The time for perspective, says Eagles linebacker Will Witherspoon, comes when the season is over and the body is healed and the mood is reflective. Now, Witherspoon is in the day-to-day grind, living on adrenaline, preparing for the biggest game of this 2009 regular season.
"I'll look back on this season at the end of the whole ordeal, and we're not there yet," said Witherspoon. "Big game this week. That is all we are thinking about. Have a good day of practice and go to the next day and improve a little bit more. That's what you do at this time of the season."
If he won't do it, allow a look from this standpoint: The trade to acquire Witherspoon at the sizeable cost of rookie wide receiver Brandon Gibson and a 2010 fifth-round draft pick saved the Eagles' season. A good player languishing in the doldrums of an awful St. Louis Rams year, Witherspoon received a reprieve when the Eagles acquired him minutes before the trade deadline in October. Since then, Witherspoon has been a big-time contributor to the defense, first as the middle linebacker and then as the starter on the weak side. Witherspoon has also been a staple in the nickel and has given the Eagles the three-down presence they have lacked at linebacker since Stewart Bradley was injured.
In the big picture, the linebacker group has been a game of musical chairs. Defensive coordinator Sean McDermott has worked combinations from series to series, literally. Witherspoon has been the single constant in the revolving-door theme in the middle of the Eagles' defense.
Through it all, Witherspoon has been outstanding. He has shored up coverage in the passing game, particularly against opposing backs. Witherspoon has learned the defense on the fly and is a vastly-improved player from the time the Cowboys came to Philadelphia on November 8. That game marked his third with the Eagles. Now, Witherspoon knows the defense and it makes a huge difference.
"It's a whole different animal now. Back then, I was living on the fly and just trying to get by," said Witherspoon. "Now, I have it down. I get it. I can move within things and we're all communicating on the same level now. I'm prepared to do whatever they ask me to do, and I understand what everybody else is doing.
"In that first game, my understanding of the defense was so much more limited. And what they wanted me to do was to keep me a little bit in a box and teach me some things and try to make sure I didn't stray and try to do too much. I've expanded as the season has gone along and I feel really good here."
He also feels really good about notching some wins this season. Witherspoon was 0-6 in St. Louis. The Eagles have won 8 of 10 games with Witherspoon here, and while the veteran linebacker has not had a bye week to recover, he is making sure to do all the right things to keep him fresh.
"This is as big as it gets in the regular season and we're all excited about it," he said. "Dallas has an outstanding offense. Their offensive linemen are as big as houses. They are going to try to maul you with those guys, and they have running backs who try to wear you down. They want to get downhill with their different styles and beat down a defense.
"It is a complete offense. Very well balanced. We know how good they are. They beat us the first time and they are playing for a lot, like we are."
This time a year ago, Witherspoon was playing out the string in St. Louis. He stays in touch with some of his former teammates there as the Rams wind down a one-win season. Meanwhile, Witherspoon is playing for a division title on Sunday at Dallas, and there is a major, major buzz in the Eagles locker room.
"Hey, this is what we're all playing for. It's a good feeling," said Witherspoon. "We need to keep moving forward, chipping away things and making sure we are hitting our stride."
And with that, Witherspoon went into a meeting, the next piece in a series of meticulous steps to take leading into Sunday's showdown at Dallas.
*NEWS, NOTES AND THIS AND THAT *
- Max Jean-Gilles knows the routine. "It's football, that's all. We have a chance to clinch the division and we have to go out there and win the game. They have a good defense, a lot of good players. We know how good they are. They get off the ball quickly and they cause havoc. It's a good matchup."
- No Michael Vick at practice on Wednesday, and we won't know much until Friday. The Eagles could really use Vick in those short-yardage and red-zone packages.
- Dallas plays a 3-4 defense, the third straight team using that scheme against the Eagles. That has to help, doesn't it?
- Left tackle Jason Peters on Pro Bowl linebacker/defensive end DeMarcus Ware: "He's in the top five of the players I've gone against. He's fast, quick, plays very low and uses his leverage. He is a very, very good player."
- Quintin Demps practiced on Wednesday, but the Eagles still aren't sure that he will be healthy enough to return kickoffs against Dallas.