Fletcher Cox has a message for any teammates not quite aware of what December in the NFL means. He's in his 10th season and he's been around teams that have gone every which way in this final full month of the regular season – teams that have surged into the playoffs and found postseason success and teams that have failed to finish strong and have come up short of their goals. So, his message is very direct and very simple: Everything matters in this month.
Every little thing matters.
"December is so important to me," Cox said on Thursday at the NovaCare Complex. "I've tried to stress it to a lot of guys in the room, to the team, how important the month of December is. Whatever happened earlier in the season, I think people forget that, but you go into December knowing how important it is. Especially for this team, knowing how important it is, you've just got to keep stressing that. Just kind of beat it into their brains and make them believe it. The veterans that have been around, the guys that have been around the league know what December means.
"You can't fake the energy. You can't fake the intensity. Control everything, your emotions, and just put it all out on the field."
The Eagles had down-the-stretch runs in 2018 and 2019 to reach the postseason – in 2019, the Eagles swept four games against the NFC East to win the division – so there is some familiarity with players in the locker room. The Eagles are coming off of their bye week, so they've had some time to digest the big picture here. And the big picture comes down to the little things, Cox said. Minimize mistakes. Stay focused. Execute the fundamentals. Trust in each other.
And, most important: Live in the moment.
"Know how important it is. Know that this is a playoff game. Knowing that this is a division game. Knowing that this is the first time seeing The Football Team," Cox said. "No matter what they're going through, they'll show up to play. Coach (Ron) Rivera will have them ready to play. The main thing is just staying focused, having everybody hone in on what they're supposed to do as far as game plan-wise and just transferring from today's practice to tomorrow's practice and taking it to Sunday."
The storylines for Sunday are well defined against a Washington team the Eagles haven't seen since the 2020 finale at Lincoln Financial Field. Washington's challenges are significant in that the Football Team has a handful of key injuries, a slew of players (21 as of the end of day Thursday) on the Reserve/COVID-19 list, and is coming off a tough and very emotional loss to Dallas last Sunday.
All of that might not mean much of anything when 1 PM arrives on Sunday and the ball is kicked off. Washington is coached well, has displayed a ton of resilience this season, and is tough, gritty and physical.
In other words, expect a typical NFC East battle. It may not be especially pretty, but that's kind of what this division is all about. Cox and the Eagles have won four of their last six games and the defense has improved through the season – since Week 8 the D leads the NFL in touchdowns (3 – thanks Darius Slay!); is third in the league allowing just 81.8 yards per game; is fifth in third-down effectiveness, permitting just 33.3 percent conversions; and is sixth in points per game allowed with 17.7 points.
"I think these last few weeks have shown what type of team we can be, what type of defense we can be if we stick to what we're doing," Cox said.
That's the message from someone who knows what down-the-stretch football is all about. Intense on Sunday? Oh, the Linc is going to be rocking. Every Eagles fan understands what Week 15 means for a team that has turned it all around after a 2-5 start. Cox is one of the players spreading the word around the locker room to those new to the moment, making sure that if he sees a young player veering off course and losing his focus, he's going to provide a direct and loving reminder.
"This is what it's all about," he said. "It's a playoff game. Every week from this point, it's a playoff game."