LANDOVER, Md. — The first thing that Rodney McLeod did after making the interception that launched the Eagles into the playoffs was find some familiar faces and join them for a celebration. McLeod grew up in Clinton, Md., which is 15 miles from here as the crow flies, but he didn’t seek out any family members or close friends for hugs and high-fives. He didn’t even dash back to join his teammates. Instead, he spread his arms in a V, ran through the end zone to the yellow-and-maroon padded wall ringing FedEx Field, and jumped into the arms of several Eagles fans in the first row.

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He was fortunate that one small section of this giant decaying outhouse maintained its structural integrity — more fortunate than a few other Eagles rooters were after the game, when a guardrail collapsed, spilling them out into a tunnel near Jalen Hurts.

Only after the spectator embrace did McLeod return to the sideline. With just 24 seconds left in regulation, with the Washington Football Team at the Eagles’ 20-yard line, he had dived to make a shoe-top catch to clinch a 20-16 win Sunday. McLeod is 31. He’ll be a free agent this offseason, which means, after six seasons with the Eagles, he might not get a seventh. No one cared. No one was thinking about that.

“I just wanted to give him a hug,” coach Nick Sirianni said.

The Eagles’ ecstasy, even over a victory as ugly as this one, was understandable. If it goes too far to say that nobody expected them to be a playoff team this season, then maybe it’s enough to note that this team’s run to the postseason has been the franchise’s most pleasant surprise since Super Bowl LII.

Yes, the Eagles were close to reaching the 2018-19 NFC championship game with Nick Foles, and yes, Carson Wentz was brilliant over the final four weeks of the ‘19 regular season as they pulled out an NFC East title. But expectations were higher for those teams than for this one, especially following so much upheaval: that 4-11-1 mess of 2020, Doug Pederson’s firing, the Wentz trade, the uncertainty about Hurts and, well, about so much else. New head coach. New quarterback. Lots of young players. A 2-5 start. More uncertainty. How many first-round picks would they have come April? Would they acquire a quarterback to replace Hurts?

Several of those questions still remain, and they will have to be answered in due time, because that is the nature of modern sports. Factors — salary caps, injuries, time — force teams to make changes, and so much of the focus now is on the future, not the here-and-now but the what-might-be.

This Eagles season, though, has demonstrated exactly why the NFL is not like the NBA or the NHL or even Major League Baseball. An NFL team doesn’t need to “tank.” The players’ careers are too brief, and their contracts aren’t guaranteed. The decks can be cleared fast, can be cleared in a single offseason. More than in any other sport, each season is its own, and if a team can build and maintain some strong bridges from one year to the next, it can bounce back quickly even after things have gone bad. Especially if it shares a division with a couple of franchises — the Giants and Washington — that have been and continue to be league-wide laughingstocks.

That’s why it was right and smart for the Eagles to make sure that they didn’t go full youth-movement this season, that they made certain to keep a strong veteran core: Jason Kelce, Brandon Graham, Lane Johnson, Fletcher Cox, McLeod. The last of them was maybe the riskiest of all to bring back.

Last December, McLeod tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, the second season-ending knee injury he’d suffered in three years. He has not been the player he was last season or in 2017, when he and Malcolm Jenkins were as good a pair of safeties as a defense could have. But his interception last week against the Giants awakened the Eagles and turned a close game into a rout, and he sure didn’t seem a step slow as he tracked that Taylor Heinicke pass Sunday and flung himself forward to pluck the football out of the air inches from the turf.

“I’m still trying to get back to the level of play where I was last year, honestly,” he said. “But it feels good to be able to come out these past two weeks and make huge plays for the team. I think it’s just a credit to a lot of the hard work I put in. I obviously didn’t do it myself. A lot of people helped me get to this point, especially my family, my wife, my parents, siblings, friends — everybody lifting me up at a time I needed them the most. It feels good to be able to do this for a lot of people I care about.”

Those people included a group of three or four in the first row, part of a FedEx Field crowd that was mostly Eagles fans — three or four people he’d never met before, people who knew him well anyway, all of them clad in green and happy to embrace him once he’d made the play that saved the Eagles’ season. A big win. A playoff berth that hardly anyone saw coming. This is the part of sports that’s supposed to be fun. Sometimes it’s OK to stop talking about the draft picks.