Correlation may not equal causation, but consider the following: through eight games this season, Trent Cole had zero sacks and the Eagles were 3-5. Since the ninth game of the season, when the defensive-end-turned-linebacker recorded his first sack of the season, the Eagles are 6-1 and Cole now has eight sacks on the season. During Sunday night's 54-11 demolition of the Chicago Bears, Cole notched three sacks and, with 79.0, moved into sole possession of second place on the team's all-time sack list.
Still, Cole, ever the consummate teammate, refused to talk about himself and instead spread the love around.
"It was a great all-around effort by the team," Cole said. "From the specials teams, to the offense and defense, it was great teamwork. A lot of people said this game didn't matter, but this game did matter – it mattered a lot to us because it's going to have an effect on us when we go to the playoffs. This game's over with, and the playoffs actually start now with Dallas. We're going to take it one game at a time.
"It was a great game plan by the coaches. We were prepared. We went out there, and as players we have to execute, and guys just did a heck of a job executing. As a team, we go out there and play this type of ball, do what we're supposed to do in our assignments as the coaches have prepared us to do, we can go out there and win ball games."
Cole might not seek the spotlight or like to draw attention to his achievements, but his coaches and teammates are more than happy to heap praise on the nine-year veteran who has made the transition from 4-3 defensive end to 3-4 outside linebacker and been a catalyst for the defense's surge in the second half of the season.
"Anybody who plays as hard as Trent Cole, you love seeing him have success," said defensive coordinator Bill Davis. "That man's never seen a down where he hasn't given everything he's had, so it's great to see him have success."
"Man, this guy here, right next to me, he doesn't know what he means to this team," said inside linebacker Mychal Kendricks. "He just goes out there and plays his heart out. I don't think he realizes the type of energy and type of charge he gives the offense when he makes those big-time plays on third down. Even us, when we see him make a play, we know, there's a guy with how many years he's been playing, still doing what he's doing and raising the bar every day. He just goes, man, and I wouldn't want to play with anyone else. That guy right there is a big part of this team. It's huge to go from a defensive end, hand in the dirt, to standing up. Going from that to what he's doing now is a huge adjustment, and he's made that adjustment. He's actually stepped his game up even more."
"I think Trent, from day one, played with a great effort," said head coach Chip Kelly. "Sometimes the numbers didn't show because he didn't have a sack total or whatever. But the pressure he got from game one to now, through game 15, sometimes it starts to come. He was so close in a lot of games, but I think what you see out of Trent is that he just gives you that effort, and he just plays so hard. That one sack where he's diving over people, but that's the Trent we know, and we understand what he can do and how he sets the tone for us. A lot of the other guys feed off of that."
Feed off that is exactly what the other Eagle defenders did. The Bears entered the game as the second-highest scoring offense in the league, trailing only the Denver Broncos.
"They recommitted themselves to step up and take on the challenge of really the most talented offense what we've faced," Davis said. "Denver is really talented, but with those weapons (on Chicago), I thought that our corners did a great job of handling them one-on-one and pressing them at the line. The defensive line got some pressure and our linebackers on the inside – Mychal (Kendricks) had a couple of sacks. The guys really just came to play with an attitude and a determination, and it worked out."
According to cornerback Brandon Boykin, who stepped up big with a 54-yard interception return for a touchdown, the Eagles defense needed this performance to wash the taste of the Minnesota game out of their mouths.
"We came back and redeemed ourselves," Boykin said. "It was a rough game and we gave up a lot of plays last week. We weren't proud about that. We came back Tuesday and prepared hard and practiced like it was game conditions all week. It was game tempo and game speed, knowing the receivers that they had. We wanted to take them out of the game, and I think we did a good job."
"I think we've grown," Cary Williams agreed. "Progressively, each and every week we've gotten better. We've had some letdowns like last week, but we look to improve on those things. We learned from those mistakes, we got better this week, and we look to continue to get better."
Williams, like Cole, is one of the leaders in the locker room, part of a veteran group that sets the tone. This week, that leadership manifested in the form of challenging each and every player on the defense to show that the progress it had made since the Broncos game was no fluke – that the Vikings game was the fluke.
"It's a great sign," Davis said of how the defense bounced back in dominated the Bears. "It's a testament to our leadership. Our leaders in the locker room are really doing a fantastic job keeping us on edge, keeping the guys ready and preparing. They're the hardest workers. I think the leadership from the players' standpoint really stepped up and made a difference this week."
After Sunday's stout defensive effort, the team's playoff hopes now rest on one last game, one final meeting with the Dallas Cowboys. The opportunity is there, and now it's up to the Eagles to take advantage of it.
"You really couldn't (script a better scenario)," said Boykin. "I think this is what everybody wanted, and for whatever reason, it happened like this. It's going to be an exciting game for sure. It's going to be one to definitely remember, and we have to go and shift our focus and come out with the same mentality and focus to get the job done."
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