The tendency to look ahead is natural. And it came up on Thursday in head coach Chip Kelly's press conference when he was asked about Nick Foles and the evaluation process for the future. Like, the long-term future. Not two or three weeks from now.
Like, next season.
"No, we're not doing any evaluation right now on what our team in 2014 is going to look like," said Kelly. "Our sole focus is beating the Cowboys."
That is everyone's focus in the NovaCare Complex, even if the outside world won't comply. With first place in the NFC East on the line Sunday, the urge is to wonder what if ...
What if Foles starts and has another knockout game? Would that make him the starter for the rest of the 2013 season?
What if Foles starts and has another knockout game and starts against the Giants and plays well, does that mean he could be a "franchise" kind of quarterback?
What if ...?
Stop right there. Kelly has been consistent in his refusal to answer or even consider answering hypothetical questions. He is very much of an "in-the-moment" kind of coach, so it's worthless to even start to go down that path with Kelly.
It's an approach that Kelly has stressed to his team, and his team has responded in kind. The Eagles don't discuss the particulars about the quarterback position, for example, only that the players and coaches have the utmost confidence in whomever calls the signals that week. It is ingrained in players from their pee-wee days to take each day as it comes, because you know how uncertain the game of football is for everyone who steps on the field.
So if Foles starts -- and, again, there is nothing absolutely official about Vick's status until Kelly says so -- his goal is to find a way to beat Dallas, play his best football and go from there.
"That's all I can think about," said the second-year quarterback. "I'm working to get better every day. That's my focus and my only focus."
Foles has been outstanding in his three appearances -- a touchdown drive in late-game duty at Denver, a fine half plus one drive at the Giants and a nearly-flawless performance against Tampa Bay -- and he has clearly grown substantially in his second NFL season.
Sunday is not about Foles stating his case to be the future of this franchise. Sunday is about Foles playing a good football game to help the Eagles win and to grab first place in the NFC East all for their own.
"You don't look ahead in the NFL. I don't think anybody does that," said wide receiver Jason Avant.
That said, the Eagles have something going here that we can all see building into a long-term snapshot. Kelly has every player working in the same direction, toward the same goal. His arrival jolted the franchise, changed the day-to-day structure of the football team and added a lot of needed energy. A young roster faces on Sunday its first real "statement" game, what with first place on the line and all.
"It's a football game, and when you only have 16 of them in a season, they're all important," said tight end Brent Celek. "Dallas is something special. I've been through it. I know it. It's a division game, so that in itself makes Sunday something that adds fuel to the game for the fans and for everybody."
The what-if game is one played by the fans and the media. It's what we do. There is too much time between games to stay silent. The drumbeat is of what's happening now, yes, but fans simply can't resist a peek ahead.
I like the way this team thinks, though. Nobody is predicting the future. Dallas is the only moment that matters for a kiddie corps that has taken on the personality of its coach and is interested only in seizing the day, that day, and then moving on to another challenge.
NEWS, NOTES AND A LITTLE BIT OF THIS AND THAT
- Cornerback Cary Williams spoke this week about the chance to "shock the world" with a win over Dallas, and to do so the cornerbacks are going to have to hang in against some excellent pass catchers. Williams knows that he and Bradley Fletcher and Brandon Boykin have a busy Sunday ahead. "They throw the ball extremely well and are very explosive," said Williams. "They're outstanding, and they've been able to make a lot of plays. We have to follow our assignments and play hard, tough football."
- The Eagles have scored on 18 of their 20 trips inside opponents' 20-yard line, including 9 touchdowns. They fumbled in the opener at Washington when Michael Vick's pass was ruled a fumble, and Washington recovered and returned for a touchdown, and Alex Henery missed a 46-yard field goal in Denver after the offense has reached the Denver 17-yard line, only to lose 11 yards on a Bryce Brown run and a sack of Vick. Otherwise, the team has scored points. This week, against the high-powered Cowboys offense, touchdowns are required.
- We're used to seeing Jason Avant as the go-to receiver to keep drives alive. Through six games, 10 of his 19 receptions have resulted in first downs. Here's a bit of a surprise, though: DeSean Jackson has gained a first down on 27 of his 34 receptions this year. That's clutch, big-play receiving by a Pro Bowl-worthy receiver.
- After missing a field goal in each of three straight games, Alex Henery has nailed six straight kicks. Knocking on wood ... he has tightened up his mechanics and the results are obvious. Henery's kickoffs are critical on Sunday. Dallas kickoff return man Dwayne Harris is dynamic.