Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field wasn't just about one game, the Week 18 regular-season finale against the New York Giants. It was about a season of growth for the Philadelphia Eagles, a team that evolved into a Super Bowl contender every time it stepped on the field and, as it became the hunted, understood what it meant to rise to the moment. In the aftermath of the 22-16 win over the Giants that clinched the NFC East title, along with the No. 1 seed in the NFC and a bye week before the playoffs begin next weekend, the Eagles took a few moments to soak it all in.
"You know what I love about this team? We won this game, everybody's happy, but we know we could be so much better," defensive end Brandon Graham said. "And we know as we climb the mountain top, things get harder. We've got two weeks to make sure we clean up what we did today. But overall, we're going to enjoy this one. We had goals to win the division and number one spot was on the list. That was another goal of ours. We accomplished that, but we could be so much better just from this game alone. We're getting some guys back, so that's going to be key. (Offensive tackle) Lane (Johnson) coming back. (Safety) C.J. (Gardner-Johnson) and them boys, they did good today. They got their foot in them a little bit. (Quarterback) Jalen (Hurts) was in there.
"So, I'm just excited for where we could go if we just keep on taking it one day at a time, one play at a time."
This win over the Giants wasn't nearly as crisp nor decisive as the one only a month earlier when Philadelphia stormed MetLife Stadium, scored touchdowns on its first three possessions, and cruised to a 48-22 win. This time, the offense was much more conservative against the Giants' backups – New York had clinched the No. 6 seed in the conference playoffs coming in – likely the byproduct of easing quarterback Jalen Hurts back into action after missing two games. There were, for example, no designed quarterback runs – with the exception of a late-game Hurts quarterback sneak to convert a third-and-1 play – nor was the RPO featured. Zone reads? Nah, not on this day. Running lanes that normally Hurts would have shot through like a rocket were ignored, and Hurts spent much of the game working on chemistry and timing with his receivers.
It was a lot closer than anyone anticipated, what with New York resting its starters and the Eagles playing the regulars all the way through. It certainly wasn't a beauty, but what mattered when the late afternoon melted into a winter night was that the Eagles accomplished what they set out to achieve when the season began, and now they will be ones to cherish the spoils: a much-appreciated bye week while the rest of the conference postseason field is in action, and home-field advantage when the Eagles next play – the weekend of January 21-22.
"It's hard to win the NFC," center Jason Kelce said. "It has happened only one time in my career before this (2017) and it's the first time for many of these coaches. This is a major accomplishment. Only one of 16 teams is able to do it every year. To have the resiliency, the health, the good play, the skill – all of these things coming together to make it happen is a testament to all of the guys in the room and the organization.
"The bye week, it's huge. There are a couple of things. Obviously, you get a little bit healthier, you get your legs back, but I also think a very overlooked part of the bye week is not having to prepare for an opponent and being able to just go out there and not work on an opponent. We can go and just practice. We haven't done stuff like that since Training Camp. Every single week it has been us preparing for an opponent and gameplanning for an opponent. We're going to get two to three days here to focus on technique, focus on fundamentals, focus on all of these little things that allow you to be successful on an individual basis and then next week, you can dive into the gameplanning."
The big news on Sunday prior to the game was the return of some key Eagles from injury – notably Hurts. He played the whole game, completed 20 of 35 passes for 229 yards and an interception at the goal line. The offense wasn't as crisp as we've seen throughout the season, particularly in the red zone, where the Eagles scored one touchdown – a Boston Scott 8-yard run – in five opportunities. For a team that led the league in red-zone touchdown efficiency entering the game, the performance was not up to standards. But it's something to work on in the coming days and weeks, and without Hurts at full throttle – he will be in the postseason, you can bank on that – it's understandable that the offense would be limited in many ways.
"That's just not how the game went today. We kind of got Miles (Sanders) and Boston (Scott) going a little bit," Hurts said. "I feel like we could have been more efficient. Credit to them. They have a really good defense and they definitely made some adjustments from the last time we played them."
The Eagles used that Scott touchdown and five Jake Elliott field goals to account for their 22 points and the defense did just enough to keep the Giants, with Davis Webb at quarterback, down to 16 points and just 284 yards of total offense.
"This wasn't the kind of game you're going to see from us in the playoffs. It's not what you've seen us from all season," linebacker Haason Reddick said. "It wasn't where we wanted it to be, but we got the job done and that's what matters. We're walking out of here with the win and the top seed in the playoffs, and that was the goal. We're looking ahead now."
That's the right approach, because it makes no sense to look back other than to marvel at the regular season, as a whole, the Eagles enjoyed. They won a franchise-record number of games (14). The offense set a team record for most touchdowns (59) and points scored (477) in a single season. The Pro Bowl team is lined with eight Eagles. Wide receivers A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith set franchise records – Brown with 1,496 receiving yards, breaking Mike Quick's single-season record, and Smith with 95 receptions, breaking Irving Fryar's single-season record for most by a wide receiver.
The Eagles reached their regular-season goals, every last one of them.
Now, it's on to the bigger stage: The playoffs.
"I personally can't wait and I know that's how everybody feels," cornerback Darius Slay said. "We're going to rest up, get our bodies right, and play our best football. We know we have to be at our best to win in the playoffs. That's the nature of the playoffs. Every play counts. It's going to be exciting. It's going to be fun."