THE EAGLES reported for work yesterday alone in first place in the NFC East for the first time under Chip Kelly.
So naturally, there was a lot of talk about concentrating on the "work" part of that sentence, rather than the "first place" part. Most of that talk was in response to questions from reporters, who wondered if the combination of a young team, five wins in a row, first place, and a banged-up, out-of-playoff-contention opponent this week in Minnesota might add up to a letdown.
Spoiler alert: Nobody in the locker room thought it would.
The "letdown" theme is a clichéd story line, but the thing about clichés is, they become clichés because they accurately describe common phenomena. (Back before he became one, Jimmy Buffett wrote that clichés are good ways "to say what you mean, mean what you say."
After Sunday's romp through the snow, on TV, radio, and in social media, this is the week the fan base seems to have decided it's OK to dream big, even in Year 1 of the Kelly era. People are discussing playoff scenarios, instead of how high in the first round you need to get to draft a franchise quarterback, which was a much more common debate 2 months ago. Isn't it hard for the team not to get at least a little caught up in that buzz?
"We're here [at NovaCare] most of the time. I know there is a lot of buzz, I know the fans are really happy, but I also know we have to continue to pay attention to the little, minor details. We can't get ahead of ourselves, 'cuz us thinking that way . . . can only hurt us," quarterback Nick Foles said yesterday. "We want them to be excited, but we have to take care of business in this building . . . that's the one thing that's great about Chip. He's not going to let us [get complacent]. He has the same mindset every week . . . he's going to hold us accountable and he's going to push us."
It was Kelly who quoted Winston Churchill on Monday, about problems in victory being as important as problems in defeat, which is an anti-complacency message, a subtle bit of tone-setting.
"The message is all about Tuesday," defensive coordinator Bill Davis said yesterday. "That's been the mantra all the way through . . . can we outprepare and outwork and outmeet and outtrain and outrecover the Vikings on this Tuesday?"
"It was a good win. We beat a very good opponent. We found a way to come back from a [14-point] deficit. There were some lead changes, and we battled through it - all things we weren't surprised at, we saw from our team," offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said. "And so now, we put that to bed and we move forward."
There are things about beating the Lions the Eagles don't really want to forget about, that they would like to take with them into these final three games. (Reflecting the growing buzz, nationally as well as locally, the Eagles' final home game, Dec. 22 against the Bears, has been flexed from 1 p.m. to 8:30. The Birds haven't played in prime time since Andy Reid visited 3 months ago, and they weren't on the prime-time schedule again this season, until yesterday.)
Little-used running back Chris Polk said he needed Sunday's 38-yard touchdown run for his confidence.
"Especially when you're not playing, it's hard to not be like, 'What is it? Is it me? Is it the scheme?' " Polk said. "You've just gotta stay patient, like I have all season, and when you get in, attack every carry like it's your last carry."
Watching Dallas get blown out by the Bears Monday night, was it hard not to think about the division and the playoffs?
"Nothing changes for us, though," linebacker Connor Barwin said. "If Dallas would've won, what changes? Then what? We've still gotta beat Minnesota, we've still gotta go beat Chicago, we've still gotta go beat Dallas" with a one-game divisional lead, and no wild-card traction yet, at 8-5.
Tight end Brent Celek didn't watch the Dallas-Chicago game, he said. Celek said he doesn't have cable, doesn't like to waste time watching TV. Celek said he doesn't think the team's leaders need to say anything this week about not letting down.
"I don't think it needs to be said. I think everybody understands," Celek said. "There's nothing guaranteed right now, obviously. This is a huge game this week."
A couple of factors argue against a letdown. One is, this being Kelly's first year, there's still a sense of excitement, of exploration. "We're always evolving," Celek said. Another is that after going 4-12 last season, then starting out 1-3 and 3-5 this year, the Eagles know they still aren't regarded among the league's elite, or even close.
"In years past, sometimes I would sit there and think about" not getting overconfident, said right guard Todd Herremans. "But it really hasn't crossed my mind this year. I think that we have a very dedicated and focused group. It's fun to win. Everyone's excited about how things are going, but they're also excited about the potential we have, because we still haven't played our best ball yet."
"You never get caught up in standings in the middle of the season," said center Jason Kelce. (Kelce, by the way, was named the Eagles' Ed Block Courage award winner for his comeback from 2012 ACL and MCL tears.) "What we do get caught up in is, we're playing really good football right now, and we want to continue doing that. That starts with Minnesota this week.
"I've been asked, 'Do you feel any differently, now that you're in first place in the division?' You can't focus on that. All you can focus on is that we have three games left and as long as we take care of business in those three games, it doesn't matter what Dallas does."
Did Kelce watch the Cowboys lose Monday night?
"I watched the first half," he said. Then Kelce smiled, and with a twinkle in his eye, said: "Went to bed at halftime, because that's what Chip wants me to do."