LANDOVER, Md. – Inside the visiting locker room here at FedEx Field early Sunday evening, everything was quiet. The Eagles had gathered there after their dominant 24-0 victory over the Washington Redskins, and some of them, as they admitted later, had been glancing at the stadium scoreboard throughout the afternoon, hunting for updates of the Minnesota Vikings-Chicago Bears game. If the Vikings lost – and they were losing the entire game – then the Eagles would sneak into the playoffs, as the NFC’s sixth and final seed. Now the players sat at lockers and stared at and scrolled down their smartphones, waiting to learn if their season would continue.
Though the Bears led by 14 points as the seconds ticked down, the game was not quite finished yet, and until the clock at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis reached 0:00, there would be no sound out of that Eagles locker room. Outside it, the Redskins marching band trudged in single file past the door, and even a few forlorn tuba players with chapped lips made more clatter than the Eagles did. And the locker room remained that quiet until it all became official – Bears 24, Vikings 10, the Eagles resilient and joyful and playoff-bound. Only then did safety Malcolm Jenkins scream out a speech about not sneaking in, about kicking the motherbleeping door to the postseason down, about the rest of the NFC having to deal with the defending Super Bowl champions after all.
» EAGLES-BEARS: Next week’s kick time and the rest of the playoff schedule
“We are who we think we are,” Jenkins said after the victory, the Eagles’ third straight and their fifth in six games following a humiliating 41-point loss to the New Orleans Saints on Nov. 18. “We feel like we can play with anybody. So at this point, we’ve been playing really good ball, been playing together as a team. A lot of young guys who were thrown in the fire early in the year are now the reasons we’re having success. We’ve got a lot of guys getting experience. We’ve had a lot of growth with the ups and downs of the season. We seem to be putting it together.”
The sterile facts are these: The Eagles are 9-7, and they are playing with their backup quarterback, Nick Foles, who left Sunday’s game with what the Eagles called a chest injury – one week after sustaining a brutal hit to the sternum from the Houston Texans’ Jadeveon Clowney. They have not been the juggernaut this season that they were last season, when they went 13-3 and entered the playoffs as the conference’s No. 1 seed, and they have a formidable task ahead: a road game against the very team that allowed them to reach the playoffs, the Bears, who went 12-4 and won the NFC North.
What they are, though, is something different and, to any prospective opponent, still dangerous. “We’re battle-tested,” tight end Zach Ertz said, and he’s right, but the Eagles enter these playoffs with little burden. They were 4-6. Then they were 6-7 and about to play a Super Bowl favorite, the Los Angeles Rams, and they had just revealed that Carson Wentz had fractured a bone in his back. Then they beat the Rams, the Texans, and the Redskins anyway. Foles unfurled another remarkable stretch of games. They aren’t supposed to be here, and they should play free and easy for it.
» GRADING THE EAGLES: Team earns ‘A-plus’ in regular-season finale
Assuming Foles plays against the Bears – and given that the Eagles allowed him to speak to the media Sunday, it’s reasonable to think that he will – the Eagles will enter that game confident, experienced, and with nothing to lose. That doesn’t mean they’re going to win the Super Bowl again. It doesn’t even mean that they’re going to beat the Bears. But it’s a hell of a cocktail nonetheless, and it will make them a tough out against anyone.
“Everyone’s going to be extremely loose,” Ertz said. “No one expected us to be in this situation. After being 4-6, no one gave us a shot. I don’t think anyone needs to play nervous or anxious, because we shouldn’t be there in the first place. All you can ask for is a chance, and ultimately that’s what we get.”
» UP-DOWN DRILL: Bears and Birds trending up at just the right time
“There’s no pressure,” defensive end Brandon Graham said. “You can’t get caught up in the media frenzy of what’s going on. Everyone wants to read a good story. We’ve got a job, and we’ve got a good team of people who keep everybody levelheaded and grounded.”
That was why they stayed so quiet for so long in that locker room Sunday night. Six minutes left in the Bears-Vikings game, five minutes, four minutes, two, and there was nothing and there would be nothing from the Eagles until their reason to celebrate was final and official. They confront what is immediately in front of them and nothing more. It has been one of the hallmarks of this team for the last two seasons, and it gave the Eagles another glimpse, however small, at glory. They won. They got help. They’re in. The defending Super Bowl champions busted down that door Sunday, and now they have another shot to show everyone who they are.
» TIME OF POSSESSION: Eagles played keep-away, dominated Redskins and the clock
» READ MORE: Nelson Agholor the not-so-unsung hero in win