The Eagles know what you’re thinking. In fact, they are thinking the same thing.
This season has been flawed and frustrating as often as it has been uplifting. It has been a head-scratching ride from September to December as the team has been good enough to beat the Packers and the Bills, but also spotty enough to lose to the Dolphins and barely survive elimination tests against the Giants and Redskins.
Beating the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday didn’t change any of that. The Eagles won because they didn’t give the ball away, and they didn’t commit penalties, and they were able to outlast another 7-7 team.
That the team has a star on either side of its helmets might have made the win feel like something more meaningful, and made the Eagles appear larger as a result, but it was only a few weeks ago they weren’t big enough to get past a floundering team with a cartoon fish on its hats.
All the good things you can say about the Eagles right now are true. The worrisome things are still there, however, and the biggest kick in the pants is limbering up its leg right now.
The Eagles will clinch the division if they beat the Giants next Sunday in fabulous East Rutherford, N.J. Assuming the Cowboys get past the Redskins — and the NFC East is no place for assumptions, but let’s accept this one — then a loss to New York would eliminate the Eagles.
The Eagles know what you are thinking. They are right there, too.
That’s why as soon as they entered the locker room after Sunday’s game, after a very quick round of yay-for-us, the talk changed.
“These guys are focused on next week already. That was the conversation taking place in the locker room after this game,” Doug Pederson said. “We want them to enjoy this week, enjoy their families, that’s what this time of year is about, but we’ve still got unfinished business. It’s exciting for me as a coach to know that’s where their minds are at.”
Well, they better be. Sunday’s was a big win, but it wasn’t pretty. The offense won a game scoring 17 points or fewer for the first time since Andy Reid was the coach. Racking up 431 net yards, their most since the opener against Washington, was fine, but turning that into just three scores on 11 drives was wasteful work.
It was a win for the defense, which stripped down its schemes, played simple coverages, and got after Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott, who appeared to be feeling the effects of a recent shoulder injury.
The Cowboys couldn’t take advantage when the Eagles were forced to play their backups at cornerback, or when the Eagles were vulnerable to counter-attack for most of the second and third quarters.
This wasn’t the last time these two teams will see each other, but, boy, it has to be the last time for Jason Garrett strolling the sideline with a headset and without a clue.
That’s not the Eagles’ concern now, of course. The 4-11 Giants are the issue. They know it, and know the depth of the fall that would follow should they fail.
“We’ve come way too far to get to this point and not take it seriously or let one slip by. I think we’ll be extremely focused on preparation for this one,” safety Malcolm Jenkins said. “We just played ‘em a few weeks ago. I think we’re focused on what’s right in front of us, and that’s the division. The last three weeks have been playoff games. Next week is no different.”
Their recent history works in their favor, at least mentally. They swept the final three games last season to get into the playoffs. OK, so it has to be four this time. Two years ago, their postseason ticket was punched, but they had to steady themselves after losing Carson Wentz to injury. That happened as well. December time is Eagles time, apparently.
“Obviously, you don’t want it to come down to the month of December,” Pederson said. “You’d like to play better in September, October, and November, but this is a team when their backs are against the wall, they come out swinging and fighting and whatever it takes.”
That they backed themselves into the wall didn’t matter last season, and if they hold serve next Sunday, it won’t matter this time, either.
“We haven’t won diddly yet,” center Jason Kelce said. “New York is a good football team and we snuck one out against them in overtime last time. We’re all obviously happy to win this game. But we’re in playoff mode. Every win is a big win.”
None bigger, however, than the one they hope to secure next Sunday. The way the Eagles have played this season, it is far from a sure thing. The way they talked about it on Sunday night, the Eagles are just as aware of that as you are.