Head coach Doug Pederson addressed reporters at the podium on Friday for the final time before the Eagles traveled to an event many thought would never happen when they sat with a 4-6 record in Week 12 – a playoff game.
Pederson became known worldwide last year for his aggressiveness and his ability to lead a dominant team through crippling hurdles to the franchise's first ever Super Bowl.
But this year, Pederson may have had his most impressive season as a head coach. He helped keep a team together at its lowest point, overcame possibly even greater injuries concentrated in different position groups, and got into the playoffs by winning five of their last six, including two wins over division champions.
The new season is upon the Eagles and everyone has a 0-0 record. But before Sunday's Wild Card matchup in Chicago, Pederson was able to take a moment and reflect on what his team accomplished ... to this point.
"I look back on the season and what we've gone through with the injuries and different personnel changes and things like that and the message is the same," Pederson said. "We try to go 1-0 every week and that's the bottom line. But this year more so, you've got to show faith and trust in the guys that are playing. And we had some young guys play, especially in our secondary, and you've got to show the trust that we have confidence that they can get this done and then we've got to coach them.
"So that's a little bit different than it was last year," he added. "Last year was trying to go 1-0, maintaining the aggressiveness, not losing your edge, while this year is about, as coaches, making sure everybody's prepared because, quite frankly, you don't know who's going to play. So, that has been the challenge this year."
Players have come in and out of different positions all season and Pederson and his coaching staff have found ways to make it work with whomever is out there. Now, the Eagles seem to be at their most stable point and are playing their absolute best football when it matters most.
One group that has led the way is the defensive line. The Eagles' front seven has been the engine of the defense for the past month and is playing its best football. The defensive front is comprised mostly of talented veteran players who know their bodies well at this point of the season as well as what it takes to win.
"I just think they understand themselves physically. This time of year, you're starting to see that unit start to jell together. There's a lot of communication within games and stunts and different things so they're getting a feel for one another," Pederson said. "That starts to come together this time of year but these guys have played a lot of football, a lot of playoff football, and some of the guys like Chris Long and Michael (Bennett) have been in these situations before and know what it takes. It just sort of feeds to the group."
On the other side of the ball, the Eagles' offensive line is preparing to face an incredible defensive front from Chicago that has been the most valuable unit for the best defense in the NFL. Linebacker Khalil Mack is well known for his ability to handle tackles off the edge and Pro Bowl defensive tackle Akiem Hicks complements him with pressure up the middle.
That pass rush, coupled with a ballhawking secondary, has led the way to an NFL-best 36 takeaways this season.
Pederson is confident in his offensive line that has faced some of the league's best pass rushers just in the last five games. But he knows what kind of force the Bears will bring in front of a wild crowd at Soldier Field.
"They're getting pressure on the quarterback so the quarterback is having to throw the ball early or the ball gets tipped or it causes a poor decision by the quarterback so their defenders are in good position," Pederson said. "They've got a lot of eyes on the quarterback, a lot of eyes on the ball and they're opportunistic in that way. They do a great job of stripping and sort of punching the ball out from running backs and for them, it's turning into points."
While the Bears expect a lot from their pass rush, the Eagles expect a lot from their playmakers on offense. Wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, who was drafted by the Bears and will make his return to Chicago for the first time since signing as an Eagle in 2017, had 16 catches for 301 yards in the final three games of the regular season.
Jeffery made multiple big plays in the Eagles' playoff run last season, including a remarkably difficult touchdown grab that set the tone early in the Super Bowl. Pederson is confident in Jeffery's ability to make plays against the Bears' secondary and knows quarterback Nick Foles will give him opportunities to change the game.
"Obviously, this game is an important football game, and your playmakers have to show up," Pederson said. "And he's one of our offensive playmakers. He understands that. He's really kind of come on in the last month of the season and when balls go his way, he's aggressive to the ball. He understands that. Of course, he's excited about going back to Chicago and looking forward to that opportunity."