Confidence is more than a feeling
The Eagles have made a December run to the playoffs before. They're out to do it again.
If it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas, it's also beginning to feel a lot like 2006 for the Eagles.
It's a feeling Brian Dawkins senses in the locker room and at meetings as the veteran safety takes the temperature of his teammates. It's one he wants to sustain.
"I can't give you a Webster's definition for what it is. I don't know what it is," Dawkins said yesterday. "But I can tell you right now we feel it. I think everybody's feeling it. You can feel the attention to detail. You can feel the desire. Everything is where it needs to be right now. We're playing our best ball at the right time."
As they are now, the Eagles were in desperation mode two years ago. At one point, that team was 5-6 and seemed to be heading nowhere. Two weeks ago, this team was 5-5-1 and also seemed to be heading nowhere.
The Eagles of '06 made an unlikely late-season run, winning their last five regular-season games and clinching the NFC East title on the final day when Dallas lost.
This year's Eagles have kept their playoff hopes alive by winning the last two games, including Sunday's huge victory over the defending Super Bowl champion Giants. They probably have to win their final three games to grab a wild-card spot, but those three games appear winnable, especially if they continue playing the way they did the last two games.
The Eagles play the sad-sack Cleveland Browns on Monday night, then finish against Washington and Dallas, two division rivals who seem to be coming apart at the seams.
"I think the feeling is the same," Dawkins said. "The confidence level is the same. We're believing in what we can do as a unit. We're believing in the coaches and what they are allowing us to get into. They're calling aggressive game plans. You have a confidence that when you step on that field, you should win the game. We believe that . . . if we do what we're supposed to do, then we should win that game."
Still, there are some differences. Twelve of the mid-December starters from '06 are either gone, injured, or in backup roles. The most notable difference between the two teams is at quarterback. Donovan McNabb was out with a knee injury and Jeff Garcia was running the team in his place.
"It was a different position for me, but you see that confidence," said McNabb, who has steadied his game since he was benched at halftime against Baltimore. "That's what you like. That's what you want to see."
As a reminder of the gritty work that must be done if the Eagles are going to make the playoffs, Dawkins and most of the other Eagles are growing beards, a tradition in the NHL when teams start the playoffs. The idea, naturally, came from Dawkins, the Eagles' spiritual leader.
"Just a little something we decided to do as a team," Dawkins said. "It's whoever wanted to join in. The reason why I decided to do it is it's a reminder every time I get up, every time I look in the mirror, every time this thing itches, it reminds me of what's going on right now and makes me think of the task at hand, the run we're trying to make. It's a constant reminder of this push we're on."
In '06, the Eagles leaned more heavily on Brian Westbrook after they lost McNabb, relieving Garcia of some of the burden and bringing more balance to the offense. The last two games, the Eagles have pretty much taken the same approach. Westbrook had 22 carries for 110 yards against the Cardinals and a career-high 33 carries for 131 yards against the Giants.
Like Dawkins, Westbrook senses a vibe similar to what happened late in '06.
"We were playing at a high level at that time, and I think that it's similar to how we are playing now," he said. "We still have to continue to prove it every week, and I think that's the struggle we're going through - winning every single week."
Of course, the Eagles believe they shouldn't be in this position to begin with, but they have history on their side. They are 25-10 under Andy Reid in December.
"I have no idea why we've been in this situation before and been able to dig ourselves out," Dawkins said. "But I can tell you why we've been able to dig ourselves out - the confidence we have in one another, the character we have in that locker room. That desire. That's something Andy always preaches this time of the year. You separate yourself, either way. You separate yourself as someone who's going to contend and move on, or you separate yourself the other way - as someone who is going to be home."