CHICAGO --The year was 2004 when the Eagles last played in Chicago, a special year and a special team in Philadelphia. There was a certain sense of confidence as the Eagles landed in the Windy City that year and arrived at Soldier Field. No matter how, no matter in what fashion, the Eagles were going to find a way to win that game. That team, that Super Bowl team, had a swagger that started on Day 1 of the season and carried straight on through.
When the Eagles last met Chicago, in October of 2007, the Eagles were a team struggling to find itself. Good team? Not-so-good team? A team that played just well enough to lose?
Those two games are remembered now as the Eagles prepare for Chicago on Sunday night. The 2004 Eagles knew they were playing against a physical, emotional Bears team in a hostile environment, but still pulled out a 19-9 win and moved on to the next week more fortified than ever in the belief that it would be a season to remember.
Last year's result was also telling: The Eagles lost a game they had won. Chicago drove 97 yards in the final two minutes of the game and escaped Lincoln Financial Field with a 19-16 victory that typified an Eagles team that didn't take advantage of mistakes, that didn't play with the right kind of confidence and that didn't close games in the fourth quarter. It was a game to forget in a season that threatened to be a disaster until the final three games.
And that brings us to Sunday night, and the challenge at hand. And you can talk all you want about the injuries and about coming off emotional games and all of those factors that the football analysts are chewing on right now, but one of those intangibles I want to know -- and maybe the one I want to know about the most -- is that of swagger.
Do the Eagles have their swagger back?
I would love to tell you yes, because I see a team that has incredible chemistry and an excellent mix of talent and the right kind of mentality. I saw it in training camp and through the first three games of the season. This is a good team, and as I've said before, it has a chance to be a very good team.
So go out and beat the Bears. Understand the situation and go out and show something here. We don't know if Brian Westbrook is going to play. Approach the game like it doesn't matter if he suits up. Plug in Correll Buckhalter and Lorenzo Booker and have confidence in them and give them a chance to make plays. Keep up the pressure and the intensity defensively and overwhelm a Bears offense that has some obvious questions. Be aggressive and intelligent on special teams and win that battle, too, taking away one of Chicago's best phases.
I firmly believe that swagger -- call it confidence, call it chemistry, call it what you want -- is an edge that determines many NFL games. To me, the talent level is generally even in most games. The execution level varies, but it evens out somewhat in the end. I believe -- based on absolutely no scientific evidence -- that teams win games because they find a way to win. They know they are going to win, and they go out and do it.
So I wonder if the Eagles feel that way right now. This is a 2-1 team that has played three different games. The opener was a blowout over St. Louis, Week 2 was a shoot-out loss in Dallas and Week 3 was a rough-and-tumble win over Pittsburgh.
I think Sunday night is going to be more like Pittsburgh than either St. Louis or Dallas. Chicago keeps games close because it runs the ball well, plays sound, aggressive defense and makes the field change on special teams. The Bears are 1-2, but as the coaches have emphasized all week, Chicago could easily be 3-0. The Bears have lost their two games after having fourth-quarter leads. Are they a good team finding itself or are they a team that plays just well enough to lose?
Of all the intangibles I am looking to see on Sunday night, swagger tops the list. I'm not talking about Brian Urlacher and his deodorant commercials. I'm talking about how the Eagles conduct their business on the road against a desperate team.
I certainly hope the Eagles feel desperate, given the state of competitiveness in the NFC East. Philadelphia simply can't afford to lose games, not with both Dallas and New York undefeated.
So the stage is set. The Eagles are in town, buoyed by a huge contingent of supportive fans. It is going to be a festive Soldier Field on Sunday night. How will the Eagles handle their business? How much does this team truly believe in itself. This game is going to explain a lot about the Eagles at the quarter point of the regular season.