The Eagles returned to Lincoln Financial Field for the first time in a month last Sunday, and it didn't go as planned – a tough loss to the Saints, which makes Week 18 all the more critical to the Eagles' postseason seeding. I'll take you inside the locker room and around the NovaCare Complex as the Birds prepare to bounce back, win the NFC East, and lock up the No. 1 seed.
Monday night, tragedy struck the NFL when Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin collapsed on the field in the prime-time matchup against the Bengals. The game was later suspended then canceled as Hamlin was rushed to the hospital in Cincinnati.
We later learned the 24-year-old went into cardiac arrest on the field. After spending days in critical condition, the Bills announced on Friday that Hamlin's breathing tube was removed and "he continues to progress remarkably in his recovery."
This heart-breaking event rocked the NFL world and sports fans alike. For the Eagles, in particular, running back Miles Sanders played high school football against Hamlin in the Pittsburgh area, and the two have remained best friends as athletes in the NFL.
He said they call each other every day and particularly talk after every game.
Sanders shared on Friday that they Facetimed that morning.
"I'm still a little shook up," Sanders shared. "I don't really have the right words to put out there, but just happy he's OK."
The running back also expressed a sense of relief, noting how scared he was watching this unfold.
"I told him, 'You know you're the most famous person in the world right now?' He said, 'not for the right reasons.'" Sanders went on to tell Hamlin that he's blessed and Sanders himself hopes to connect with the medical professionals who helped save his best friend's life.
NAVIGATING UNCHARTED TERRITORY
Before we move forward, let's reflect: Weeks 16 and 17 were the first time all season the Eagles had back-to-back losses. It's been a wake-up call of sorts for this football team, and they're ready to set the record straight on the field on Sunday.
"We got everything right in front of us," said defensive tackle Fletcher Cox. "It's right here. We did this to ourselves. So we gotta dig ourselves out of this hole and get back to winning football."
"We can't do anything about it," cornerback James Bradberry reflected, "but all we can do is prepare throughout this week, and try to go out there and dominate and win the game."
"We know we got a target on our back," Cox continued. "When teams are playing us, they're bringing their A game. Guys are having a little bit more juice when they're playing us."
Now, a win is all it takes. "We want the playoffs to run through the Linc," Cox said.
HAVE TO BEAT THE SAME TEAM TWICE
The Eagles didn't lose often this season, but when they did, two of those losses came to a team they previously beat. The Eagles were victorious over both the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Commanders earlier in the year, but fell to the teams in the second meetings.
"It's always hard to beat a team twice because you shy away sometimes from the game plan that got you where they are based off of what they've been doing after they played you," said defensive end Brandon Graham.
In Week 14, the Eagles beat the New York Giants on the road 48-22. It was one of their more dominating performances – the defense recorded seven team sacks, they held New York's Saquon Barkley to 28 rushing yards, and the offense played lights-out. Now in Week 18, everything is on the line. Philly needs a win.
"I'm going to approach this game the same way I approach every game as far as preparation-wise," linebacker Haason Reddick said. "But there's no doubt that in the back of my mind, in my conscious, that I understand how important this game is. And I know everybody does."
From an offensive perspective, tight end Dallas Goedert is keeping it simple: "You know everybody in here wants the first-round bye, but if anybody tries too hard or tries to be something that they're not, that's when trouble starts to come. So we all just got to be ourselves and just play good team football and let that take care of itself."
Graham, a 13-year vet, is accustomed to the mindset needed to fight for that second win.
"It's all about your effort and what you do when you go out in these second games. We gotta bring the noise. We gotta make sure that we keep our morale up because we know that we can get the job done. We just got to make sure that we know we gotta prove it each and every week, it's not just gonna come."
TRACK THE SACKS
Last week, I wrote about this historic Philadelphia defense from the sack perspective, or as our social team refers to them as "Sackadelphia."
The team broke the single-season franchise record in sacks on Sunday, and it came on Brandon Graham's 10th sack of the season – his first time reaching double-digits. The team accounted for seven sacks, their fifth-straight week with six or more sacks.
With one game remaining, the team is just five sacks away from breaking the NFL single-season record of 72 sacks set by the Chicago Bears in 1984.
Cox said, "It would be nice, but I'd rather have the win than the record." Spoken like a true vet.
"Sacks, if you just look at that stat, it's really all 11, and I've talked about that," Defensive Coordinator Jonathan Gannon said this week. "It's coordinated rushes. It's guys winning with one-on-ones. It's the back end doing the right thing, if you've got seven, six, five in coverage."
Haason Reddick has recorded a career-high 16 sacks, second in the league to Nick Bosa, who sits at 17.5.
"I'm happy to be having the year that I'm having – when we're this close, and we're fighting for something so important, that's not the thing that's on the front of my mind," said Reddick. "Right now I'm worried about being the best that I can be and helping my team win this next game so that we can get that one seed, lock it up at the end of the day."
Gannon said, "He (Reddick) will do whatever we ask him to do to win the game. That's what you talk about. That's what you want out of your elite defenders is to be team-first and put themselves second behind the team, and that's what he does."