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Eagles Must Tighten Loose Ends To Beat Pack

Is it worth it to look back at Week 1, when neither the Packers nor the Eagles knew exactly what they were, and had no idea what they would become? It was a tale of two halves, and it was a heartbreaking way for the Eagles to open the season. They were awful offensively in the first half, and, worse, they had two players injured and lost for the season. Their starting quarterback was the present, but as it turned out, not the future, for the rest of the year. Their middle linebacker weebled and wobbled and then fell down as the Season of the Concussion began.

September 12 was a long, long time ago. The Eagles trotted out their Kelly Green uniforms, a tribute to the 1960 NFL Championship Team. Lincoln Financial Field was buzzing. And then the Eagles turned a Joselio Hanson interception into three points and then the Packers answered back with a field goal and early in the second quarter it was clear that both teams were settling into the game.

In a matter of moments after that, though, it all changed. Pro Bowl fullback Leonard Weaver took a handoff and was tackled and his leg was twisted in a grotesque manner and it was clear, right then and there, that he would be lost for the season. On then next series, center Jamaal Jackson went off the field with a tricepts injury, ending his season.

By the end of that second quarter, the Eagles would also lose quarterback Kevin Kolb and middle linebacker Stewart Bradley with concussions, and that deflated feeling at Lincoln Financial Field, with the Eagles down 13-3 at the half, was palpable.

You know what, though? Those 12 minutes in the locker room at halftime changed everything, turned the entire season around. The Eagles came out in the third quarter a different team with Michael Vick at quarterback. An Eldra Buckley fumble killed the team's first drive in the third quarter, but from that point on through the final drive, Vick was dynamite, electric, almost unstoppable.

The Eagles fell short that day, 27-20, as Green Bay's defense stopped Vick on a fourth-and-1 run, but the Eagles emerged from that game with hope: They would ride Vick until Kolb was healthy, said head coach Andy Reid after that game.

It didn't work out as planned, as we know. It was a glorious ride to the NFC East title, one filled with highlights and final-quarter victories and an offense that was, at times, as prolific as any in the entire NFL. They went up and down and all around, but it produced enough stops at the right times to help the Eagles win 10 of their first 14 games before the final week that everyone will forget with losses to Minnesota and Dallas.

The Second Season is here, and it begins as the first one began. Green Bay comes to town on Sunday, 4:30 p.m., an outstanding all-around team that overcome a spate of injuries -- as the Eagles did -- to reach this point.

Two teams that are so much different than they were in September meet in the playoffs with not a lot at all separating them. Prepare for an outstanding football game, and an intense week of hype externally and intensity internally.

"The playoffs are a totally different game, as we know," said safety Quintin Mikell. "Everything is faster. Everyone knows that if you lose, your season is over. So there is more urgency. It's fun. I love it. This is what everyone plays for."

Those of you hoping for an "easy" road to the Super Bowl didn't pay attention to the season. The NFC is loaded, Seattle's losing record notwithstanding. Atlanta played outstanding football all year to earn the No. 1 seed. Chicago and Green Bay waged an epic battle for control of the NFC North. The Eagles edged out the Giants by virtue of two wins over New York to capture the East. The Saints, the defending Super Bowl champs, lurk as a Wild Card team. It is a great, great field, and the matchup with Green Bay is the highlight of the weekend's first round.

How do the Eagles win? Oh, by playing better football in every phase. They can't turn the ball over. They have to score touchdowns in the red zone. The defense must get after quarterback Aaron Rodgers and his fabulous receiving corps. It is a challenge, no question about it, but that is what the playoffs are all about.

What you need to know is that Vick was the first player in the NovaCare Complex on Monday, and that he is hard at work preparing for the Packers' pressure defense and sideline-to-sideline speed. Everyone here knows the stakes. The playoffs are a new season. The Eagles enter with great confidence and, of course, the understanding that they have a huge task ahead.

Bring it on! It is the playoffs, after all. It is the season we have all hoped for, waited for. We find out on Sunday how good this team really is. The Second Season is here, starting very much like the first. This time, though, the Eagles have a much better sense of who and what they are. They just need to play their best game to win, to stay alive. It is the rule of the postseason. Few exceptions are allowed.

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