re going to play again.”
A few players, such as safety Malcolm Jenkins, said they weren’t too surprised to see Dallas stifle the offense that humiliated the Eagles in the worst loss ever suffered by a defending Super Bowl champ.
“The Cowboys shocked a lot of people. But you play good defense at home, you get momentum on your side, things like that happen,” Jenkins said.
“I wasn’t really watching it for the outcome, I just enjoy watching ball … I’m too focused on what we’re doing here. It’s a bad feeling when you start looking for other teams to lose games in order for you to have success. You just focus on what you can control. It doesn’t change anything for us … We had to win anyway.”
Defensive end Brandon Graham said the Eagles’ fate remains in their hands, and technically, that is true – if they finish 10-6, on a six-game win streak, they will be NFC East champs.
“Everything’s right in front of us,” Graham said. “All we got to do is win, and worry about the rest later.”
Pederson acknowledged Saturday that he has been tuned in to how his players are handling the questions about their dwindling postseason chances.
“I listen to some of our player comments this week … and I think they are right on,” Pederson said. “I think it’s unfortunate where we are. We’ve kind of dug this hole for ourselves, and the only way to climb out of it is one game at a time. I think that’s been the focus of the team, been my focus, obviously, this week.
“We have to control only what we can control, and we have the Redskins on Monday night and it’s going to be a great division battle. All the things that they are talking about, we have to do, and we can’t worry about playoff scenarios. We just have to make sure that we take care of our business, and see if that’s good enough at the end."