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Eagles’ NFC East title all the more sweet after adversity, players say | Early Birds

“For us and this team, guys are stepping up every day,” Fletcher Cox said. “When a guy goes down, it just brings this team so much closer, man.”

The Eagles defense celebrates and poses for photos after a Sidney Jones interception in the fourth quarter against the Giants on Sunday.
The Eagles defense celebrates and poses for photos after a Sidney Jones interception in the fourth quarter against the Giants on Sunday.Read moreHEATHER KHALIFA / Staff Photographer

This monthlong series of “must-win” regular-season games is over, and the Eagles officially clinched the terrible NFC East with a 34-17 win over the 4-12 New York Giants on Sunday. Now, the injury-battered, 9-7 Birds move on to the playoffs.

At a soggy mess of MetLife Stadium, the defense mostly contained Saquon Barkley, aside from an explosive 68-yard, game-tying touchdown run in the third quarter. On the other side of the ball, the offense battled despite stud rookie running back Miles Sanders and veteran right guard Brandon Brooks going down before halftime. Brooks’ shoulder injury looked the most serious of the day, with his teammates kneeling on the field and coming off the bench en masse as the veteran was carted off.

Coach Doug Pederson is set to hold a news conference on Monday, so be sure to check back on for updates on which players might be back for the wild-card game against the 11-5 Seattle Seahawks next Sunday at 4:40 p.m.

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Eagles have made playoffs before, players say, but never like this

The Eagles have made the playoffs three seasons in a row now, and many of the leaders in their locker room have played January football before. Some, of course, have even made it to February and won the Super Bowl.

In a celebratory postgame locker room in MetLife Stadium, all agreed: No playoff path has been quite like this one. And because of that, Sunday’s win felt a little more meaningful.

“It is really sweet,” defensive tackle Fletcher Cox said. “For us and this team, guys are stepping up every day. … When a guy goes down, it just brings this team so much closer, man.”

As they clinched the division, about half of the Eagles players on the field weren’t starters at the beginning of the season.

“This is the first time I’ve been through that," veteran defensive end Brandon Graham said. “Usually when you’re hurt, you’re losing. You don’t have too many guys behind who can step in and fill the voids. There’s a lot of guys that are stepping in.”

The injury issues didn’t subside Sunday. At times on sideline, there was literally a line to get into the Eagles’ blue medical tent. Brooks (shoulder) and Sanders (ankle) left the game for good. They join a long list of injured Eagles, which includes right tackle Lane Johnson (ankle), cornerback Jalen Mills (ankle), tight end Zach Ertz (ribs, kidney), and wide receiver Nelson Agholor (knee). Not to mention players who’ve been placed on injured reserve.

The injuries have vaulted some less-familiar faces into starting roles. On Sunday, running back Boston Scott had more to do in Sanders’ absence, and proved up to the challenge. He logged 138 yards from scrimmage and three touchdowns. Scott indicated his own can-do mentality mirrors an attitude the team has been embracing since training camp.

“We’ve been through a lot of obstacles and ups and downs,” he said. “We’ve never lost confidence in each other. We never lost faith in each other, and now you’re seeing it all come together.”

Graham said the adversity of this season didn’t come only on the injury front, particularly after the 37-31 loss to the Miami Dolphins in Week 13.

“We’ve been on the bad side, where people didn’t believe,” Graham said. “After that Dolphins game, you heard a lot of negativity toward the team. With us, I just love how we fought back.”

The fight isn’t over. The words on the players’ new green T-shirts say “The East is Not Enough," referencing their winning the division. But in order to make good on the bold statement, they’d have to first beat the 11-5 Seahawks, who will visit the Linc next Sunday. Seattle beat the Eagles, 17-9, at the Linc in Week 12.

Fittingly, the Eagles enter the wild-card game as 1-point underdogs.

What you need to know about the Eagles

  1. Revisit the NFC East-clinching victory with Les Bowen’s game story.

  2. Jeff McLane does his weekly up-down drill on the Eagles. Carson Wentz, Doug Pederson, and Malcom Jenkins get big ups, as does the weather.

  3. Paul Domowitch hands outs the grades for the game. Overall: A-minus.

  4. Columnist Mike Sielski writes that this team, while not as good as the Super Bowl squad, is perfect for Philadelphia’s sports sensibility.

  5. Safety Malcolm Jenkins stepped up at a crucial time for the Eagles defense. McLane has more on the team leader.

  6. The Eagles have been underdogs before. Can they come through in that role again? Columnist Bob Ford ponders the question.

  7. EJ Smith writes about the defense’s big day and dissects how it stopped Saquon Barkley.

  8. Columnist David Murphy writes about how Carson Wentz became a playoff-difference-maker in the eyes of his teammates. We’ll see if that proves true next week.

  9. Boston Scott stepped up when the Eagles running back corps badly needed it, writes Domo.

  10. Marcus Hayes writes about coach Doug Pederson’s shining moment: Leading a group of “nobodies” to a division title.

  11. Murphy had quick observations on Wentz, Daniel Jones, and field position, among other things.

  12. Rob Tornoe has all the info you need if you’re looking to buy Eagles tickets for next week’s game.

  13. Damichael Cole has the best quotes from Pederson’s and Wentz’s press conferences.

  14. Of course, Eagles responded to the win loudly on social media. Jonathan Tannenwald has more on the online reaction.

  15. Want to see how the big news was played on the pages of The Inquirer and Daily News? Tannenwald has you covered there, too.

From the mailbag

For the first time since being drafted, it’ll be Carson Wentz leading the Eagles into the playoffs and not Nick Foles. Does Carson have enough in him and around him to make it deep into the postseason? — @dannmaal via Twitter

Oh hey again, Dan. Another great question. Thanks for continuing to be such an engaged reader.

So, I think Carson Wentz has enough in him right now to make it deep in the postseason in most situations.

But the Eagles aren’t in most situations. They’re playing with a number of practice-squad call-ups and have seen so much turnover, particularly at wide receiver. On Sunday, Wentz’s offensive arsenal was depleted even further when running back Miles Sanders was sidelined with an ankle injury.

Also on Sunday, Wentz became the first NFL quarterback ever to pass for 4,000 yards without a 500-yard receiver. That is mind-boggling.

The signal caller is hitting his stride and playing like a franchise quarterback, but I don’t see the team surrounding him making it past the Seahawks next week.