It wasn't easy, but things are hardly ever easy when it comes to Philadelphia sports. The Eagles came into Arlington, Texas as a heavy road favorite to play a wounded Dallas Cowboys team that refused to die quietly. The team scrapped and clawed, leading the whole the way but never so comfortably that the game was out of reach. Still, the Eagles found a way to prevail, and it was the defense that picked up the offense by coming up huge at various points throughout the fourth quarter.
"I told those guys the first time I met them that I thought this is a special group," head coach Chip Kelly said. "I can't tell you how much they've made this transition for me coming from college to the pros. It's those guys. Everything we asked them to do as a staff, from the first day we got there on April 1 until tonight, they bought in. It's an awesome feeling when you can work as hard as they've worked and see it pay off. The results are you're 10-6 and division (champions). It's a real credit to those guys. They didn't flinch. That was an interesting fourth quarter, to say the least, but this group just keeps battling and found a way. We also told them, it's the same thing we say after every game – it's one down, one to go. We're going to play on Saturday and we have to get ready. We have a quick week, we have to turn around and get ready to play a real good Saints team."
The 2013 Philadelphia Eagles truly have personified the team concept. The offense has garnered all the headlines, but since the beginning of October the defense has banded together, making crucial stops and forcing turnovers to flip the momentum at opportune times. That was the case against the Cowboys. Nobody panicked, nobody let the moment become overwhelming. Everyone on the Eagles stepped up, just as they have all season. Mychal Kendricks forced a fumble and made an interception. Connor Barwin batted down a pass on fourth-and-1. Cary Williams knocked away the two-point conversion pass intended for Dez Bryant.
"The one thing is, I try to get a feel for what our guys are like, and there's not a sense of panic," Kelly said. "It was, this is what we have to do. We didn't get it in on fourth-and-a-half-yard and it was, alright, there's a lot of time left in the game, a lot of football left, let's continue to play. The play Connor Barwin made on fourth down when they went for it was a huge play for us. Then our offense goes on the field and really puts a drive together to (score a touchdown). Then (the Cowboys) go down and score, and Cary (Williams) makes a huge play on the two-point play. Then we have to run the clock out but didn't convert on third-and-5 but got some time off the clock. I thought Donnie (Jones') punt was huge, gave us some breathing room there. Everybody contributed, and that's the one thing about this team – it's a team, and when you get your opportunity to make a play, guys make plays."
And, of course, last but not least, Brandon Boykin made the interception to seal the victory. Again.
"You watch how hard (Boykin) works when we're in training sessions and his attention to detail," Kelly said. "I think it pays off. He made the play in the Redskins game, he made this play, it seems like he comes up at a good time, which is a good thing for us."
The Eagles didn't fire on all cylinders and completely dominate like they did against the Chicago Bears, but they did persevere and dig deep to grind out a win in the most important game of the season. This is a team that has proven it can play any style and win any way, and that is invaluable going into the playoffs.
"I think they understand that in this game, things aren't going to go the way you planned," Kelly said of his team. "That's the one thing that's the beauty of this game – you can't script it, and it seems like every time someone tries to write the script, it doesn't turn out that way. But if you keep plugging away – and I told them last night that all they had to do in this game was be caught in the act of being themselves. They needed to understand that they have everything they need to be successful, and there are going to be times where they will face adversity, but dig deep and rely on the guy next to you. You don't have to do everybody's job, you just have to do your job and things will work out for you and they did."
Not everything is going to go your way all the time, but you have to stay the course and keep fighting, and things will work out in your favor in the end. That is what happened for the Eagles tonight against a game Cowboys team that fought its heart out despite missing its best players on offense and defense. Dallas deserves tons of praise for the way it fought, but tonight was the Eagles night, and they would not be denied.
The Philadelphia Eagles are 2013 NFC East champions, and this improbable, exciting, wonderful season will soldier on. A Saturday night matchup against Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints in the Wild Card round awaits.