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These Underdogs Are Mighty

Posted Jan 22, 2018

Adversity doesn’t faze the Eagles.

Losing star left tackle Jason Peters, starting middle linebacker Jordan Hicks, Pro Bowl running back/return man Darren Sproles, special teams ace Chris Maragos, kicker Caleb Sturgis, and MVP candidate quarterback Carson Wentz has not prevented the team from reaching this point.

If anything, the challenges galvanized the locker room. And while the outside world looked at the Eagles as they entered the playoffs and said, “No way,” the Eagles went out and routed the Minnesota Vikings 38-7 in the NFC Championship Game to reach the Super Bowl.

“Don’t tell us we can’t do something,” defensive tackle Fletcher Cox says. “For us, we know that if someone goes down, another player is going to step up and make the most of the opportunity. That’s what teams do. Great teams find ways to win and we’re finding ways to win.”

Head coach Doug Pederson spoke with some vigor after the Divisional Round win over Atlanta, spurred on by a week’s worth of discussion both locally and nationally that the Eagles, with a 13-3 record, were considered to be longshots to win the game. Nothing changed leading up to the Vikings contest. And it will likely be more of the same going against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.

What the outside world says doesn’t have a whole lot of impact inside the locker room as players are trained to block out the noise, but being hit over the head with a sledgehammer for a long period of time obviously prompted Pederson to defend his team. Since Wentz was injured on December 10, the Eagles have been written off.

And yet here they are, back in the Super Bowl for the first time since the 2004 season.

“Since that point, no one has given us a chance. Nobody has given us a chance. And I understand, Carson’s a great player, but every week, our guys are hearing the same thing; that now we are all of a sudden not good enough. We’re 13-3 and have the best record in football, we’ve got home-field advantage throughout,” Pederson says. “Listen, there’s not a lot - I mean, the guys are going to motivate themselves just based on what they have done and heard for the last month of football.

“It really doesn’t matter what you guys talk about because that locker room in there is united and I’ll go to bat for every one of those guys and I’ll go to war with every one of those guys in that dressing room.”

The Eagles adopted a motto – WE ALL WE GOT. WE ALL WE NEED – and they’ve taken that concept to a new level. What it means is this: Whatever the outside world thinks of us is inconsequential. We are a team and we will take care of each other.

"I can remember this team showing up in April and talking about being at this place, talking about our dreams, aspirations and focusing on a grind," safety Malcolm Jenkins says. "Guys being unselfish, adding guys along the way that added to the team and continued to push, and every time we won and had some success – we even had some adversity – the team believed more and more. It’s been awesome to be a part of.”

Pederson has steered the Eagles to this point with his Day 1 message of inclusiveness, trust, and an extremely positive attitude. He works the Eagles perfectly, backing off like he did late in the regular season because he felt the team needed to catch its breath, and then ramping up before the playoffs with a Training Camp-like atmosphere and conducting multiple practices in pads. He is understanding of the tone in the locker room and the two-way communication between the players and the coaching staff flows freely.

“I said when Doug was hired that he would be a great fit for the job because he was a player in the league and he understands what we’re going through,” veteran tight end Brent Celek says. “He relates to us. He’s built a team here that, no matter what people think about us, we believe in each other. And that’s all you need.”

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