It's a loose Eagles locker room as the players prepare for their Christmas Day off. Late on the eve, following a walkthrough practice at the NovaCare Complex, there is a lot to digest. The understanding of what's at stake is very much present: It's all about beating the New York Giants on Sunday.
"It's going to come down to who wants it the most," defensive tackle Fletcher Cox said. "The records, they don't mean a thing in this kind of game. We know that."
Cox said that he expects Sunday to be "like another home game" with the amount of Eagles fans who will make the trip to MetLife Stadium – see fans, the players really do recognize and appreciate your support on the road – and that the players will have to get back to the same emotional and physical pitch they played with on Sunday in the win over Dallas.
"We have to come out on fire and not come out flat," Cox said. "We have to go out there and do our job. It's not easy to beat a team twice in such a short period of time (the Eagles beat the Giants in overtime at Lincoln Financial Field on December 9). We have an idea of how we want to attack them and they have the same ideas about us. That being said, we didn't face Daniel Jones. We faced Eli Manning (at quarterback), so the game plan will probably change a little bit because their styles are different."
For Dallas Goedert, an important moment arrives
I love this quote from tight end Dallas Goedert, who could be in a more prominent position on Sunday with Zach Ertz dealing with a rib injury suffered in the win over Dallas: "Any time my number gets called, I plan on winning and plan on making a play."
Tight end is, obviously, a focal point for this passing game. Goedert is ninth among NFL tight ends with 54 receptions – Ertz is second behind Kansas City's Travis Kelce with 88 – and he has made the next-step jump in his second season. We all know that Goedert could start for just about NFL team. He's that talented. The Eagles signed Richard Rodgers on Tuesday, a veteran who knows the offense and who is a good in-line blocker and a threat in the red zone. Joshua Perkins could be more involved as a passing target should Ertz not have clearance to play.
It's going to be critical that the Eagles keep the tight ends heavily involved on Sunday. New York will key its efforts on running back Miles Sanders. Which leads to …
Miles Sanders: The hottest-selling Eagles jersey of the season
Had some last-minute Christmas shopping to do on December 24 so, naturally, I made a pit stop at the Pro Shop at Lincoln Financial Field intent on getting a couple of Miles Sanders jerseys.
Uh-uh. Sold out.
More are coming, but for now if you want a Miles Sanders jersey, call ahead to the Pro Shop and they can make one for you. He's the hot jersey of this holiday season, and for good reason: Sanders is on a tear and having the greatest rookie season for a running back in Eagles history.
Fifteen games into the season, Sanders is staying strong. He's got 231 touches – 170 rushing attempts, 47 receptions, and 17 kickoff returns – and Sanders' 5.9 yards-per-touch average from the line of scrimmage ranks third in the entire NFL.
How is he holding up physically?
"It's 15 games already?" he said, chuckling. "It's what, Week 17? Sheesh. It's long. I just feel like I'm getting better each week. I'm getting more comfortable out there feeling like myself. I still don't think I'm playing my best ball yet. I'm trying to grow and get better as it keeps going. I'm just doing whatever I can to help get this playoff berth."
Speaking of which …
Brandon Graham chasing a division title
From the time Brandon Graham was a first-round draft pick in 2010, the Eagles have won NFC East titles that season (although Graham was on Injured Reserve by the end of the season with a knee injury), 2013, and 2017. The hunger never goes away for …
"We want them hats and T-shirts," Graham said in an interview for the Eagles Insider Podcast presented by Lincoln Financial Group. "That's what it's all about. We don't want Dallas getting theirs. We want ours."
So, this is how it goes down: Both Dallas and the Eagles will have a trunk filled with NFC East Champions hats and T-shirts on Sunday because, well, that's what you do. An Eagles win and, trust me, that locker room is going to be a party. And every player will get his NFC East hat and T-shirt.
"We work hard for this and our goal at the beginning of every season is to win the division," Graham said. "It doesn't matter how you do it. You know that if you win the division, you get into the playoffs. And you can't win it (the Super Bowl) if you aren't in it (the playoffs)."
Roster moves and what they mean
In case you missed it, the Eagles played cornerback Ronald Darby on Injured Reserve and released running back Jay Ajayi from the 53-man roster, signed Rodgers to bolster the depth at tight end, and promoted wide receiver Deontay Burnett from the practice squad – he was just signed on December 12 after being released by the 49ers. Burnett is an interesting player, having walked on at Southern California – Burnett changed his commitment from Washington State – and then earned a scholarship as he had a terrific career there with 152 receptions and 16 touchdowns for the Trojans. Not drafted, Burnett signed with the Tennessee Titans, eventually landed with the Jets (where he played with Josh McCown), and caught 10 passes in five games in 2018. He was released in August and then signed to San Francisco's practice squad in October.
So, how does Burnett help the Eagles? He's got some NFL experience, he's tough, he can help in the slot, and he's a healthy body at a position where there aren't many healthy bodies. The Eagles like the way he came in and caught everything in practice the last two weeks. Practice means something in the NFL. Burnett earned his way to the active roster by stepping up from the moment he arrived in Philadelphia.
A telling quote from Jim Schwartz about DE Derek Barnett
Defensive end Derek Barnett returned to the field last week and helped the Eagles' defense set the edge and play with energy in the win over Dallas. That Barnett even played was an indication of how tough he is. He had missed a couple of games with a significant ankle injury but stepped up and played 45 snaps (one tackle) against the Cowboys. Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz gave one of the most complimentary and telling quotes about Barnett when I asked Schwartz on Tuesday about Barnett's toughness and what it meant to have him back on the field in the defense.
"I can't speak to his toughness because he's one of the toughest players I've ever been around. The fact that he played the second half of that Miami game with that ankle just was really amazing to me – and to play as well as he did," Schwartz said.
"I think he's always been a guy that will lay it all on the line. He's not the biggest guy in the world, not the fastest guy in the world, but he is one of the toughest guys in the world, and just brings such a presence when he's on the field. It was an inspiration to me to get him back on the field just knowing where he had come from and going through that whole week. We really didn't know how much we were going to be able to get out of him. It got close to game time and we really just treated it like he was any other player. Thought we might have to have a pitch count, watch and see what things he could do and everything else, but he just went out and played well for us.
"We had a lot of guys play well. It was one of those games that – there are some games where you can point to one player. A guy will have three sacks or a guy will make an interception, score, or something, and you can point to one player and say, 'Yeah, that player had a lot to do with the win.' We had a lot of guys that contributed to this (win) just by doing their job. Nothing special. Nothing way out of bounds or whatever. We tackled well, communicated well, covered well, rushed well. We made very few mistakes in the game. I think when you keep a team out of the end zone, it's not a mistake. It was all those guys together. Derek was a big part of that."