At the midway point of the 2010 regular season, the Eagles are in the hunt. They are 5-3, coming off a big win over the Colts. And as the team prepares for Monday night's game against Washington, the external focus is on meeting Donovan McNabb, Part Deux. In fact, it should be on a much larger picture: Winning in the NFC East.
Five of the final 8 games are played within the division. These are the bread-and-butter games of the Eagles' season. And they start at FedEx Field against Washington, against McNabb, against a very strong Redskins defense that engineered a Washington win in October at Lincoln Financial Field.
The Eagles didn't have answers for the Redskins that day. Washington came out strong, sparked by a Brandon Banks punt return and strong running from Ryan Torain and big throws from McNabb to take a 14-0 lead in the first quarter. It was shocking. Stunning. And then it turned worse when Michael Vick was injured late in the first quarter, deflating the Lincoln Financial Field crowd.
These Eagles are much different than the team that ended that day 2-2 following the 17-12 defeat. These Eagles have gained a tremendous amount of confidence, particularly on the defensive side of the football. Sean McDermott's group has been dominating against the run for the last month. On Sunday against the dangerous Peyton Manning, the pass defense scratched and clawed and fought to a victory, limiting Manning, intercepting him twice and leading the way to a very important Eagles victory.
The Redskins? They struggled in a road loss at Detroit, and have spent the remaining 9 days in the middle of a furious debate over the decision to bench McNabb with two minutes remaining in that Detroit contest. You know the situation. It could go one way or the other in Washington under new head coach Mike Shanahan. One thing is for certain: The Redskins are rested, and they are going to come out playing extremely emotional football on Monday night with McNabb as the starting quarterback.
At 4-4, the Redskins are still very much in the NFC's muddled playoff picture. Who is to say the Redskins won't be a team to make a move in the second half of this season? With a good defense -- ranked second in the league in takeaways and third down percentage -- the Redskins are going to be in every game.
Hey, so much is up in the air in the division. The Giants are the class of the group with a 6-2 record, and the Giants are playing great football. We will talk about them in a week. Dallas, of course, is a mess at 1-7 and with a new head coach. The Cowboys are talented enough to turn their season around to the point where they are a difficult game in the coming eight weeks.
Then there are the Eagles, who have to take care of business on a week-to-week basis. There are no mulligans on the schedule. Vick is the leader of the team, no looking back. The defense is showing signs of great improvement. It is an exciting time here.
As the many players make their way through the NovaCare Complex through the end of the day on Wednesday to get in their workouts and study their film, Andy Reid and his coaching staff have a game plan to prepare. On Thursday, he will address the team, briefly, and remind that this week isn't about Donovan McNabb. It isn't about analyzing things happening within the Redskins organization.
Did the young players here handle the first meeting against McNabb and the Redskins as well as possible? It could be argued that nobody handled it as well as needed, given the way the Redskins jumped out to their big lead. This time, the players have to resist talking about McNabb and instead focusing on winning a huge NFC East game. The bright lights of Monday Night Football can be daunting for the youngsters filling up this roster. They have to be reminded to not allow the situation to become too big.
Monday night is the beginning of the rest of the season. Maybe the Eagles learned something with the way they had a lead against Indy, lost it and then seized back the momentum to turn back the Colts for a win to help the Eagles reach 5-3 at the midway point of the season. Maybe that game was a catapult for a playoff push.
Certainly, the opportunity is there for the Eagles. The path is right in front of them, and it goes through the NFC East starting on Monday night at FedEx Field.