IT'S INTERESTING how things change from season to season in the NFL.

A year ago on this date, the Eagles lost, 24-23, to the San Francisco 49ers to drop their record to 1-3.

The game was notable because it was the third consecutive game in which the Birds had taken a lead into the fourth quarter, only to find a way to lose.

That pathetic streak of futility defined the Eagles' disappointing 8-8 underachievement in 2011. Now, the Eagles are 3-1 after beating the New York Giants, 19-17, on Sunday night at Lincoln Financial Field.

The victory was notable, because it was the third game that the Birds came back to win after trailing in the fourth quarter. With late, game-winning drives against the Cleveland Browns, Baltimore Ravens and the Giants, the Eagles have won by a combined four points.

They've become the first team in NFL history to get each of their first three wins of a season by one or two points, according to Elias Sports Bureau.

That's about as 180-degree turnaround as a team can make in a calendar year; from fourth-quarter chokers to fourth-quarter comeback kids.

It's way more fun being the latter.

"Well, I imagine it is sustainable," Eagles coach Andy Reid said of winning by the slimmest of margins. "I'd like to keep winning.

"I'd like to keep winning by more than one or two points. I'd like that, but I like winning."

As much as many people dismiss the Eagles' winning their final four games last season to avoid a losing campaign, Reid said that formed the foundation the current team built on during the offseason, training camp and now.

"Listen, I've kind of stated this from the end of last season that I thought one of the positives that this team had going for them was they can maintain that attitude that they finished [2011] with," Reid said. "We were lucky enough where we were able to maintain most of that football team, personnelwise, and then add a few young guys in there.

"They were able to do that, I think, through the early part of the season."

Of course, you don't want nail-biters. Given a choice, every coach would pick a blowout victory in which he can relax and exhale through the fourth quarter.

But that's not the reality of the NFL.

On Sunday, five games were decided by three or fewer points, swinging on plays in the final minutes.

In the first 62 games, 36 (58 percent) have been decided by a single-possession score. And you know that figure will increase as the season rolls on - and especially once teams get into the playoffs.

From the 2009 playoffs on, five of the six conference championship games have been decided by one scoring possession.

Four of the five previous Super Bowls have been decided by six or fewer points.

The ability to win close games, especially ones that require fourth-quarter rallies, is essential for any team with aspirations of winning the Super Bowl.

Obviously, with three quarters of the regular season remaining, the Eagles are a long way from proving they are Super Bowl-worthy.

But building confidence that they can come back and win games in the fourth quarter is an important, early step in creating a team's identity.

Only one mind-set is worth having in a close game - you believe you'll find a way to win, or you'll find a way to lose.

"It's important," Reid said of his team's ability thus far to show that it can win close games down the stretch. "This is what you know, there are going to be new wrinkles in there that you need to be able to take care of.

"Most of the things that have been shown before you're going to handle fairly well. The little new wrinkles . . . and how you adjust to those are important.

"The players and the coaches have to maintain the right frame of mind to do that. They can't get flustered by new things."

No one is dismissing the fact that the Eagles have tap-danced on a thin line. They are thisclose to being 0-4 instead of 3-1.

Reid acknowledges that he does not feel as if his team has "come close to playing our best football yet. I don't think our players do or our coaches."

But it would be wrong say this team has just gotten lucky.

You don't beat teams the caliber of the Ravens and Giants in the fourth quarter just by being lucky.

The Eagles have displayed the intangibles of grit and determination in finding ways to pull out their three victories.

"Every week's a challenge in this league," Reid said. "These guys, they've got a good attitude, though. There's a toughness about them; a certain mentality about them that you appreciate."

And that is the polar opposite of what you would have said about the Eagles this time last year.