Playoffs or not, Eagles seek win
No matter what is decided before the game, the players insist they will be going full steam vs. Dallas.
Imagine practicing all week for a game - Christmas week, yet - with hopes of making the playoffs, only to learn right around kickoff time that those hopes were dashed by another team's win earlier in the day.
Imagine firing up the grill and pouring a few at a tailgate gathering across the street from Lincoln Financial Field only to learn the ticket you hold for the game isn't worth the price you paid to park your van.
Is that a buzz kill or what?
Thanks to the Eagles' predicament and the NFL's late-season flexible scheduling, the Eagles and those attending Sunday's game against Dallas may find out exactly what those feelings are like.
First, the playoff permutations concerning the Eagles: To squeeze into the playoffs as the second wild-card team, the Eagles need a win and a Tampa Bay loss, plus a loss by either Minnesota or Chicago. The Buccaneers are two-touchdown favorites to beat lowly Oakland at home. The New York Giants, who have locked up the No. 1 seed in the NFC, play at Minnesota. The Bears, tied with the Vikings atop the NFC North, play at Houston.
The games involving the Bucs, Vikings and Bears are scheduled for 1 p.m. The Eagles-Cowboys game is at 4:15. So at just about the time the Eagles have finished their warm-ups and David Akers is about to kick off, the Eagles will know whether it's their biggest game of the season or it's time to make vacation plans.
"We might be upset, but then the goal changes," Eagles cornerback Joselio Hanson said. "We just want to win our last game, no matter what."
If the Eagles' playoff hopes die before the start of the Cowboys game, they will have to find motivation somewhere else. They are united in their dislike for the Cowboys, so they would get some satisfaction out of knocking them out of the playoffs. After all, misery loves company.
"No matter if we are out of the playoffs or not, I still have a strong dislike for Dallas," Brian Westbrook said. "I still am going to go out there and fight like we have an opportunity to get in the playoffs."
"It shouldn't affect us either way," safety Brian Dawkins said. "Last time I checked, we still have a game to play, regardless of what happens. If you take away all that other stuff, we have a Dallas game. Last time I checked, Dallas is not a team this city likes."
"We all get fired up to play the Cowboys," quarterback Donovan McNabb said.
Still, human nature being what it is, it seems learning you've been eliminated during pregame warm-ups could be emotionally devastating. The Cowboys were in a similar predicament as the current Eagles three years ago. They needed Washington or Carolina to lose and they had to beat St. Louis to make the postseason. After they found out the Redskins and Panthers had won, the Cowboys rolled over and lost to the Rams.
Green Bay had nothing to play for Monday night against the desperate Bears. The Packers lost in overtime after missing a field goal that would have beaten their hated rivals and crushed Chicago's playoff hopes.
Along with their desire to spoil the Cowboys' chances, the Eagles say pride and professionalism will drive them if they have been eliminated.
Cornerback Sheldon Brown appeared offended at the notion the Eagles might lose their motivation to play.
"I'm going to play the same either way, like I've done my whole career," Brown said. "I prepare to win. That's a crazy question. Even when we're not in the playoffs, we play hard."
Hanson used last season as an example. The Eagles were knocked out of playoff contention the week before the final game. At one point, they were 5-8. Yet they won their final three games.
"Last year when we were out of it, we won," he said. "It was all pride. This will be the same thing. If we find out we're out of it, then it's going to be beat the Cowboys. All pride. It'll help that it's Dallas, a rival. It'll be a pumped game no matter what.
"We're professionals. And you've got to be a pro, no matter what."
Said safety Quintin Mikell: "Last year we knew we weren't in the playoffs, so we went out there with the mind to ruin other people's chances. We just have to win, and whatever happens, happens."