It's Monday, which means the NovaCare Complex is buzzing again after a quiet and peaceful and very much welcomed bye week. Eagles players and coaches are back in the building, back in football mode after a few days of rest and relaxation of the mind and the body, and everybody – every single person – understands the stakes: The Eagles in the middle of the muddle of the NFC playoff picture with four games remaining, and the real fun is about to start.
Next up as the regular season resumes is the Washington Football Team coming off an emotional and physical and very taxing 27-20 loss to Dallas on Sunday at FedEx Field. The game was an NFC East classic in the sense that it started with a war of words – Dallas Head Coach Mike McCarthy kinda, sorta guaranteed a victory (as if any coach thinks he's going to lose going into a game), morphed into a show of audacity from the Cowboys, who flew in their own sideline benches after hearing negative reports from other teams about the quality of the visiting sideline benches in Landover, Maryland, and then featured 60 minutes of knockdown, drag-out division football.
At times it was sloppy, with a handful of turnovers and ugly moments. Dallas prevailed in the end to take a three-game lead in the NFC East with four games to play. The Cowboys' magic number is two, and at stake is a continuation of one of the longest and oddest streaks in the entire NFL: Should Dallas capture the division, it would mean that no team since the 2001-04 Eagles has repeated as NFC East Champions. Washington won the East last season. Dallas is on the verge in 2021. The only thing you can count on in this division is that you can't count on a thing ...
Anyway, Washington, a team thin along the defensive line already heading to Sunday with a handful of players sidelined due to the COVID-19 protocols, and without some key players on offense because of injury, proceeded to lose center Tyler Larsen to a reported Achilles tendon injury, wide receiver Terry McLaurin to a concussion (he's now in concussion protocol, per Head Coach Ron Rivera), and saw quarterback Taylor Heinicke limp off the field with knee and elbow injuries after completing 11 of 25 passes for 122 yards, a touchdown, an interception, and a fumble.
Washington gained all of 29 total net yards in the first half, trailed 24-0, were missing all of those players, and, yet, the Football Team was still within striking distance in the fourth quarter. Washington is coming to Lincoln Financial Field very much a scrappy, resilient, tough football team.
So, it is going to feel like a playoff atmosphere on Sunday. In a very real sense, the playoffs are here. Both the Eagles and Washington "control our own destiny," as Rivera said following the loss to Dallas. The Eagles feel the same way Washington linebacker Cole Holcomb felt on Sunday when he told reporters "It's still right in front of us."
It is for both teams at 6-7.
"It feels a lot like 2019," running back Miles Sanders said prior to the team stepping away during its bye week. "We had to go through the division to win the East, to get to the playoffs. We knew it. Coaches always say you have to win in your division first, so that's what we're looking at here. Win in the NFC East. We know what's in front of us."
The Eagles face Washington and New York at home, Washington on the road, and Dallas in South Philadelphia to end the regular season. It makes no sense to look ahead, does it? It doesn't matter what the rest of the NFC did in Week 14 – although it's certainly worth nothing that Minnesota (6-7), Atlanta (6-7), New Orleans (6-7), and San Francisco (7-6) helped themselves with victories this weekend.
What is important here is that the Eagles play with the kind of exactness and urgency that playoff football requires. That means securing the football, taking advantage of opportunities defensively when they are there, paying attention to detail, playing with great discipline.
It means stepping up, because the tempo of December football in the NFL is different than it is in September. The margin for error is tight. Mistakes are way too costly.
"It's fun to play this kind of football," right tackle Lane Johnson said. "You know you're going to get the other teams' best shot, so you have to be at your best, too. Everything you do is magnified. It's intense football. I love it."
We all love it, and now it's here. After a few days of late-season rest-and-relaxation time, the football resumes. And, as you might imagine, the energy level at the NovaCare Complex is through the roof. The stretch run of the regular season is here.
Get your popcorn ready! Playoff football is here and the Eagles are right in the middle of the NFC's mash with three of their final four games at Lincoln Financial Field, all against the NFC East, and with a 2021 destiny to define in the next month.