In the blink of an eye, the playoff season is here, and the Eagles know the who and where: They'll play next Sunday, January 16 at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFC Wild Card Round, barreling full steam ahead as a team with every bit of belief in itself and understanding exactly what is required to win in the postseason.
The goal is not to just make the playoffs," Head Coach Nick Sirianni said following Saturday's regular-season finale against Dallas. "The goal is to win games in the playoffs and advance as far as you can advance. That's our mission and our goal. We'll take it one day at a time, one game at a time."
A team that reached the playoffs for the fourth time in the last five seasons, the Eagles understand that it won't be about the defending Super Bowl Champions. It's about themselves and how the Eagles execute what they've done to turn the 2021 season around: They want to play to their strengths in the trenches, to their offensive team speed, and a running game that was the best in the NFL and a defense that makes offenses work to get down the field and is among the best in the league at minimizing big plays.
"When you can run the football," right tackle Lane Johnson said late in the regular season, "it makes everything else work better. You're going to keep the defense guessing and you can just feel them wearing down. I think we got things going when we really ramped up the running game. We dictated to the defense."
The Eagles faced the Buccaneers earlier this season in a prime-time Thursday night showdown back in Week 6, won by Tampa Bay 28-22. After winning the Super Bowl in the first season after acquiring quarterback Tom Brady in free agency, the Buccaneers enter the playoffs as winners of seven of their final eight games to capture the NFC South Division title and the No. 2 seed. The Eagles were one of the hottest teams in the league in the final month of the season, winners of four straight and six of seven overall before resting several starters in Saturday night's regular-season finale against the Cowboys. The Eagles are certainly no stranger to seeing Tom Brady or the Buccaneers in the playoffs.
Sirianni's plan is to keep everything as it's been this season: "Business as usual," he says. The coaching staff and players have emphasized detailing their work and bringing intensity and tempo to the practice field, focus to the meeting room, and the concept of accountability to each other and themselves.
This is a formula that Sirianni will continue as the Eagles enter the playoffs.
"Really the same message we've had the entire time, right? So, the first message is – what's that saying, 'We didn't come this far to only come this far.' So, let's make sure we're locked into what put us in this position in the first place," Sirianni said. "Detail in meetings, starting with the coaches going to the players, full speed in walkthrough to the snap and then high intensity at practice and just try to get a little bit better each day to put ourselves in position to go 1-0 this week. So, that's our formula, that's our process, and that's what we'll continue to preach throughout."
A step-up in the level of competition also means the Eagles will have to bring their best to the table from the very start of the win-or-it's-over games. Slow starts in late-season games against Washington (twice) and the New York Giants put the Eagles in first-half holes that they were able to climb out from, but in the postseason against a much better team, Philadelphia will search for instant production.
"We, obviously, want to get our game going quicker than we have the last couple weeks, so that's one area that we need to improve," Sirianni said. "And we know that we're going to be in positions on defense that we're going to have to be able to stop the pass. We've done a good job … of stopping the run. We're going to have to be able to stop the pass here moving forward."
Welcome to the playoffs. There are enough players on this roster who understand that the tempo is different, the magnitude of the game is intensified, and the teams that make the fewest mistakes generally win the game and keep their seasons alive.
"I'm so proud of this team for the way we turned the season around," safety Rodney McLeod said a week ago at FedEx Field after his last-minute diving interception in the end zone preserved the postseason-clinching win over the Washington Football Team. "We stuck together and we worked through some tough times. But just because we've made it to the playoffs doesn't mean we're satisfied. We know we have to play our best ball to keep our season alive and that's what we intend to do.
"The playoffs are where it all starts. You play the regular season to get here, and then when you get to the playoffs, you play to stay alive. So, we plan to stay alive."