With the big picture in mind, head coach Andy Reid heads into the final regular-season game of his 12th Eagles season. He knows that this particular 60 minutes means as much as the regular-season finale did in 2001, when A.J. Feeley and Dameane Douglas led the team to a win over Tampa Bay, a squad the Eagles would meet again (and beat again) in the playoffs the following week.
It was a glorious win in Tampa Bay on January 6, 2002. The Eagles trailed 13-3 after three quarters, and then Feeley and the offense put together an 8-play, 61-yard drive and scored a touchdown on Feeley's 2-yard completion to Douglas. On the ensuing kickoff, Rashard Cook forced a fumble that Tim Hauck recovered at Tampa Bay's 24-yard line, and two plays later Feeley went to Douglas for a score and the Eagles had the winning points. The defense held and the Eagles left Tampa with a good feeling, knowing that the entire roster contributed to the victory.
The following Saturday, just six days later, the Eagles rolled to a 31-9 victory to open their playoff run to the NFC Championship Game and, of course, A.J. Feeley wasn't the quarterback. And Dameane Douglas wasn't the go-to receiver.
So Reid is in a similar, if not spitting image, moment. The Eagles aren't playing back-to-back games against the Dallas, but they are playing a game to end the regular season that has zilch impact on the standings. And Reid knows he has a roster of players who are still physically limping after Tuesday night's game against the Vikings. So would it be smart coaching to force all of his regulars out there, no matter what, with a playoff game as soon as six days later?
I'm sure Reid is going to take a good, long look at his roster, and that is a good thing. It is an opportunity, certainly, to give the veterans some down time after a wearying regular season, and it is an evaluation period for some who have not had much time this year. Maybe I'm a total Eagles geek -- I know, I know -- but if Austin Howard has a chance to play, I'm in! He is one of the young players I have been itching to see this season. Same with Keenan Clayton and Trevard Lindley and Riley Cooper and a bunch of young players who have had limited roles this season.
Ditto Kevin Kolb. I don't see this game as a "showcase" event for him in terms of other teams evaluating his play solely based on this performance, but it is part of his body of work. Kolb is a tremendous prospect. He could very well be the quarterback of the future here. How could anyone possibly predict what direction the quarterback position will take in the months ahead? It will be, as it was this past off-season, the major story to follow as the Eagles build the roster for the 2011 campaign.
But all of that can wait. I'm excited to see how the Eagles play this one against Dallas, no matter who is on the field. And then, once the game is over, we will find out who plays at Lincoln Financial Field when the playoffs start. So, even with the unusual circumstances, game day is game to me, and it is always a special occasion.
Enjoy, and celebrate a wonderful regular season. The playoffs are right around the corner.
NEWS, NOTES AND A LITTLE BIT OF THIS AND THAT
Jeremy Maclin is 36 yards away from reaching 1,000 receiving yards for the season. He would join DeSean Jackson as the only pair of Eagles receivers to accomplish the feat in the same season. Maclin is having one of the most outstanding, under-the-radar seasons I have ever witnessed.
- Even with all of the injuries and with the addition of veteran defensive end Bobby McCray, the Eagles have an average age of 25.8 years on the 53-man roster. Remarkable. With 10 wins and a ton of injuries the team has overcome, the Eagles are still one of the youngest teams in the league. The future is so bright here.
- What to expect of McCray? Anything is a bonus, I guess. It is so difficult to come off the streets and play at this level. Derrrick Burgess was clearly ineffective in his limited time against Minnesota and must not have shown anything special in practice, so the Eagles said a quick goodbye. McCray is taller and leaner and he has long arms and some burst off the ball. I expect to see him a lot against Dallas.
- Strange move waiting Jamar Wall and promoting Jamar Adams from the practice squad to the 53-man roster. Why? Well, Adams has size and he has played in a handful of NFL games. Maybe the Eagles want to take a look at him against Dallas and see if he can be physical against the run and cover in the passing. The timing of the move, late on Friday afternoon, was unusual, indeed.
- I'm really pleased that Asante Samuel was not fined for his hit against Minnesota receiver Sidney Rice on Tuesday night. I honestly don't understand the idea of a "defenseless" receiver, anyway. Rice had the football, had two feet down and then Samuel hit him, leading with his shoulder and only connecting helmet to helmet because Rice was moving. I thought it was a bad penalty at the time. It was costly, too, helping Minnesota to a touchdown that gave the Vikings a 17-7 lead.