As you looked around the Eagles' locker room on Sunday afternoon, you saw veteran players who have seen this kind of thing before. LeGarrette Blount lost just 10 regular-season games in his three seasons with the Patriots, a run that ended with 10 straight victories from Week 11 through the Super Bowl. Torrey Smith went 12-4 as a rookie with the Ravens, and won a ring in his second NFL season. Malcolm Jenkins started his rookie season 13-0 en route to a Super Bowl victory.
That is the realm this Eagles team inhabits after a 31-3 win over the Bears on Sunday. Not because they did what most reasonable minds expected against an overmatched, under-quarterbacked opponent, but because they are making a habit of doing it. Last week, it was the Cowboys. The game before, it was the Broncos, which came a week after the 49ers.
Seven times this season, the Eagles have scored at least 30 points while beating an opponent by double digits. In the last 20 years, only six other teams have accomplished that feat in their first 11 games of the season, and included among them are some of the most dominant squads in NFL history:
- The undefeated 2007 Patriots who lost to the Giants in the Super Bowl.
- The 1998 Broncos who beat the Falcons in the Super Bowl.
- The 2014 Patriots, who beat the Seahawks in the Super Bowl.
- The 2009 Saints, who beat the Colts in the Super Bowl.
- The 1999 Greatest Show on Turf Rams, who beat the Titans in the Super Bowl.
Only the 2007 Cowboys racked up seven double-digit wins while scoring 30-plus points in their first 11 games and then failed to reach the Super Bowl.
This is a distinctive realm the Eagles have played themselves into. Since 2009, that has happened just 13 times over the course of an entire season, with seven of them coming by way of the Patriots and Broncos.
That's an important distinction, and it starts with a word we mentioned earlier: habit. Talk to Jenkins, talk to Smith, talk to anyone in that locker room who has experienced NFL success, and they'll tell you the best teams they have seen are the ones for which success has become habitual. The state that they occupy is the NFL's equivalent of nirvana, one in which victories are not fortuitous ends but inevitable byproducts of each week of practice: Of course, we won. It was the only potential outcome.
The Patriots probably typify this mode of operation better than any other team. To watch them is to watch the closest approximation of a football automaton. Every block, every tackle, every angle is executed with such flawless precision that it becomes difficult to envision a scenario in which it can be stopped.
"It sounds cliche, but it's about practicing well," Smith said. "We've got great energy. We've got a lot of attention to detail. The coaches are preparing their tails off as well. It all goes together. I mean, you look at plays sometimes, and it's like game reps in practice. When you practice like that, it tends to show on Sunday."
The Eagles were not perfect against the Bears. In fact, they committed a lot of the cardinal sins they'd avoided in their first 10 games of the season: four fumbles, drive-killing penalties, a handful of overthrown balls. Yet they entered halftime leading 24-0 and finished the game having allowed just 140 total yards of offense.
There are three constants with this team: an exquisitely designed and flawlessly executed running game; an unyielding and technically sound defense; and, of course, a quarterback who is playing with as much confidence and command as any of the more seasoned arms against whom he will square off come playoff time.
Take away any one of these three aspects and the Eagles are still a good team, but they're probably inconsistent enough to make a Sunday interesting every now and then. At the moment, though, they inhabit a realm that only the Patriots have habitually claimed in recent years, operating with a level of precision that seems far outside the bounds of normalcy for any human endeavor.
Take, for example, the first-quarter sequence when the Eagles committed two of their fumbles.
Jenkins' miscue during his interception return left the Bears with a first down at midfield, their most promising bit of field position to that point. Yet they would advance the ball just 7 yards further, as Tim Jernigan helped stuff Jordan Howard for a minimal gain on first down and a loss of 1 on third-and-2.
The ensuing punt pinned the Eagles back inside their own 10-yard line, so Blount's fumble at the end of his 35-yard run set up the Bears inside Eagles territory. Again, though, the defense held, forcing a 54-yard field goal attempt that fell well short of the crossbar.
It was the type of sequence that easily could have changed the course of the game. Two or three first downs on those two post-turnover drives could, at the very least, have left the Bears with six points on the scoreboard and the Eagles without the necessary time to drive down the field for a touchdown with five seconds remaining in the first half. Twenty-four-to-nothing is boring; 17-6 is giving a bad team a glimmer of hope.