Evan Mathis said the words slowly and carefully: "One . . . game . . . at . . . a . . . time." The Eagles guard wanted to emphasize that the cliché was true when explaining how the team went from 3-5 in the first half of the season to a closing mark of 10-6 and an NFC East crown.
Mathis reasoned that because "everything was new to everybody," the team's errors were correctable. He said the improvement came in so many areas, and it happened week by week.
"It's a product of the habits that have been instilled in us and that have been created," Mathis said. "You get your win, and good, it's time for your next game. 'One down, one to go' at all times."
The Eagles won seven of their last eight games. Nick Foles' emergence and the defense's improvement were the primary catalysts; an unwavering attitude helped as well.
"There's times when you are 3-5 and you can start to question the plan, and these guys didn't question the plan," coach Chip Kelly said. "We all made mistakes, but we owned our mistakes. And I think when you own up to your mistakes, then you can correct them. But if you never make them and you constantly make excuses, then you're never going to fix it. . . . I think each week, I saw us improve because of that."
Eagles general manager Howie Roseman pointed to training camp, when the video of Riley Cooper shouting a racial slur could have divided the team. He said the players rallied around one another. That helped when the team struggled, because of the chemistry that had been developed.
"When you're 1-3 or 3-5 and you have a really young team, it's very easy to say, 'next year,' " Roseman said. "It's very easy for them to think about the future as opposed to the moment. And nobody did that."
Because the wild-card playoff game against the Saints will be played on Saturday, the routine the Eagles have created will be disrupted. The team kept its off day on Monday and moved the rest of its practice schedule up one day.
Players have discussed the flow of the Eagles' week, and there is a science to how they practice on Tuesdays compared to Saturdays. Kelly said the Eagles cannot do anything to compensate for the lost day; they just need to adjust to the change. The coaching staff had a plan in place knowing it was a possibility, with a Sunday night game in Dallas and an arrival home at about 4:30 a.m. on Monday.
"That's how the cards were drawn," Kelly said. "We can't call a timeout and say, 'You know, we need an extra day.' But the team you're playing is in the exact same situation, so no one gains an advantage."