FOXBOROUGH, Mass. - After it was over, everybody wanted to know what it said about this Eagles team.
That's how it goes in these parts. Every final score has to be a referendum of some sort. Chip Kelly said it best the last time the Eagles won a game. You don't know what one week's result says about your team until the next week. When the Eagles beat the Cowboys a month ago, it looked like a turning point. One week later, it looked like it was not. Same goes for Thanksgiving Day: a third straight loss, a second straight game allowing 40-plus points, a team that looked like one of those fried turkey accidents you always read about. Somebody's sources said that Kelly was talking to USC, but then Kelly himself said that he wasn't, and then somebody else's sources said his players were losing their faith, but then the players themselves said that they weren't. Has it really only been a week-and-a-half?
"Obviously, people saw he didn't lose the locker room," defensive end Brandon Graham said.
What would they have seen if something had broken a different way? If Brandon LaFell hadn't dropped a pass with lots of room to run in the final minute? If Bill Belichick hadn't gone out of his way to give the Eagles the time to block a punt and return it for a touchdown in the waning seconds of a first half that the Patriots led by a touchdown? If Walter Thurmond hadn't deflected a pass in the end zone and if that deflection hadn't bounced in the perfect spot for Malcolm Jenkins to pick it out of the air and return it 99 yards for a touchdown to turn a potential 21-14 deficit into a 21-14 lead? If Tom Brady had managed to do what you spent most of the second half waiting for him to do, the thing that he has done so many times over the course of a decade-and-a-half of Hall of Fame play?
"I think anybody who said our confidence was low was outside the building," Jenkins said.
No doubt, they would've re-examined their assessment about things as they watched the Eagles trot through the tunnel and into their locker room after a 35-28 win that left them looking at a potential first-place tie atop the NFC East (the Redskins play the Cowboys tonight). There was hooting and there was hollering and there was plenty of carrying on, with one player emphatically yelling, "That's Eagle football" as he barged through the locker-room doors.
That's Eagle football. Has it really only been a week-and-a-half?
Maybe we should learn our lesson and avoid projecting any narratives onto this one. Though it is probably safe to make two observations:
1) There is a ton of faith in Sam Bradford in the Eagles' locker room, and if you're one of the people who made up their mind on the guy three weeks into the season, it might be time to take an objective look at his performance over the two months since. Bradford was just 14-for-24 for 120 yards but he made a handful of beautiful throws in high-leverage situations, including a first down to Riley Cooper with a man in his face on third-and-11 with 2:49 remaining and the Eagles clinging to a lead that the Patriots had shaved from 21 to seven.
In his last seven games, he has completed 64 percent of his passes for 1,739 yards with 10 touchdowns and six interceptions. Graham referred to him as "our leader" as he talked about the energy the quarterback brought to the locker room before the game.
2) Any issue in the Eagles' locker room is/was amongst players as much as it was with coaches/scheme. Jenkins and Graham both talked about a new sense of accountability that percolated in the NovaCare Complex last week, with both players and coaches demanding excellence from each other.
"Everything people said we can't do, we've done before," Jenkins said.
"It's set up," Graham said, noting the Giants' loss to the Jets earlier in the day. "We've just got to stay together. It's on us."
The fact that Miles Austin was relegated to the inactive list and DeMarco Murray was used as a glorified third-stringer for the majority of the game spoke volumes. Darren Sproles finished with 15 carries, Kenjon Barner with nine (including a fumble that could have cost them the game), while Murray had eight. Murray was diplomatic after the game, saying "You always want an opportunity to play" but that "we got the big victory so that's all that matters."
And that's the truth. If they hadn't gotten that victory, we wouldn't be talking about the owner's pregame speeches or the quarterback's timely throws. We wouldn't be painting this particular victory with the same broad brush we used on the last one. We wouldn't be declaring that the players rallied around their coach or their organization or that all of them had emerged from some sort of existential turmoil and are now new human beings with new futures in front of them.
The Eagles beat the Patriots because their players made plays in situations where they hadn't in their three previous games. They played more zone and two-deep than they had. They moved Jenkins back to the slot, which is something defensive coordinator Billy Davis acknowledged that they got away from during their three-game skid against the Dolphins, Bucs, and Lions. Jenkins responded with a huge performance and the Eagles' mixture of zone and man coverages seemed to keep Brady guessing for the majority of the second half (he completed just 29 of 56 passes with two interceptions and four sacks).
That being said, if they lose by 30 next week, all of that will be a memory.