I'm just going to enjoy the ride. While the Eagles have certainly enjoyed a lot of good times and measurable success in the 12 seasons with Andy Reid at the helm, this kind of feeling doesn't come along often. In 2004, for sure. That was a special team, a special year.
In Reid's five trips to the NFC Championship Game, the feeling was one of great confidence that ultimately fell short. Even in those years, there were times when you wondered. In 2001, the Eagles emerged from nowhere as a young team and advanced to the NFC title game in St. Louis. The next year, Donovan McNabb's injury marred the march, and he wasn't the same quarterback when he returned to the field. In 2003 -- I said it then and I will say it again -- the Eagles overachieved to reach the NFC Championship Game against Carolina and then missed Brian Westbrook and McNabb as the offense faltered.
The win over Atlanta in the 2004 NFC Championship Game was expected. The Eagles were the better team and they played a solid game, but in the background there was the lingering issue of Terrell Owens' injury and how that would impact the team in the Super Bowl.
When the Eagles went to the NFC Championship Game in Arizona in 2008, it was a total shock. The team was at the brink late in the season with a quarterback controversy on hand, and even then the team needed some extraordinary luck to even reach the playoffs.
Only in 2004 did the team start strong and assert itself from the very beginning. There was an air of superiority about that team from the early spring when the players gathered for the post-draft mini-camp.
I feel the same way about this Eagles team. This team can play. There is such a tremendous collection of talent here, and you saw that on Thursday night against Baltimore. In football talk, there are a lot of ballers here. A bunch of them.
I see this as the deepest and most talented roster of the Reid era. The prediction here is that a player or two who doesn't make this active roster will start at some point with another team this season.
It is foolish to take too much from a preseason game, much less one that was played only two weeks after the first practice of the season. We have a very small sample from which to judge the Eagles. However, we have a much larger sample evaluating the players who returned to this roster from last year and from those veterans who joined the team over the course of the last two weeks. And those guys have a proven track record.
A prime example is the defensive tackle position, one that had suffered a rash of injuries and illness (Mike Patterson) in training camp. How would the Eagles bolster such an important position with so little time to do so? Here's how: Louis Riddick and his outstanding work ethic and eye for talent identified Derek Landri and Anthony Hargrove, two veterans with plenty of starting experience. Both have taken advantage of their practice reps and both figure to have roles within the defense. Landri had a couple of tackles, a quarterback sack and a quarterback hurry in a standout performance against Baltimore. Hargrove has been quick off the ball and an effective penetrator in training camp.
All of a sudden, the Eagles are again well stocked at defensive tackle. They traded former first-round draft pick Brodrick Bunkley. They are hoping Patterson returns to the field quickly. Trevor Laws, the fourth tackle last season, is in a serious battle for a roster spot. He has been bothered by a hip injury and there is no time for him to waste.
With Cullen Jenkins, Antonio Dixon, Landri and Hargrove, the Eagles have four experienced players here. Good players. Productive players. Add Patterson and Laws to that mix and you've got great competition. Even a player like rookie Charles Noonan, who faces long odds to make the team, played well in a reserve role in the preseason opener.
It is like that throughout the roster, really. The cornerback position beyond the three Pro Bowl starters is a promising group. The safeties were terrific against Baltimore. The linebackers, young though they might be, flew to the football on Thursday night.
I know there are still questions here. Nothing is perfect. The Eagles are going to encounter some bumps in the road. But they have prepared themselves as well as they could possibly be prepared for the marathon ahead, and they have a belief, no, a knowledge that they have a chance to be a great team in 2011.
They also know, as veteran as they are, that there is so, so much more work to do. This is just the beginning of something special. You feel it. I feel it. The players and coaches feel it. It is the feeling that comes around every so often, and one the Eagles haven't had since 2004.
As the huge crowds of Eagles fans gather at Lehigh University for training camp when it resumes on Saturday, and for the massive audience that watched on television against Baltimore and that will do so across the country in Pittsburgh on Thursday night (FOX, 7:30 p.m.), the feeling is there: This really could be our year as the Eagles build on their preseason opener and keep improving every day moving forward.