This is the ritual: An afternoon practice is over. The players come off the field, go into the locker room, shower, get changed and go into their final meetings of a long day. Cornerback Sheldon Brown is one of the last ones to leave, as he is a great, stand-up guy who offers his honest, forthright perspective. I needed that perspective on Thursday afternoon, and Brown delivered.
See, we all live in a world on the outside where we look ahead and we anticipate what is next. The locker room is not like that. Not at all. The NFL is a world of here and now. Players move station to station. They understand that what is here right in front of them right now might not necessarily be there for them tomorrow.
This moment, of course, is one of great excitement and confidence. The Eagles, left for dead by many after that embarrassing 36-7 loss in Baltimore three weeks ago, are resurgent with two straight wins. They are brimming with life after the beating they gave the Giants on Sunday. Cleveland is coming to town on Monday night. The fans are into it in a big way.
Are the players focused on the big picture here? Is there a dramatic difference in the vibe inside the locker room?
Brown is a good person to ask, because he has stood and answered the questions every day for weeks and weeks and weeks. And many of those questions have been negative. Now, in this positive moment, how much has changed?
"I think, and this is my opinion, from the media's standpoint, it's their job to be more on the negative side with what we have done," said Brown. "From a player's standpoint and from a leader's standpoint, it's our job to focus more on the positive things that we are all about. What we have done in the last two weeks, the two wins, that's nothing. We expected to be on top in the first place. That is the only focus we can have. What can we do better in the next game?
"It's a no-brainer about where we are right now, that we have life. We should have never been in the position we were in before. I've said that all along, that we lost games that were hard to accept. You accept it because it happened, but they were hard to digest at the time. In this business, you learn to move on very quickly or you get left behind."
The tone in an NFL locker room is relentlessly positive, save for those few moments after a tough loss. Men don't reach this level by dwelling on what could have been. They don't play the what-if game. Results are measured in black and white. There are few grey areas.
One of the strengths of Andy Reid's Eagles teams has been the way the players embrace the culture. Fingers are never pointed. In-house squabbles stay where they belong.
To chronicle the 180-degree direction this season has taken is to be very matter of fact. The romantic idea that a moment changed the fortunes of a team, or that a single team meeting or that something happened to point the Eagles on the right path really isn't a theme in the locker room.
I tried. I really tried with Brown. I wanted him to tell me something about an epiphany he had witnessed somewhere between that ugly loss in Baltimore and the virtuoso performance against the Cardinals.
He wasn't having any of it.
"I have always trusted the guy next to me, even when we were losing games and I have never seen anybody here point a finger," said Brown. "Everybody was trying to make a big deal when Coach did what he did in Baltimore and made some changes. That was no big deal to me. He wanted to give us a spark, it didn't work, and then he went back to the spark we all know.
"The bottom line is, we all played better. We all played better. That's what has been the biggest difference. We have all played better."
Now the Eagles are on the hot-and-getting-hotter run that marked their 2006 NFC East title season. They have beaten Arizona and the Giants and have a tough path ahead starting with Cleveland. Brown won't look back, but he admits how horribly he felt after the games against Cincinnati and Baltimore.
"I felt sick after the Cincinnati game, really sick. Win, lose, tie ... they say to expect the unexpected and that was certainly unexpected," said Brown. "Then against the Ravens, to lose the way we lost, being a defensive player ... that was probably the low point of my career here.
"But these guys stuck together, fought together and believed in each other. Now we are here."
The Eagles can't afford any slip-ups if they hope to be part of the NFC playoffs. They need to win all three games and get some help and, well, you know the scenarios already. No sense rehashing. If the players aren't going to look beyond Monday night, I'm not going to look beyond Monday night.
All I know is that the Eagles are in a far better place then they were a few weeks ago. They have a chance. They have momentum, even if they grudgingly admit as much.
"I've never been a guy who believes in momentum," said Brown. "I take it play by play, day by day. What we did on Sunday against the Giants, the way we played, that isn't going to help us on Monday night."