Earlier in the season, it was easy for fans to wish away the Eagles' struggles as merely temporary. But after three consecutive losses dropped Philadelphia to 4-7 late last month, many began to worry if the team they'd seen to that point in the season simply was the team they'd see for the final five games of the year. But two huge wins have put the Eagles right back in the hunt for the division crown in the NFC East.
Philadelphia is tied with the Redskins for first place at 6-7, with a Week 16 meeting still to come. The Giants sit at 5-7 and face the Dolphins on Monday night in Miami. But with three weeks left in the season, head coach Chip Kelly and his team know that their fate lies very much in their own hands. And not only do they have that going for them, but Philadelphia also enters the final three weeks of the regular season with a clean bill of health.
"Every single guy on our team practiced last week. We had nobody limited, everybody was up, nobody (missed practice)," Kelly said. "When you get to this point in time in the season and you get not only the 10 on your practice squad but the 53 active guys – we have everybody practicing right now, and that means we have really good health."
Arguably most important amongst those 53 healthy players is quarterback Sam Bradford, who missed two games earlier this season – both losses – with a concussion and an injury to his non-throwing shoulder. As the year's gone on, the 28-year-old has looked better and better in Kelly's offense, one he is still mastering in his first season with the Eagles. Over his past four games, Bradford has completed 80 of his 123 passes (65.0 percent) for 898 yards, five touchdowns and an interception. The pick was ripped from the hands of Brent Celek in Sunday's 23-20 win over Buffalo and could have just as easily been logged as a fumble by the veteran tight end.
Against the Bills, Kelly asked Bradford to do something he hasn't done much at all this season, throw the ball deep. On the very first play of the game, the sixth-year signal-caller connected with Riley Cooper 42 yards down the field on a perfectly placed ball. Unfortunately, the play was called back after review because the veteran wideout didn't control the ball cleanly all the way to the ground. Later in the first half, he hit Nelson Agholor on a 53-yard touchdown strike on a post pattern to the middle of the field, leading the rookie wideout just in front of the goal line, which he crossed in a couple long strides after hauling in the pass.
"(The Bills) play a lot of zero coverage. Those safeties are down in tight, so when they do that you can't allow people to do that – you've got to take some shots downfield," Kelly said. "I thought Sam played outstanding. Really put the ball on guys today, and there weren't really any errant throws. We had a couple drops that if I think if we caught those (his production would have been even better)."
The Eagles were able to make things happen in the running game as well, utilizing a four-man rotation that featured DeMarco Murray (11 carries for 34 yards), Darren Sproles (seven carries for 41 yards and a touchdown), Kenjon Barner (on the field but with no touches) and Ryan Mathews (13 carries for 38 yards). For Mathews, it was his first action in a month because of a groin issue and concussion that sidelined him for three games.
"They all merited playing time, and they're all getting playing time," Kelly said when asked about the rotation. "We just knew we had four healthy backs and we were going to use them. We didn't think we were going to have to run anybody into the ground today, just because we have depth at that position."
It will be interesting to see how the third-year head coach's strategy with that unit evolves as the season winds down, but with three Pro Bowl players in the backfield along with a talented young reserve in Barner, it's a good problem for Kelly and the Eagles to have.
Now the Eagles' attention shifts to the 11-2 Arizona Cardinals, winners of their last seven games and the next team up as Philadelphia pushes for its third playoff berth since 2010.
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...