The Eagles players exited the locker room after a 14-6 win over the New York Jets on Thursday night knowing the next time the team officially convenes, there will be 22 fewer names on the roster and the games are about to count.
Two players who emerged from relative obscurity to relevance this summer finished a sterling preseason: undrafted rookie wide receiver Paul Turner, who led the Eagles with six catches for 66 yards and had a 71-yard punt return touchdown, and veteran defensive end Steven Means, who had the Eagles' lone sack and two additional quarterback hits.
"You've got to evaluate the whole body of work," said Eagles coach Doug Pederson, who added he would "study the film and see where some of these young guys shake out."
The two Eagles touchdowns Thursday came on returns. Turner's punt-return score gave the Eagles a 7-6 lead, and safety Ed Reynolds returned an interception 90 yards to double the point total.
The win at Lincoln Financial Field allowed the Eagles to finish the preseason with a 4-0 record. The last time the team went undefeated in the preseason was 2012. The Eagles finished the regular season 4-12 that year and Andy Reid was fired, so it's not a precedent that Pederson will want to tout.
The Eagles sat every starter except linebacker Mychal Kendricks, along with a number of key reserves. The fourth preseason game was reserved mostly for roster hopefuls taking one final chance to persuade the coaching staff to keep them here - or at least impress scouts from other teams who will scan the waiver wire Saturday afternoon.
One of the roster locks who played was backup quarterback Chase Daniel, who took all of the first-half work and finished 14 of 22 for 131 yards and two interceptions. It was an uninspiring final performance this summer from Daniel, who received a three-year, $21 million contract during the spring to follow Pederson from Kansas City.
Daniel played with all backups on the offensive line. His best plays came when he targeted Turner. The rookie from Louisiana Tech finished the first half with four catches for 49 yards.
Turner's top highlight was his punt return in the second quarter. He waited under the punt at the Eagles' 29-yard line, slithered through the Jets' coverage unit, and raced past their punter for his first touchdown of the summer. He finished the preseason with 17 catches for 165 yards.
Pederson said Turner has done "everything we've asked him to do" and admitted that Turner is "making it hard on us."
"I don't know if you can make a stronger case," Daniel said. "He's done everything, especially as an undrafted rookie free agent, that you could possibly ask for."
The return and extra point gave the Eagles the lead after the Jets scored first with a 44-yard touchdown catch by Temple product Robby Anderson, who has scored three touchdowns in the last three weeks.
Means highlighted the defense's efforts in the first half. His pressure forced Jets quarterback Christian Hackenberg, a former Penn State passer, to be charged with intentional grounding. It would have been a sack if Hackenberg did not throw the ball away. Means made sure to get on the stat sheet when he sacked Hackenberg on the first play of the Jets' final drive of the half, and he was again in Hackenberg's face three plays later. Means started the preseason with a strip sack in the opener.
"I can look in the mirror and see myself and say, 'I left it all out there,' " Means said.
The Eagles built their lead in the second half when Reynolds stepped in front of a Hackenberg pass for an interception that he returned 90 yards for a score. But Reynolds' path to the team must come through special teams, so the interception return is not the only play to consider when he's evaluated.
"I definitely wanted to go out and make a statement somehow," Reynolds said.
The same is true for almost every player who needed to play Thursday. The game was their chance for a final audition, and now there's nothing left for them to do. For players such as Turner and Means, it might have been enough to stay employed. They will all find out before 4 p.m. Saturday.
"These next couple of days are tough on these guys," Pederson said. "They've given everything for a long, hard training camp. You've built relationships with these guys. So you want to be able to at least either through a phone call or eyeball them one-on-one, tell them how proud you are."