Doug Pederson told his team that Sunday's win over the Atlanta Falcons was great, but just one win, merely a game that put the Eagles at 1-0 for the day, and next week in Seattle they'll be right back to 0-0.
This message is found in Chapter 1 of the NFL Coaches' Postgame Manual, right between "We're close, we just need to make plays" and "That was a good football team we played out there today."
The players absorbed the words, as they are more apt to do after wins, and parroted them back, but the team knew, and Pederson knew, and you knew, and the whole NFL knew, that Sunday's 24-15 win was nothing less than a season-saver for the Eagles.
Things can still fall apart again. The team has been shaky on the road and is headed into one of the most difficult venues in the league for a visitor, but there is hope now. A 5-4 record looks vastly different than a 4-5 record, and when you study the games remaining, there is a reasonable path to 10 wins and a good shot at the postseason. Maybe Nate Silver would draw the odds against them, but he's been wrong before.
Had they lost to Atlanta, that would have been three losses in a row and five in the span of six games, and even the most confident among them would have looked at the record and the schedule and concluded that this wasn't going to be their year. By winning, however, they not only proved they could turn around recent misfortune, but also do it against a team that had been among the hottest in the conference.
If they could shut down quarterback Matt Ryan and running back Devonta Freeman, if they could control the clock with a running attack that had been almost nonexistent, and allow Carson Wentz to manage the game rather than force it, then what team can't they beat? Seattle, which lost to the Rams and Saints this season? Green Bay, which has been free-falling for a month? Cincinnati, which has a losing record heading into Monday night against the Giants? Baltimore, which hasn't beaten a team with a winning record? Any of the three division teams when the Eagles get them at Lincoln Financial Field?
Give the credit or the blame to parity in the NFL, but there aren't any super teams, at least none on the Eagles' schedule. That includes them, of course, but the grind-it-out strategy of a low-risk offense, an aggressive defense and a healthy return game looked like a template for the rest of the season. It's difficult to have possession of the ball for 22 minutes in a half (22:04 in the second half, to be exact), but if you can pull it off, the task gets a lot easier,
"Obviously, yeah, 5-4 is definitely a lot better, puts us in better position, but each week, we've just got to win each week. We've got to make sure we're 1-0 every week, Pederson said.
They won't be, naturally, because the win didn't erase their flaws, and their dicey defensive backfield situation got worse when cornerback Nolan Carroll suffered a concussion. But can the Eagles go 5-2 in their final seven games to get to the 10-win plateau that will place them in postseason conversation? Sure. And, after Sunday, they think so, too.
"It's huge. To be 5-4 is very big," center Jason Kelce said. "If you look at the whole season, we were in all these games. We've played some great teams with good records and every single game we were right there. We know we're a good football team and what we did today is something we've failed to do this season for the most part. We needed it."
Getting into that later conversation will require something that has proved elusive this year - a win on the road. Since their opening road game of the season, a 29-14 win over the Bears, the Eagles have lost four straight away from home. They are 4-0 at Lincoln Financial Field. If the Eagles are able to hold serve at home against Green Bay, Washington, New York, and Dallas - and they could easily be favored in all those games - they'll still have to find a way to conjure up at least one win on the road against Seattle, Cincinnati or Baltimore. That's the path to 10 wins, a path that would have become overgrown and slick with a loss to Atlanta. Now, you can see it plainly.
"We can compete with anybody in this league, but we still have to finish. We did today, but there were still plays we left out there," receiver Jordan Matthews said. "I was, like, 'Guys, we have to stop donating wins to these other teams' funds.' This was definitely big."
Big enough that the season would have been effectively over had they lost. It would have been over because of the arithmetic, and it would have been over because home-field mojo had been broken. That's not the case now, however. Now, they are alive and dangerous, whether they deserve to be or not.