Andy Reid didn't want to hear any talk about how a win on Sunday against San Francisco would clinch a playoff spot for the Eagles. He didn't want to talk about what could happen in the future. He wanted to talk about the approach he always takes, the one that makes for pretty boring press conferences but almost always a very good football team.
"I believe that you work hard every day and try to get better that day. You focus in on what is right in front of you, and nothing else," he said. "I don't get into all of the what-ifs. We just do our jobs and if we do our jobs well every day, you become a better player and, thus, a better football team."
That is what the Eagles are doing now. The euphoria from the win over New York is over, and if the Eagles are a mature team with great leadership -- this is a test every week, as I see it -- they will play a great football game on Sunday against San Francisco. The 49ers pose the "trap game" threat that has been a challenge so often in the past, but it is very difficult to imagine the Eagles letting up on the gas pedal in December.
The Eagles have turned one of many corners this season. They are on a four-game winning streak and they are playing explosive football offensively. All year, we've wondered how the pieces would fall into place here, and it is happening before our eyes. Let's examine some of the things happening with this football team ...
**OFFENSE IS CLICKING; CAN IT CONTINUE?
During this four-game winning streak, the Eagles have scored points in just about every way imaginable. They have been explosive with big plays all over the field. They have gone on time-consuming, efficient drives. They have thrown the football in the vertical game, and they have used the intermediate-range game and they have had some big gains in the screen game, too.
The running game has delivered, too, and it's exciting to think that Brian Westbrook could join LeSean McCoy and Leonard Weaver in a version of the three-headed monster in the offense. The offensive line has been solid, not spectacular. That the Eagles are so potent down the field has made defenses back off the blitz and the result is that Donovan McNabb has had a lot of time to set up and throw the football. He has been outstanding, showing great leadership, patience and a fantastic command of the offense.
Of course, the weapons the Eagles have assembled have been showing up a lot, too. The Eagles are doing a great job spreading the football around and keeping defenses honest. If the coverage rolls toward DeSean Jackson, opportunities open for the rest of the receivers, and McNabb has been able to get the ball to all of his targets.
The play calling seems to be clicking, too. Marty Mornhinweg has a great feel for all of his pieces and is using just enough trickery to make this offense completely unpredictable. The run game has confidence and the passing game is ready to go against any defense as long as the offensive line continues to give McNabb time to throw.
Things are working very, very well for the Eagles. They have started games with scores on eight opening drives, which is fantastic. Against the Giants, the offense was aggressive and willing to take a high risk at times, and then on the final drive that covered 91 yards on 12 plays, the Eagles ran the football 6 times and used the screen game effectively. It was a pretty, effective drive.
The Eagles are on their way to a franchise record for points scored in a season. They need to stay at their peak for the rest of the season to get where they want to go.
**MICHAEL VICK'S EVOLUTION
How many of you gave up on Michael Vick, wondered why in the world reached out to sign him and then didn't use him? It took nearly three-quarters of the season, but the Eagles have found the right role for Vick. He is a weapon in short-yardage situations and in the red zone. Vick has become a force and the Eagles are working him into different formations and uses.
Against the Giants, Vick took snaps from center, ran the ball, lined up as a receiver and took a handoff and then pivoted and reversed field to throw a pass and drilled a 32-yard completion to Jackson on the first drive. His integration into the offense has helped the Eagles keep drives alive and to score touchdowns in the red zone. Vick clearly has his quickness back, and defenses are reacting to him when he comes into the game.
Look for Vick to continue to take meaningful snaps, probably in the range of 6 to 10 a game. He can throw out of any formation, and he can certainly run when he has the football in his hands. How about a fake run -- three steps toward the line of scrimmage -- and then a step back and throw? The Eagles are having a lot of fun taking advantage of Vick's versatility -- and it really has only just started.
**HOW WILL EAGLES REPLACE WR MACLIN?
Rookie Jeremy Maclin is expected to miss Sunday's game against the 49ers and possibly the Denver game as well with a torn plantar fascia. Reggie Brown, who had a couple of big catches for 31 yards against the Giants, will have an increased role, and the Eagles will move Jason Avant around and play him inside and outside.
The team will also have to make a decision on Kevin Curtis at some point this week. He practiced last week and has a chance to ramp it up here and maybe get some time on Sunday. If he can't go, how much longer can the Eagles really wait?
Another possibility is to promote Jordan Norwood from the practice squad, as they did for the game in Atlanta. Norwood knows the offense and is ready to play.
Let's hope that resting and rehabbing Maclin gets him back on the field for Dallas, at the very least. He is such a dynamic player and is a perfect complement to Jackson. Without Maclin, Jackson is going to be doubled all over the field, and Brown, Avant and Brent Celek will have single coverage and a lot of chances to make plays.
**IS WESTBROOK READY TO PLAY?
It sure looks like he is going to give it a go in practice this week after working with the scout team last week and having no post-concussion symptoms. Getting Westbrook back would mean, well, it would mean, what, exactly? Westbrook brings smarts and experience and more versatility. Throw him out there as a receiver and watch defenses scramble to cover him. Use Westbrook and LeSean McCoy at the same time and marvel at the speed on the field.
There is no doubt that when Westbrook gets back to the lineup, he is going to be ready to go. The question is how long Westbrook can stay healthy and avoid the concussions that have plagued him this season.
We'll know about Westbrook and his possible return later this week. If he comes back, how much would he play? Questions, questions. Later in the week we can know some answers.
**CAN DEFENSE SHAKE OFF POOR OUTING?
No question, the defense has something to work for this week. The tackling was poor on Sunday night and the coverage wasn't much better. The Eagles allowed, cough, 512 total yards of offense to the Giants. Scary. Maybe the wet field had something to do with it, because neither defense played very well.
What's next? Sean McDermott is preparing for the 49ers, who have a good balance with Frank Gore running the ball and tight end Vernon Davis and wide receiver Michael Crabtree catching it. If they get hot, as they were against the Cardinals on Monday night in the first half, the 49ers are very dangerous. McDermott is stressing the basics this week, which means a lesson or three in tackling technique and coverage principles.
At the same time, the defense knows it has a lot to work with. Joselio Hanson made an immediate impact as the third cornerback. He will help against San Francisco and in future weeks. The linebackers are a different, strange issue. McDermott gave Akeem Jordan some snaps, but not a bunch. Jeremiah Trotter played most of the downs in the middle. Tracy White and Will Witherspoon were the nickel linebackers.
McDermott doesn't have the answers at linebacker, so he is mixing and matching his personnel from, literally, one down to the next. How he played the linebackers against the Giants could be changed completely for Sunday's game against the 49ers.
The Eagles know that Gore is a tough, between-the-tackles runner and that the 49ers are physical on offense. Quarterback Alex Smith is streaky, so the Eagles must pressure him and get him off of his spot. The key, though, is stopping Gore and forcing some third-and-long situations. If the Eagles have a choice, let Smith beat the defense, rather than have Gore chew up the clock running the football.
CAN THE EAGLES GET UP FOR THIS GAME?
They better. This isn't an NFC East game. The Eagles aren't going to hear a lot of "must-win" chatter this week. And that should be a scary thought for anyone who knows how teams that think they have it made take a big, big fall. So this is a test for the maturity of this young football team. Can they get up for the 49ers at home?
Boy, they better. The Eagles have control of the NFC East. It has been a long, long climb to get to this point. The Eagles can't afford to let down one tiny bit. They need to bring the urgency and the pin-point preparation to beat San Francisco and really get a vise grip on the East.
We've monitored leadership and all of the intangibles every week of the season. Here is another test. The Eagles are 9-4, on a roll, winners of four straight games. The season has been a fascinating ride, with more to come.