After writing some fairly critical late season articles about the Eagles, I proclaimed that I was finished with literary diatribes for this season and then Sunday happened.
I was on a flight back to California after spending the holidays in Massachusetts, and upon landing I turned on my phone to check the morning NFL scores. The Oakland Raiders, who needed to beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Tampa for the Eagles to have a shot at the playoffs, were actually ahead 14-7.
An hour later the Raiders won the game, the Chicago bears lost their game against the Texans, and once again the Eagles found themselves in control of their playoff future. The Eagles subsequently thumped the Dallas Cowboys 44-6, and locked up the final NFC playoff berth.
At some point during the third quarter of the Eagles-Cowboys game, my wife looked over at me and said that after such an amazing turn of events, I really owe the team a ‘positive article’. Still flying high after this weekend, I sat down and made a list of reasons that I am excited to be an Eagles fan this week.
No. 5—Tony Romo is not our quarterback
Much has been said about Tony Romo with regard to him ‘not showing up’ for big games, but I would like to offer a different perspective. Romo not only shows up for these games, but he puts on a spectacular display of lousy football that is truly special to witness. Watching the Eagles stellar defensive play dismantle the Cowboys and wipe that smirk from his face throughout the course of Sunday’s game was absolutely priceless.
Philadelphia fans have often criticized Donovan McNabb for his failure to deliver a championship since the Eagles drafted him in 1999, but things could be considerably worse.
McNabb can be maddeningly inconsistent from time to time, and has had some poor showings at big moments in his career, but he has never approached Romonian levels of failure. It also should be noted that McNabb has never had the offensive players around him that Tony Romo has had to work with.
It was fairly easy to write-off Romo’s botched field goal hold at the end of the NFC Wild card game in 2007 as a ‘rookie’ mistake. The ill-advised throw into the end-zone that was intercepted in the 2008 divisional playoff game against the Giants was a bit less forgivable, but he seemed to have move past it this season.
The Cowboys final two games this season really cemented his legacy as a player who makes mental mistakes and has problems protecting the football in big games. The final game ever at Texas Stadium, and the ‘win-and-in’ game against Philadelphia on Sunday were disastrous. These ‘Romoments’ if you will, are like a train wreck that you can’t peel your eyes away from. Romo has established a pattern that many wonder if he will ever overcome.
The icing on the cake was a media report that Romo ‘collapsed’ in the shower after the game. Although it was likely due to a rib injury, is not something that anyone in or out of Dallas will soon forget. It ends up serving as a perfect metaphor for Romo’s young career. And the Cowboys just signed this guy for six more years at about $70 million dollars. Good luck with that Dallas.
No. 4—Big D’s full-circle self-destruction
There were several ups and downs and injuries to some key Cowboys players this season, but the team managed to stay alive until the very last game. To see the circus tent finally implode against the Eagles in the season finale is rewarding on so many levels.
First you have the heated Eagles-Cowboy’s rivalry, which has been lopsided in the Cowboys favor for many years. The McNabb era has certainly made a dent in that dominance, and it is difficult to recall the last time the Cowboys won a meaningful game against the Eagles (or against any other team for that matter). This game will not soon be forgotten.
Then there is Jerry Jones, the smug owner of the Cowboys whom Eagles fans have despised for years. Shots of him during the game in his suite looking stunned at the on the field developments were amazing. Developments that were a direct result of the type of players he rounded up for the Cowboys this season.
There are the coaching issues. Jerry Jones stated multiple times throughout the week that his coach Wade Phillips had nothing to worry about and had done a great job with the team since taking over. I wonder if he feels the same way after watching Romo waive off the punting unit during the game, and seeing the exasperated look on Phillips face. Romo did convert on the play, but it certainly raised some questions about Phillips ability to control his players.
There was the other Jones, Pacman, or Adam as he requested to be called this season (as if somehow that was going mask his checkered past or mark the beginnings of a changed man). The Cowboys took a very big risk in the ballyhooed signing of this trouble but talented player in the off-season.
He ended up providing the lion’s share of Cowboys’ drama this season, and didn’t prove to be worth any of it on the field. He had a poor season which was capped off with a terrible game. He was even spotted in a shouting match with fellow troublemaker Tank Johnson of all people, who was his ally throughout the turmoil.
Tank Johnson managed to stay trouble free this season, but he continued to display his positive team attitude by announcing in the locker room after the game that he was ‘a free agent baby’. What a great teammate.
The biggest reward of all was the Terrell Owens implications in this meltdown. I have pretty much blocked most of the 2005 season out of my mind, and don’t need to detail all the steps Owens took to sabotage the Eagles season that year.
Following the 2005 season, the Cowboys signed T.O. without batting an eyelash. The organization carried it in a way that suggested they were somehow smarter or better equipped to deal with Owens’ antics than the Eagles or 49ers were. He may have not been the major factor in the self destruction of the Cowboys this season, but he was certainly a contributor.
Owens came out after the game saying ‘I don’t have all the answers, but I’d love to be part of the solution’. Perhaps that is an invitation for Dallas to move on without him.
No. 3—Brian Dawkins
Dawkins epitomizes the heart, character and resilience that the Eagles have shown for many years. When the odds are stacked against Philadelphia, you can always look to Dawkins to find the silver lining in the dark cloud.
This week after a disappointing loss to Washington, he was asked how the Eagles unlikely playoff scenario would affect them this week.
"My focus is to go out and play the game and not worry about anything but winning this football game," said Dawkins.
Dawkins obviously loves playing the game as much as any player who has ever stepped out on the field. Watching him play one of his greatest games as a Philadelphia Eagle in what could have ended up being his last game was very moving.
His leading the fans in multiple spirited renditions of ‘Fly Eagles Fly’, and seeing him overcome with emotion after the game were some of the feel good moments that I will take away from this season.
Dawkins was selected for his seventh pro bowl, and earned NFL defensive player of the month for December, so he is making it mighty difficult for the Eagles not to bring him back at age 35.
Whatever the future holds for this perennial pro-bowler, he will always be a fan favorite in the history of the franchise.
No. 2—It’s Anyone’s Superbowl
There is no question about it, the road to the Super Bowl will be difficult for the Eagles, but will it be more difficult than in previous years?
Every team has some sort of weakness, and the Eagles have as good if not better personnel than many of these teams. The Eagles are also extremely healthy at this point, and that has not been the case in many of their playoff runs.
There is also the fact that the Eagles have already beaten some of the best playoff teams this year; Atlanta, Pittsburgh, and a road win against a very hot New York Giants team. They hit a rough patch against the Baltimore Ravens (losing the game 36-7, which resulted in the debated benching of McNabb), but they were only trailing 10-7 at halftime. Other than that game, nobody beat the Eagles by more than a touchdown all season long.
The Eagles will have to do it without playing a single game in the comforts of Lincoln Financial Field, but its worth mentioning that this is not the road less traveled in recent history; Two of the past three Super Bowl winners have been in the same situation of having to win all their games in enemy territory (2006 Steelers, 2008 Giants).
No. 1—The Pressure is off
Another thing that may work in the Eagles favor is the pressure seems to be off them this season. Despite opening as a three-point favorite on the road against Minnesota this weekend, the Eagles are essentially playing with house money.
Most fans and critics wrote them off three weeks ago and as recently as last week (myself included), and fans are once again applauding their resilience. Their ability to land the sixth and final NFC playoff spot with a very convincing win against Dallas on Sunday was nothing short of amazing.
This week I am constantly asking myself ‘Why not this year’?
A very loose, confident, healthy Donovan McNabb led Eagles team has an opportunity that only a week ago was in serious jeopardy. They finished the season third in the NFL in defense, and averaged 26 points a game which is right up there with the best offensive teams.
So I am excited to be an Eagles fan this week and looking forward to Sunday. If things continue to go our way, I hope to be jumping up and down in my living room and yelling ‘Fly Eagles Fly’ a few more times before the season is over. E-A-G-L-E-S!