ARLINGTON, TX -- The Eagles are headed back to the playoffs for the first time since the 2010 season by virtue of their 24-22 win over the Dallas Cowboys which secured the franchise's ninth NFC East division title. The players are certainly happy to be one of just 12 teams remaining with a chance to win the Super Bowl, but they are not getting carried away with themselves.
"We can't get too hyped about this game," said running back LeSean McCoy. "We should be in the playoffs."
The Eagles finished 4-12 just a year ago and had the No. 4 overall pick in the NFL Draft. Chip Kelly made his team believe that they could contend in his very first year as an NFL head coach. The NFC East was ripe for the picking. Washington fell apart as Robert Griffin III never regained the magic from his rookie year. The Giants struggled out of the gate and never caught steam. Dallas was right there in the mix until its very last offensive drive of the season. But when Kyle Orton's pass intended for Miles Austin with 1:43 remaining, it sealed the Eagles' leap from worst to first. The Eagles, along with the Carolina Panthers, made it 11 straight seasons that at least one team went from worst to first in a single year.
"We went through a lot of ups and down this year. A lot of people counted us out. We're excited about the opportunity and we're happy to keep playing," wide receiver DeSean Jackson said. "Everybody here in the locker room was saying before the game how we're not ready to go home yet. The Cowboys played a great game until the end and we're happy to get out of here with a win."
McCoy explained how Kelly prepared for the team to encounter a "time when your heart's going to be checked." This young team managed to be resilient when the season was truly on the brink.
"Today was an example of a team win," McCoy added. "I can't wait. I think it's big for the city. For this franchise, it's been awhile."
Guard Todd Herremans and linebacker Trent Cole are the longest-tenured players on the team. They arrived as part of the 2005 draft class which was the one right after the team's Super Bowl XXXIX appearance. They appreciate what it's like to be back in this position.
"It's a great feeling. I've been here in the past and it's a great feeling to be back in this situation," Cole said. "We fought it out until the end. It got a little ugly there. We knew there were going to be bumps in the road. We had to get past adversity. We fought past it. We kept playing and we came out on top."
"This is very special," Herremans said. "Everyone on the team had faith in each other. We stuck together through some hard spots to pull it out. It shows the character of the team and the character of the coaching staff."
Wide receiver Jason Avant explained that there was one area where the team needed to improve - turnovers. The turnover margin went from -24 in 2012 to 12 this season thanks to a franchise-low 19 giveaways.
"We knew we had the pieces. The only thing we had to do was protect the football. We did that," Avant said. "We haven't done that in recent years. That's the key to winning games, winning the turnover battle. That's what we've been doing. That's why we stay in games."
Typically when a rookie is picked No. 4 overall, he is not going to a winning program. Tackle Lane Johnson is an exception. He started all 16 games at right tackle. In fact, the same five offensive linemen started every contest.
"It's a credit to our team," Johnson said of the division title. "We didn't start out the way we wanted. The way we worked in practice, you knew good things were going to start happening. We kept bouncing back from adversity. We started to play consistent through the latter part of the year. We got momentum at the right time. When we faced adversity tonight, we didn't bat an eyelash."
The veterans know that once you are in the playoffs, anything is possible. That's why they don't want to squander this perfect opportunity starting with Saturday's Wild Card battle at home against New Orleans.
"Anytime you get into the playoffs, you want to win and get to the Super Bowl," said tackle Jason Peters. "That's big. You've just got to take it one game at a time."