Maturity is when your world opens up and you realize that you are not the center of it. – MJ Croan
The season began with many questions and few answers. The season ended with just as many questions, but many answers indeed. The outcome of the season depended upon one game. “Winner Take All” was the billing, and it was against the Dallas Cowboys and their five victory to two loss home field advantage. Yes, the Birds had been dominating the NFL lately, winning games against good teams under some unusual circumstances. But when a team is recovering from a four and twelve season, there is always a feeling that embarassment awaits the very next high pressure moment. Anxiety and apprehension seemed to fill the minds of the fans.
And so it was when the 9-6 Philadelphia Eagles took the field on the Sunday evening of the last regular season game of the 2013 NFL season. Their opponent, the Dallas Cowboys with an 8-7 record, was familiar with the “Winner Take All” scenario, having faced the same situation against the New York Giants in 2011, and the Washington Redskins in 2012. Despite learning that neither Tony Romo nor Sean Lee would be available to suit up, the Cowboys maintained a home field advantage, and were seasoned veterans. This game was for all the marbles.
This was an Eagles team that had no recent experience in post season hopes, coming off two seasons where they did not meet expectations. This team was under the first year of former Oregon head coach Chip Kelly. In fact, this season was all but declared to be a rebuilding year for the Birds by everyone with a sports column not from Philadelphia. But to Philly sports writers, and to Chip Kelly, this team had simply lost it’s way. Thankfully, Coach Kelly recognized that fact from countless hours of film. Coach Kelly knew how to get the team back on track.
From quarterback competition, to completely rebuilding the Eagles secondary; from human fly swatters, to reengineering training camp; from the disaster of losing Jeremy Maclin before the season started to the rough seas during Riley Cooper’s excused absence from this team… Chip Kelly followed his map, his route to success. Steady and sure, he simply coached each player to win the day. The goal was to get more out of each training session than the opponent. Day after day, week after week, the players followed their coach through the rigors of high octane offense and a grueling pace.
At mid-season, the Birds had only accomplished three victories in eight attempts, and the gates of disbelief opened up on the team – writers who predicted the demise of Chip Kelly now openly taunted this team. Still, Kelly saw improvement of his team’s defense on film, and remained confident in the chance of success. All the team needed was one spark, one player, to step up and give these Eagles someone to rally around.
On November 3rd, 2013, the second year quarterback out of Arizona stepped up for his head coach, tying an NFL record with seven touchdowns in a record setting against the Oakland , and giving the Eagles a decisive victory that they were so desperate to experience. Success continued as week after week the Eagles managed to overcome each new obstacle, ending their streak of successive home losses, finding ways to defeat teams with winning records, with tough defenses, and with pro-bowl receivers. With each success, the Birds grew more and more confident, and exhibited more and more maturity.
By 28 December 2013, the Philadelphia Eagles had come full circle. Facing a Dallas team that had stymied their offense in Philadelphia in October, the Eagles now had the opportunity to return the insult by send the resilient Cowboys to their third 8-8 season in a row. On this journey, the Eagles had learned to trust the defense. They had learned to play intelligent offense. They had learned to place the ball in NFL Leading Rusher LeSean “Shady” McCoy’s hands. But most of all, the Eagles had learned that Nick Foles had the makings of a special quarterback in the NFL.
In a season with so many individual records shattered by this 2013 version of the offense, the ingredient that seemed to be the most elusive in recent years came in abundance – teamwork. Facing the Cowboys for the division crown, it would take all the teamwork this team had accumulated to have a chance of success.
Teamwork flowed freely. On a day where the team had to face one of their toughest opponents in one of the most difficult stadiums to play, the Birds came through as a team. Checking the box score illustrates the point: Foles completed passes to seven different Eagles receivers for 263 yards: including touchdown passes of three yards to McCoy and a 14 yard strike to tight end Brent Celek in the second quarter. The Eagles would need all of McCoy’s 131 yards of rushing as well. And despite all this offensive firepower, the Birds continued to find the Cowboys keeping pace with heroic efforts from Tight End Jason Witten and the defense that seemed to keep Foles uncomfortable all night.
But this was not a team of individuals. On this last game of the 2013 season, the Eagles would not stand by and await the game’s outcome. This team had come through so much, and had learned to pull together in tight spots. When Cowboys backup quarterback Kyle Orton tossed a touchdown to Dez Bryant with three minutes remaining in the game, the Cowboys drew within two points. Although failing the two point conversion, the Cowboys had plenty of time left, and after a three and out by the Eagles, found itself in a position to win the game.
But Brandon Boykin had seen enough. When Kyle Orton tossed to Miles Austin, Boykin jumped the slant and claimed the third turnover by the Eagles of the game. And with that, the Eagles ran down the clock to claim the hard fought victory.
This team was not about individual accolades. Although the team set many records this year, the spirit of this team is found in each player, each coach, each play. Despite setting the franchise single season rushing record, McCoy explained after the game:
With the stats and the records, none of that stuff means anything, if you don’t win in the end, that’s the most important thing. – LeSean McCoy
The Birds can only celebrate this victory for a short time, as they must prepare to host the New Orleans Saints in round one of the playoffs at Lincoln Financial Field. In 2011, the Eagles won their final four games to finish their season at .500. Despite that late success, Jeffrey Lurie described the Eagles late season success as “Fool’s Gold”.
Should the Eagles find a way to win their final four games of the 2013 season, it would certainly be described as “Foles’ Gold”. But this team won’t wait for one player to step up. That’s not the kind of team Chip Kelly coaches. This team will meat the post season as one.
NFC teams cannot be happy about facing the Birds in the playoffs. It is nearly impossible to beat a team that keeps coming at you.