Anxiety. Excitement. A sense of the unknown. We are only hours away from the NFC Championship Game, and I know how you feel. Eagles fans everywhere – Philadelphia, the surrounding region, across the country, around the world – have the same emotions. Way back in late July, when the Eagles convened for Training Camp, who could look this far down the road and see the team still standing?
Back then, there was optimism that the Eagles would show improvement from the 7-9 mark of 2016 as head coach Doug Pederson and quarterback Carson Wentz took another step forward together. The strengths of the team, after watching camp and four preseason games, started on the line of scrimmage and filtered out from there. There were many more questions. Could the Eagles run the football effectively after such an up-and-down summer? How good were the upgrades at receivers from free agency and the draft? Were the cornerbacks good enough to compete at the highest level? What would the Eagles do with linebacker Mychal Kendricks?
What could the team expect from Pederson in Year 2? Just how much of a step forward would Wentz take?
And then the season started and the Eagles went to FedEx Field and won a game at Washington that was significant for many reasons: The team hadn't won at FedEx Field since 2013, and the stadium had become a nightmare visit since. Philadelphia opened its NFC East schedule with a road victory to make an early statement to the division, and the nature of the win, taking control in the fourth quarter, indicated tangible growth from a team that lost six of seven one-score games in '16.
A road loss at Kansas City raised more questions as the Eagles faltered. Wentz was sacked 6 times. The Eagles had a pair of giveaways. They converted only two out of five red zone trips into touchdowns.
"We have a lot of things to clean up," Pederson said after the loss.
Week 3 launched the season in the most positive direction. A back-and-forth tussle against the New York Giants on a blazing-hot day at Lincoln Financial Field in the home opener ended on a Wentz-to-Alshon Jeffery completion that gave Jake Elliott an opportunity to kick, and make, a franchise-record 61-yard field goal as time expired. Eagles win! Eagles win! Eagles win!
From there the team won nine consecutive games, clinched the NFC East, earned the top seed in the NFC playoffs, and, along the way, overcame the loss of so many key players to injury. Placekicker Caleb Sturgis and cornerback Ronald Darby went down in Week 1 at Washington. Pro Bowl running back/return man Darren Sproles suffered a torn ACL and a broken arm during the win over New York in Week 3. Standout special teamer Chris Maragos suffered a season-ending knee injury during the mid-October Thursday night win at Carolina. All-Pro left tackle Jason Peters blew out his knee and linebacker Jordan Hicks ruptured his Achilles in the *Monday Night Football *victory over Washington at Lincoln Financial Field in late October.
And then, just when it seemed the Eagles were going to crush it down the stretch, Wentz torn the ACL in his left knee during the December 10 victory at the Los Angeles Rams.
"We haven't let anything deter us from our mission," All-Pro center Jason Kelce said. "We've had a lot of key players, players who have meant so much to this team for a long time, suffer injuries and not come back. The next man has stepped up all year. It's a credit to the guys and to our coaching staff and the way this roster is constructed that we're in this spot.
"Our focus is on Sunday and the Minnesota Vikings. We know what kind of challenge this is going to be."
The matchups, the how-can-the-Eagles-win talk, it's been prevalent all week. It will be in high gusto on Sunday. For now, revel in the moment. Enjoy the range of feelings you have. Embrace the anxiety and the anticipation and the pride you feel being an Eagles fan.
This has been a magnificent ride, with much more to come. The locker room and the coaching staff seem to have handled the attention from the increased media very well throughout the week. The players are loose, confident, and excited. They understand that they have to play better than they did in last week's 15-10 win over Atlanta. Two giveaways won't cut it. One touchdown in three red zone trips wasn't satisfactory. The Eagles need to raise their play to win on Sunday.
But that's the case with every team when the stakes are this high and the quality of the competition is so good. The No. 1 (Eagles) and 2 (Vikings) seeds in the NFC playoffs square off to determine which team goes to Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis.
For the fans, it means everything. The only true celebration will come when the Eagles win the Super Bowl. Until that day comes, we will revel in the wins and hope for more, and lament the defeats.
Now, the Eagles are on the brink of taking another major step in a season that answered all of those preseason questions emphatically. And you are a wreck, in a wonderful way.
The Eagles play for the NFC Championship on Sunday in front of a rabid crowd at Lincoln Financial Field. Everyone has played a part in the success of the season.
Cherish the moment. You deserve it.