Think back to where the Eagles were after the loss in Detroit on Thanksgiving, their third straight, and the feelings for this football team. The difference between then and now is stark after a thrilling 23-20 win over Buffalo on Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field.
It wasn't exactly a man-bites-dog moment, but the 60 minutes of football played on Sunday was better, hands down, than a week of drama that led to the opening kickoff. The sub-stories were juicy, indeed: LeSean McCoy coming back to Lincoln Financial Field for the first time after the Eagles traded him to Buffalo in the offseason and vowing to "not shake" the hand of head coach Chip Kelly; the speculation on how the Eagles would handle their running back rotation in light of DeMarco Murray's frustration and post-game conversation with Chairman and CEO Jeffrey Lurie after the victory at New England and, of course, the whole it's-December-and-who-is-going-to-step-up-and-win-the-NFC East angle.
It was a lot to digest.
"It's a real confident feeling now for everybody now and that's the difference from that time after the Detroit game," linebacker DeMeco Ryans said. "We have a lot of energy. I love our energy level. We know we can go out there and hang with anybody, beat any team, and that's a great feeling. To get this win is an important one. It's December. We didn't do a good job in December last year. Now we're 2-0."
They are because they went toe-to-toe with a dangerous Buffalo team that featured a lot of dangerous offensive weapons and a defense capable of dialing up some serious pressure. The Eagles led early on a 1-yard Darren Sproles run to cap a nine-play, 61-yard touchdown drive and then Buffalo came right back with a Tyrod Taylor touchdown pass to Sammy Watkins, a play that was significant in that safety Ed Reynolds was unable to make the play over the top in coverage, a lesson he learned quickly enough to make a difference in the fourth quarter.
Anyway, back and forth it went. The Eagles led 17-10 at the half, stretched it to 20-10 on a first-drive field goal in the second half, and then Buffalo creeped back to a 20-20 tie to take the game into the fourth quarter.
It really boiled down to this play: On a third-and-3 from the Philadelphia 41-yard line with 4:56 remaining, quarterback Sam Bradford and tight end Zach Ertz combined on a play that would put the Eagles in position to score the game-winning points. Ertz lined up on the left side of the formation and ran a short route to the sidelines and gained some space when safety Corey Graham, racing to the line of scrimmage to cover Ertz, slammed into wide receiver Josh Huff, who was running a slant route. Ertz made the catch, stumbled a bit and regained his balance and then ran over cornerback Leodis McKelvin and carried cornerback Nickell Robey 15 yards with a stiff arm, gaining 41 yards to the Buffalo 18-yard line.
"Sam put the ball right where he needed to and then I had a little catch-and-run," Ertz said. "Josh's guy kind of fell off at the end and he (McKelvin) went for the strip and I lowered my shoulder and ran him over and got some more yards after that."
Said offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur: "It's a play he's executed many times. He ran a slant on the outside, it was bump-and-run on Josh and there was a guy (Graham) covering Ertz, so there was a natural pick. It should be an easy completion with a high percentage of running after the catch. Then it was an outstanding run after the catch."
Caleb Sturgis kicked a 30-yard field goal, his third field goal of the game, to give the Eagles a 23-20 lead. Then it was time for the defense. And Reynolds, lesson learned from the first quarter, did his job to save the victory.
After an exchange of possessions, Buffalo had a first down at its 31-yard line with 1:49 to go in the game. A McCoy run gained 7 yards. An incomplete pass made it third-and-3. A false start against Buffalo, the 15th penalty of the game against the Bills, moved the situation into a third-and-8 play. Taylor threw deep down the right sideline for Robert Woods, but Reynolds saw the throw and got to his spot in time. He went up and made the interception and went right to the ground.
"There was no hesitation on the second one," Reynolds said. "I think, on the first one, I kind of hesitated and it cost me. I didn't play it correctly. Am I going to play the ball or try to displace the man from the ball? The second time, I just went. I told the guys, 'The first one was on me.' I knew that if I had another play, it wasn't going to happen again."
As for the week of talk and drama, well, it didn't amount to much. McCoy gained 74 rushing yards, but he had just 11 yards on eight second-half attempts. The Eagles limited Watkins, a super-talented home-run threat, to five catches and 81 yards, including the 47-yard touchdown, on 12 targets. The Eagles cobbled together 116 rushing yards on 34 attempts -- Sproles had 41 yards, Ryan Mathews 38 in his return after missing three games and Murray 34 yards on 11 carries -- and Bradford was 23-of-38 for 247 yards with a touchdown pass to Nelson Agholor and an interception in the red zone.
Buffalo killed itself with the 15 penalties for 101 lost yards and couldn't handle the Eagles' front, particularly Fletcher Cox, who finished with eight total tackles, a quarterback sack and two tackles for loss.
The Eagles turned a recovered fumble (by Bryan Braman) on a punt into a touchdown and they showed some major fourth-quarter resolve.
"We all hung in there," Ertz said. "All three phases of the team made this happen. I'm proud of my teammates."
The Eagles returned to Lincoln Financial Field to face the Buffalo Bills in their first of three home games in December. View the full gallery here...
That's two straight wins as the Eagles keep pace with Washington, both 6-7, in the NFC East. The season is coming down to the wire. The Eagles are, maybe, just maybe, building something late in the season.
"I don't know about that," center Jason Kelce said. "I just know we won a big game and that we have a lot of confidence. We're trying to turn this season around."
The view is a lot different than it was a few games ago, after that loss in Detroit. The Eagles have something good going.
"Big win and we're going to enjoy it for a minute, but we've got Arizona coming in and they're 11-2," linebacker Brandon Graham said. "That's a good team. We have another tough one on Sunday night."
That's playoff football, right? Isn't every game that way in December? This is the fun times, and the Eagles are clearly having fun.
"Oh, yeah," safety Malcolm Jenkins said. "It's always fun when you find a way to win, and that's what we did today."