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Playoff Loss Still Pains Players

Posted Jan 22, 2014

HONOLULU -- It's beautiful here, and the people are extremely nice and being a player in the NFL's Pro Bowl is an honor. But the truth is, every guy here would rather be elsewhere, like preparing for Super Bowl 48 ...

It's been three weeks. Long days. Boring nights. No Eagles football to look forward to since the Saints toppled the Eagles 26-24 at Lincoln Financial Field, sending the fans away wanting more.

Well, the players feel that way as well. There is no joy in Eaglesville, no sense of "Great year, way to go" among the team. There, after three weeks, lingering pain remains.

Downright hurt, in fact.

"I haven't been watching the playoffs, not since we lost," said running back LeSean McCoy. "All I've been thinking about is next year, getting ready to make it back to the playoffs and go to the Super Bowl. I don't care that much about the playoffs after we finished.

"I thought we played well together this year. We jelled and we found ourselves toward the end of the season. I think we'll be a team to be reckoned with next season. We know that Coach (Chip) Kelly and Howie (Roseman, general manager) did a great job bringing in a coaching staff and the players to get us better and that's going to continue. We're going to get better and better. The best is yet to come. I really believe that."

Offensive guard Evan Mathis signed with the Eagles as an unrestricted free agent in 2011, perhaps the least-heralded part of the team's aggressive push in free agency. Instead of immediate success, that Eagles team staggered out of the gate and needed four wins in the final month of the season to finish 8-8.

In 2012, a 3-1 start went the other way quickly as the Eagles lost 11 of their next 12 games.

So, the 2013 was a turnaround year. No doubt about it. There is a measure of understanding there for all. The Eagles are headed in the right direction.

Still ...

"It takes a while for you to swallow something when you don't want it to end," said Mathis. "You heal up and you have a chance to reflect and you look back at the year that we had and where we were before that and it's a good feeling to know what kind of team we became. We know we can build on what we have. But by no means are we satisfied with 2013. When you lose, it hurts. And it continues to hurt. It doesn't go away overnight."

Players react in all different ways when it comes to watching the rest of the league. Some are avid football fans who don't miss a game. Some don't have the passion once their team has lost. Some, like the Eagles at the Pro Bowl, still see the Shayne Graham field goal going through the uprights ending Philadelphia's season so suddenly.

"I wish we were still playing, but we're not," said wide receiver DeSean Jackson. "It sucks, to be honest with you. You want to carry that feeling around with you and remember it. It's motivating. We don't want to feel that way again."

Only one of 32 teams in the NFL is happy after a season ends. Thirty-one teams are still recovering from the physical toll of 16 games and, in some cases, the playoff experience. The mental recovery continues, too.

Nobody simply snaps his fingers and puts a season in the rear-view mirror. There is too much invested to process quickly.

In time, of course, the players move on. We all move on. Right now, though, the Eagles aren't preparing for the Super Bowl at MetLife Stadium. They are scattered throughout the country, around the world. Four of them are here, preparing for Sunday's Pro Bowl.

And all of them are feeling the void, as are the fans.

"It's tough, because you want to play so bad," said quarterback Nick Foles. "I've watched a little bit, I admit that. But it's not the same. Not even close. We're a team. That's how we do things. We work as a team. And as a team we're not playing, so it's not a feeling you like to have."

The players don't report back to the NovaCare Complex for the team's offseason conditioning program until April 21. There are many days and nights to pass, with the bitter taste of defeat present, a reminder of how much more hard work every player must put in for a better 2014, a season of big goals and expectations for everyone.

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