By midday on Monday, head coach Doug Pederson and the assistant coaches were already deep into planning for Super Bowl LII and the New England Patriots. The lingering euphoria from Sunday's NFC Championship Game had transitioned to game prep.
Super Bowl game prep.
"I want this team to enjoy this journey," Pederson told me prior to his noon press conference. "With everything we've faced all season long and to hang together, to battle through some tough times, through injury, through some tough games, and to figure out a way to win games, I just want them to enjoy it and enjoy the moment.
"They were able to do that last week and it showed all week long. I think I was even able to relax a little bit, even on gameday."
The key is preparation, of course, and that's where the Eagles are right now. They're looking forward. There is another game to win. But some things from Sunday night stood out for the way Pederson approaches the playcalling and the trust he has in his team.
- With 29 seconds remaining in the first half, holding a 21-7 advantage, with three timeouts remaining, and getting the ball first in the second half, the Eagles could have taken a knee and gone into the locker room very, very happy. Instead, Pederson called a screen pass to running back Jay Ajayi that went for 11 yards to the 31. Suddenly, the Eagles went for the jugular. Quarterback Nick Foles threw it down the left sideline for tight end Zach Ertz for a gain of 36 yards to the Minnesota 36-yard line. Another completion to Ajayi gained 13 yards to the 20. Eagles timeout. Jake Elliott time. He nailed a 38-yard field goal and the Eagles led 24-7.
"The mindset going into that is that we had time and timeouts," Pederson said. "It's all hinged on the first play. If you get positive yards on the first play and we got positive yards. We were able to get out of bounds on a couple of those plays so we were able to save our timeouts. I trust the players. I trust the offense. These are the moments when you talk about situation football, we need to win the situation. In that two-minute drive, we won the situation because we ended up kicking the field goal, extending the lead by three points and then had the ball coming out of halftime."
- On the first possession of the third quarter, the Eagles had a first-and-10 play at the Minnesota 41-yard line and Pederson dialed up some trickery. Foles handed off to Corey Clement, who pitched the ball back to Foles, and then Foles threw a perfect pass to wide receiver Torrey Smith, who made a sensational catch to score a touchdown. It's a play that the Eagles had run in practice exactly four times. But Pederson felt the Vikings safeties were apt to sneak up closer to the line of scrimmage and bite on the handoff to Clement. They did, giving Smith some room to get open. Pederson's trust that his players would execute the call, and Pederson's comfort in the preparation he and his coaches put in studying the Vikings, paid off.
Those are just two examples from a perfect game that wrapped up a marvelous home season and the road to Minneapolis. The Super Bowl is an entirely different ballgame, of course. Pederson was in two of them as a player with the Green Bay Packers and he knows how entirely unique the experience is for the players. Fortunately, the Eagles have a locker room with some respected veterans – Malcolm Jenkins, Chris Long, LeGarrette Blount, Torrey Smith – who have played in the Super Bowl. Those players, leaders on the team, will make sure to help the younger Eagles prepare.
"It's a great week, it's a great week," Pederson said. "It can be a little bit of a distraction with all of the different things that go on but at the end of the day it's football, and you get a chance to go and perform and hopefully win a world championship not only for the Eagles, but for the city and for our families."
And so here we are. A week of work in Philadelphia followed by a Sunday flight to Minneapolis and the Super Bowl spotlight remains. Coming off their most complete game of the season, the Eagles must take it up another notch to beat the New England dynasty.
"We have more work to do," Pederson said. "The players know it and the coaches know it. This is the Super Bowl. The game means everything. It comes down to one game for a world championship.