EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Ten wins is not a small feat in the NFL. It doesn't happen for every team. For this 10-6 Eagles team, though, the feeling as they exited MetLife Stadium following a 34-26 win over New York was decidedly bitter. And sweet.
As team Chairman/CEO Jeffrey Lurie emphasized after the victory, the three areas of breakdowns during the season were turnovers (an NFL-high 36), penalties and ineffectiveness from the offense in the red zone. They were the main culprits as the Eagles missed on chances to win at Arizona and San Francisco and in losses in December to Seattle, Dallas and at Washington.
"It's a bittersweet thing because we didn't make the playoffs," center Jason Kelce said. "But it wasn't like we had a terrible season. Ten and 6 is pretty good in the NFL, but that isn't the standard we hold ourselves to. We're trying to hold ourselves to playoffs football and Super Bowl football. I think we're a good team. We're close."
In the finale the Eagles overcame an early 7-0 deficit with a couple of lightning-quick drives of 80 yards (on three plays) and 75 yards (on seven plays), helped themselves with a blocked punt that Trey Burton returned for a touchdown and used a late Nate Allen interception to seal things against Eli Manning and the pass-happy (53 attempts, 429 yards) New York offense.
It was a solid win. It was a competitive game. The Eagles knew the playoffs were lost and they went out and played hard football, which not every NFL team does in Week 17. That says something about the character and leadership on this football team.
The big picture? We've got plenty of time to discuss the team's needs -- but I'll start with the secondary, inside linebacker, spots around the offense -- because on this team, for this moment, it felt good to beat the Giants and sweep the season series.
"Walking out of here with a win is something we wanted to accomplish and we did it," wide receiver Jeremy Maclin said. "I'm a competitive person and I always want to win. Nobody is going through the motions. We're not going to do that. We knew we were not going to make the playoffs, but we still had something to play for."
In reaching double-digit wins for the second straight year, the Eagles saw quarterback Mark Sanchez pick apart New York's secondary for big play after big play, connect with rookie slot receiver Jordan Matthews 8 times for 105 yards and a touchdown and mix enough of the run game in to gain 164 yards on 32 carries -- 99 of those yards from running back LeSean McCoy, who gained 1,319 yards, the second-highest season total in his career.
The defense shut down New York's running game -- limiting the Giants to 76 yards on 25 carries -- and withstanding Manning's quick-release passing game. Defensive coordinator Bill Davis mixed up his pressure packages and disrupted Manning enough to limit the Giants to 26 points.
What could have been ...
"I think we all thought about that throughout the week, the chances that we had and didn't capitalize on," safety Malcolm Jenkins said. "Games in this league come down to one or two plays and you have to make those plays. We didn't when we needed to late in the season and that's why we're watching the playoffs. We have to learn from it, grow from it and every individual has to come back a better player next year. We're a good team. We believe in each other. I think that's going to help us in the offseason.
"But it's also very disappointing not to be playing in the postseason. This was our last game of the year. It's a strange feeling."
It was one of the most unusual seasons, wasn't it? The Eagles jumped out to a 3-0 record despite double-digit deficits in each of the first three weeks. They continued to win despite mounting injuries, including the loss of quarterback Nick Foles on November 2. They appeared to be in great shape for the playoffs after beating Dallas 33-10 on Thanksgiving Day.
And then it all fell apart in three straight losses. There are going to be changes here, as there are every season. The Eagles will take a hard, hard look at every facet of their roster and try to find ways to improve.
They won't look back beyond that. There is no reason to lament any longer. The missed chances, the turnovers, the field goals instead of touchdowns -- those are areas to fix, not cry over.
"It's all about winning and we didn't win enough to make the playoffs," McCoy said. "It hurts, because I think we're a better team than we showed the last few games. But it is what it is. We have to eliminate the mistakes and move on. I think we all agree with that. We can't keep killing ourselves with bad decisions and turnovers.
"I'm proud of the way we played today, the way we competed. We got the win. We beat a team that had three straight wins and that's important for us. I know the season is over and that's tough to take. Real tough. I just know we're going to learn and come back a better team next season."