Donnie Jones challenged himself after the 2014 season. He met with special teams coordinator Dave Fipp in the exit interview and made the pledge: he would return to the NovaCare Complex for the 2015 campaign slimmer, stronger and better.
All of the work Jones put into the offseason, losing 18 pounds, and working on his strength and flexibility, has paid off for Jones, who has a franchise-best 47.4-yard gross average on punts and an Eagles-best net average on punts, at 41.7 yards.
"I really worked out hard. I wanted to eat right and lose some weight. I left here after last season weighing about 228 and I wanted to be 210 pounds. I wanted to be leaner. I wanted to start kicking earlier and working on my game," he said. "Coach (Dave) Fipp and I sat down and talked at the end of last year and he said, 'Hey, you're very talented but every year you need to look at yourself and see what you can do to become a better player. There are always ways to get better. That's what I did. I went out and became a better punter and I give a lot of the credit to Coach Fipp and that conversation."
It's fair to say that Jones, in his 12th NFL season, is kicking as well as ever, and he's one of the team's most valuable players. Now, with the weather taking a turn toward winter, if even for a few days on the East Coast, Jones is preparing for temperatures in the 30s on Sunday night when the Arizona Cardinals and punt return man Patrick Peterson come to town.
"I'm excited about it. They have a tremendous return game so we have to be at our best," Jones said. "It's going to be colder, but the winds are supposed to be light, so we'll see. You deal with the weather at this time of the year on the East Coast. That's just part of it. I'm prepared for whatever happens."
Leading up to #BackInBlack against the Cardinals, we look back to past Cardinals Vs. Eagles games in which the Eagles sported black uniforms. View the full gallery here...
- Jason Peters has made seven Pro Bowls, five as an Eagle. He's regarded as one of the best left tackles in recent NFL history. He's a rare combination of athletic ability, size, strength, everything. Yet Peters insists that when the Pro Bowl teams are announced on Tuesday, he isn't concerned if his name is included. "Redskins," he said. "That's what I'm going to be thinking about then."
Peters, most important, says he's overcome the nagging thigh and ankle injuries that have limited him to playing in 61 percent of the team's offensive snaps this season. He's ready to play down the stretch as the Eagles prepare for Arizona's tough offense.
"We're making progress, getting better," he said of the team's offense. "We've just made too many mistakes. We cut them down, we're good."
- The Eagles' secondary has all the respect in the world for Arizona's offense and the passing game, which likes to take shots down the field. The Cardinals are going to go deep 6-8 times in every game, and that puts tremendous stress on the secondary to communicate and to stay in coverage. Another factor: The defensive back know they have to go up and get the football, because quarterback Carson Palmer is going to throw some balls up to let his receivers catch.
"I would do the same thing with the receivers they have," safety Walter Thurmond said. "They have a great group. You really have to cover well and be confident on your assignments. It requires a lot of study work during the week. They do a lot of different things and they've got depth there. It's maybe the best group we'll face, so it's a tough assignment."
- Wide receiver Josh Huff recognizes the differences in quarterback Sam Bradford in this final quarter of the season. The level of familiarity with, for example, his receiving corps, has made a huge jump.
"He knows us now. It takes some time," Huff said. "We aren't the same guys that he had in St. Louis. We come out of our routes differently, we have different parts to our game. It's a new system. Sam has gotten better and better. We're on the same page now and I'm looking for a strong finish to the season."
- The Eagles kept four running backs active on Sunday in the win over Buffalo and there's a chance that they will do the same on Sunday night. Kenjon Barner played on special teams and was in for five offensive snaps, which meant he had a lot of down time. "I have to stay loose on the sidelines," he said. "You never know when you're going to be called on to play. I ran up and down the sidelines, I kept moving and I was doing everything I could to be ready. I'll be the same way this week if I'm active."
- The Eagles are preparing for Arizona's blitzing defense on Sunday. Every team blitzes in the NFL, but the Cardinals just don't stop. They keep bringing it and they keep doing so with different looks.
"You've got to run the ball on them some and keep them honest," right tackle Lane Johnson said. "They're really good. Doesn't matter where you are on the field. They're going to come after you. So we have to be on our toes and communicate and prepare for everything, because we're going to see it all."
- Want a big reason for a 6-7 record, rather than, oh, 8-5 for the Eagles? Look at the red zone numbers. Now, the offense is improving of late (2-of-2 against New England, 1-of-2 against Buffalo), but the Eagles have scored touchdowns on 52.9 percent of their red-zone trips (18 touchdowns in 34 visits to the red zone) while opponents have a 68.1 percent touchdown percentage, having scored touchdowns on 32-of-47 possessions inside the Eagles 20-yard line.
"It is something we definitely have to improve," linebacker DeMeco Ryans said. "We've been working on it. We had a big stop against Buffalo and we won the game by three points. It makes a difference."