LANDOVER, Md. — As the Bears put the finishing touches on a 24-10 win over the Vikings that would catapult the Eagles into the playoffs, a soul melody could be heard outside the visitors’ locker room at FedEx Field.
The song was “Before I Let Go,” an apt choice by D.J. Jason Peters, since the Eagles are still holding on to their chances of repeating as champions. They needed the help of the Bears, whom they will face in Chicago next Sunday. But their emphatic 24-0 win over the Redskins suggested that the Eagles weren’t just happy to get into the postseason.
“Like we said before the game, we ain’t sneaking in,” safety Malcolm Jenkins said as he broke the Eagles down in the locker room. “We kicked the [bleeping] door down. You know what I mean? We in this party. Nobody wanted us in, but guess what, they got to deal with us now.”
The Eagles celebrated some. Defensive end Brandon Graham, who was broadcasting inside the locker room on Instagram, yelled, “Crank that music,” and Peters obliged, switching to hip-hop and “Only You,” by 112 and The Notorious B.I.G.
But the mood was tame, considering the dramatic way the Eagles made the playoffs.
“I guess you’re just kind of always expecting good things to happen,” center Jason Kelce said to reporters. “Obviously, coming into the game it’s a little uncertain and whatnot. But it’s not like we’re sitting here, ‘I can’t believe this happened!’
“Chicago’s a good team. They beat Minnesota. We were confident we were going to beat Washington.”
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Few saw such a scenario playing out about a month and a half ago, and even three weeks ago. The Eagles may say they never stopped believing, but there were cracks in the foundation.
They were on near life-support after getting smoked by the Saints, 48-7, and falling to 4-6 in mid-November. And even though the effort was stronger three weeks later, they were decidedly on the outside looking in after losing to the Cowboys, 29-23, in overtime.
After the first Cowboys loss in November, Kelce had questioned the accountability of younger players, not because they weren’t giving their all, but because they may not have yet learned how, after several veterans left in the offseason.
But something or some things changed.
“We’re much more accountable,” Kelce said Sunday. “Guys have found their roles. It’s a combination of people executing more, coaches putting guys in situations that are beneficial to their skill sets. Guys embracing these roles that the coaches are putting them in. It’s never just one thing.”
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Jenkins had been embarrassed by the Saints drubbing. Losing to his former team smarted, but he said then that he didn’t like the demeanor of the team as New Orleans coasted to a win.
“That was months ago,” Jenkins said Sunday, “or at least it feels like it.”
Jenkins’ message didn’t go over well with some players and coaches. He later sang a different tune, even though the Eagles lost in Dallas. He said they would win more than they lost if they gave that effort every week.
And he was right. The Eagles won their final three games — with backup quarterback Nick Foles — and there can’t be a team left that is excited about the prospect of facing the defending champions, even if the Eagles will have to win three straight on the road to get back to the Super Bowl.
The Bears could have laid down to the Vikings knowing that they had their number and could likely have it again in a rematch. Maybe coach Matt Nagy considers the Eagles an easier test. But the mood of Doug Pederson’s squad, at least after taking the locker-room temperature, was seemingly one of buoyed confidence.
“We feel like we’re playing really good ball right now,” Jenkins would later say to reporters. “Anything happens in the postseason, so you can throw out everything, how everybody got there. It doesn’t matter. It’s a one-game season, and we’re looking to compete.”
The Eagles will be underdogs, but that was the case last year, when they ended up being anything but. There are some similarities — most notably, Foles — but the road into the postseason this season was much different.
A year ago, they clinched the NFC East by Game 13, a bye the following week, and home field throughout with a game to spare. This year, they needed all 16 games and a series of losses by other teams — the Vikings, Panthers, and Redskins all folded down the stretch — to play into January.
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Some players said they did some scoreboard watching during the game, more so after they had taken a 17-0 lead in the third quarter. But they knew they had to take care of business, even if the Redskins were a wounded dog.
“You look up every now and then just to see, but nothing that the scoreboard will show you will change what was happening on our field,” Jenkins said. “We weren’t a team that was looking to see if we could take our starters out. We got to win.”
When the game was over and they walked through the tunnel to the locker room, the Bears were up comfortably. Graham celebrated a little and joked with the media, but no one was overly ebullient.
Some players said they huddled around TVs or cellphones to watch the final moments of the Bears game. Some, like Lane Johnson, said they didn’t. He said he was “too damn tired.” But the Eagles were mostly businesslike. They know they have little time to enjoy their accomplishment.
“We set out on a journey this season,” Pederson said during his postgame speech. “We had some goals. We didn’t meet some of them. But one of them was always get in the tournament. Always get in and let’s see what happens, because this team, we are not done.”
Well, for at least one week they’re not. The Eagles have yet to let go.