THE EAGLES are alive!!
Or maybe, given where they were just a few weeks ago, and everything that still has to happen for them to make the playoffs, "The Eagles are alive??"
"In our mind, we always felt that way," said DeSean Jackson, who returned to the field after suffering an elbow injury making a touchdown-saving tackle following a rare LeSean McCoy fumble.
"Still alive. It shows you the type of fight this team has," McCoy said after breaking Steve Van Buren's 1945 franchise records for rushing touchdowns and touchdowns in a season. McCoy has 17 and 20, respectively, with 2 weeks left. "More than [making the playoffs], we just show that we have pride in ourselves. We come to battle. We have struggled a little bit and had some difficulties, but we're fighting now to get in."
Jason Babin, whose second consecutive three-sack game gave him a mind-boggling 18 for the season, said: "Certain teams have to do certain things. I wish it was just on us, but we shot ourselves in the foot earlier in the year. Right now, our key is to just have a good week of practice and win [in Dallas on Saturday]."
Yesterday's events definitely sent a tremor through the NFC East. After the Cowboys won Saturday night, the last-place Redskins had to upset the host Giants for the Birds to still have a shot at winning the division. Washington won, and made it look easy. Then the Eagles blasted the visiting New York Jets, 45-19. Some Eagles said they knew before the kickoff the Giants had lost, others said they found out only when the result went up on the big end-zone scoreboards just before halftime, the Eagles holding a commanding lead.
Now, as Andy Reid noted afterward, the Eagles need the Jets to bounce right back and beat the Giants next weekend, while the Birds win in Dallas. Then if the Giants beat Dallas the final weekend, and the Eagles beat the Redskins, the Eagles win the tiebreakers and the division. The Eagles cannot get in as a wild-card team, thanks to Detroit's victory yesterday over Oakland.
"I have no idea," Reid said, when asked about his team's playoff chances. "We have another one this week."
Reid said he supposed director of media relations Derek Boyko would fill him in on the situation at some point. But Reid, in touting the Jets earlier in his remarks, showed that he understood at least part of the picture. "They'll rebound next week," against the Giants, he said.
When the journey began back on Sept. 11, no Eagles fan would have embraced this scenario, just to become an 8-8 division winner. But when you look at where this team was after losing in Seattle Dec. 1 - the season was over, every way but technically - going to Dallas to play on Christmas Eve still alive is an accomplishment.
"Absolutely," corner Nnamdi Asomugha said, when asked if the postseason was looking more tangible in the postgame locker room than it had when the day began. "This morning, we believed we had a chance . . . with [the Giants] losing, it's crazy to see, with how slow we started, there's still a chance, this late in the season, guys not packing up and depressed, we still have something to play for."
Even if they don't make the playoffs, can the Eagles make something of their season by finishing strong? Will management view Reid differently, or even embattled defensive coordinator Juan Castillo, whose troops have keyed these victories over the Dolphins and the Jets?
The bags under Castillo's eyes seem to have shrunk to carry-on size, these past two Sundays.
"As a defense, we talk about what a warrior is. I've always thought of myself as a warrior," Castillo said yesterday. "Everybody says, 'It's a guy who works harder, a guy who's tougher, a guy who's gonna die [trying].' No, a warrior is somebody who gets the job done, no matter what . . . I do not want to fail my head coach."
The Eagles removed a lot of the drama yesterday by scoring the game's first 28 points. The tone was set on the Jets' first series, when Santonio Holmes fumbled after a catch and defensive lineman Juqua Parker picked it up with a wall of blockers down the left side. Parker, the oldest Eagle at 33, sat out last week. He hasn't been very effective since coming back from a tricky high ankle sprain. Parker looked pretty spry yesterday in rumbling 47 yards for a touchdown.
Then Holmes batted a Mark Sanchez pass in the air, Asante Samuel intercepted, and Vick led a touchdown drive that ended with Brent Celek making a dandy catch and run, 26 yards for a touchdown, still in the first quarter.
Vick's first rushing touchdown of the season made it 21-0 on the only Eagles drive of the first half that wasn't set up by a Jets turnover. True to his promise of a few weeks ago, Vick slid - slid his hand with the ball over the pylon as he was pushed out of bounds.
A Sanchez fumble led to the first of three McCoy touchdowns, and it was 28-0, with 9 minutes, 57 seconds left in the second quarter.
The Jets threatened to make it interesting by scoring the next 13 points, all before halftime, 10 of them off Eagles turnovers, including McCoy's first fumble of the season (also his first in 400 regular-season carries and 490 touches). But the Eagles got a 73-yard Celek catch-and-run on their next possession, Celek churning to the Jets' 1, from where McCoy scored to set the franchise touchdown and rushing touchdown records. That was that; the Jets showed no second-half fight, scoring a meaningless touchdown late.
McCoy is having a season for the ages, 1,274 yards on 260 carries, 60 yards behind Maurice Jones-Drew in the race to lead the NFL in rushing, which we all thought would happen on a Reid-coached team right after Joe Banner dressed as an elf and sat on Andy's lap for the team Christmas-card photo.
McCoy's third touchdown yesterday mattered the least, but was the most amazing. He started inside. As is often the case, there was nothing there, so he bounced to his right, eluded a tackler, bounced a little farther, found the corner, got a late block from Jackson and zoomed 33 yards to the end zone.
Right tackle Todd Herremans said he was proud of McCoy. Then Herremans joked: "Sometimes I'm not so proud, just because he does some of it on his own."
Asked about that final McCoy touchdown, Herremans said: "Ah, man. I felt so useless on that play. But that's the magic that Shady can do, and we've just got to try to figure out where he's at and try to set a block for him."
Herremans is the only current o-line starter who blocked for Brian Westbrook during Westbrook's prime. Now he has watched McCoy develop. He said McCoy's growth this year has been about "just trusting the o-linemen . . . Shady's really, really grasping the offense this year."
It would be a shame to waste a year like that. The Eagles are still the same team that lost those games to New England and Seattle in a 5-day span to put a struggling season on life support, but if you wanted to say that Castillo's group seems to have figured some things out, and that the offense still has a ridiculous array of weapons, just as we thought it would when the season began, well, you wouldn't be wrong.
"We're still in it. There's still a chance," left guard Evan Mathis said. "We have a division game against Dallas, and that's always a good game. That's all we need to focus on, don't look at anything else except the Dallas Cowboys . . . We're not out of it until we're out of it."