Philadelphia Eagles' Heart, Experience Lead Team into the Meadowlands

Patrick WallCorrespondent IJanuary 5, 2009

The Eagles can be criticized for a lot of things this season. The regular season that was 2008 did not exactly turn out the way the team had planned.

Still, no one can dispute that, above all, the Eagles have one thing going for them above all else: the will to win.

"All of the things that we went through we stayed together, we didn't finger point. We carried on," safety Brian Dawkins said. "The midst of all that adversity built character. It brings a team closer together. Now you even want to play more for that other person. Accountability goes up just a little bit more."

Give the Eagles' players some credit. They could have easily packed it in after the tie and benching of McNabb, events that now seem like ancient history. They could have made excuses and said "better luck next year," like another team in the division (hint: it's Dallas).

But they didn't. They hung tough. They stuck together as a team on Sunday, winning on the road against former Eagles' coordinator Brad Childress and his Minnesota Vikings.

And now the Philadelphia Eagles are advancing to the Divisional round of the playoffs, getting set for a date with the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants.

A win at the Meadowlands won't come easy. The Eagles and Giants split their two-game series during the regular season. The visiting team won both, and neither game was decided by more than six points.

Still, Philadelphia has confidence. The players have confidence not only in themselves, but in their ability as a team to win games.

For example, take Brian Westbrook. His fourth quarter, 71-yard touchdown run was the game changer, and sealed the Eagles' 26-14 road win against the Vikings on Sunday. On that play, nearly every Eagle on the field stuck a perfect block to allow the All-Pro runner to get down the field for a touchdown.

"We had some tough games early on in the season and we didn't continue to fight throughout those games." Said running back Brian Westbrook, "For us, we have to find a way to fight and we did fight today, which led us to a win."

The Eagles are no strangers to the playoffs. Since 2000, Philadelphia has missed the postseason twice. For McNabb, Sunday's game was the first time since Super Bowl XXXIX, when his team fell to New England.

Few players on the Eagles roster have more big game experience than cornerback Asante Samuel. He proved he was worth his salary, returning a Tarvaris Jackson pass for a touchdown on Sunday.

"You have to step your game up." Samuel said after the game. "From the preseason you have to bring it up a notch for the regular season, playoffs and so on. That's what I try to do."

The entire defense has been stepping up recently. They held the Vikings' offense to two scores all game and posted a shutout in the second half. The defense is going to have to keep up its high play in order to beat New York's potent run game.

"We're confident," cornerback Sheldon Brown said following Sunday's game "We're confident. I mean that's the way we are. It has nothing to do with the last game. It will be a totally different contest and totally different game."

While it might be a different game, the Eagles are hoping it can mirror last month's game at the Meadowlands. The Eagles' defense held the Giants offense to only one score, and Brian Westbrook handled the rest. The game plan is unlikely to change much.

The Giants have arguably the most complete team in the NFL. Their offense is ranked seventh overall, leading the league in rushing yards per game. Their defense is ranked fifth in total defense.

Both teams look statistically similar. The key to next Sunday's game will be the intangibles: Which team can get the ball to its playmakers, who steps up and when, and who wants it more.

For the Eagles, the team has a stoic confidence. They believe they can compete with the best of the best.

Now they have to prove they can.