Three weeks ago, the Eagles were saddled with a 3-5 record following a disheartening loss to the New York Giants.
Head coach Chip Kelly understood the challenge that awaited him. Could the rookie head coach keep his team together and weather the storm? Following Sunday's 24-16 win over Washington, the answer is a resounding yes. The Eagles have won three straight games and enter the bye week with a 6-5 record owning sole possession of first place in the NFC East.
"I wasn't worried, but I knew that was going to be a big test for us. We knew what we had to do. We had to stick together as group. The only people that really had confidence in us was us, and rightly so because we weren't playing very well," Kelly said after the game. "I think together we've gotten better as a group. We're growing. We're new to them, they're new to us. As we can continue to learn what they can do and put them in position to make plays, get out of the way and watch them go play. I think it's interesting to watch these guys on a weekly basis continue to get better and better. It's encouraging as we head into the bye week."
Kelly will bring the Eagles in to practice on Tuesday before giving the team the rest of the week off. The bye comes at an ideal time for the Eagles. Three key players on defense missed Sunday's game due to injury - cornerback Bradley Fletcher, linebacker Mychal Kendricks and safety Earl Wolff.
"It is an interesting time to get a bye, 11 games in," Kelly said. "I think they need to kind of get themselves recharged, rejuvenated, then come back here. We're back at home again, which is exciting for us. We'll see what December has for us."
Meaningful games, for certain, which is something this franchise has not experienced since the 2010 season. The Eagles return from the bye week to host the Arizona Cardinals, who are tied for second place in the NFC West. The Eagles would not be in this position without the team's resilience in the final moments of SUnday's win. The Eagles appeared to have the game at hand, leading 24-0 through three quarters. However, Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III threw a pair of touchdown passes and was leading his team down the field for the potential game-tying score. Cornerback Brandon Boykin saved the Eagles with an interception in the end zone in the game's final minute.
"I've learned that they compete and I learned that they stick together as a group," said Kelly of what he's learned about his team. "I learned that they really care about each other. I think they hold each other accountable. They show up to practice every single day wanting to get better. It makes our job as coaches that much easier. It's a great group to be around. Really excited about going to work every day when you get a chance to work with guys like that."
Now, Kelly must find a way to maintain the momentum built up in the past three weeks. The back-to-back wins on the road were nice, but ending the 10-game losing streak at home on Sunday was truly special. The 69,000-plus in attendance made their presence from kickoff to the final whistle. The city is whipped into a frenzy knowing that the Eagles are very much in the playoff discussion even after the overhaul Kelly oversaw this past offseason.
"It's all for not if we don't continue to build from here," Kelly said. "They understand, that too. There's still a lot of football to be left. I know it's a cliché, but it's true. We got five games in December. We put ourselves in a situation where those five games in December are meaningful. We'll do the same thing we do all the time. I said it again in the locker room. We're going to pick our heads up on December 29th to figure out where we are."