“Most of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people who have kept on trying when there seemed to be no hope at all.” Dale Carnegie
It was after 4a.m. Monday morning, I had just witnessed the Eagles secure a much needed victory over a division rival but for some reason I couldn’t allow myself to fully savour the moment. Undoubtedly the fact that I was half-dead was a significant contributory factor, but I could not escape a deep and overbearing sense of trepidation as I immediately turned my attention to the remaining schedule facing my beloved Eagles.
There are many that would simply dismiss my sentiments by calling into question my loyalty to, or faith in the team. However, I feel no guilt whatsoever in caring enough about the Eagles’ performance over the coming weeks to express concern; when evaluating the Eagles ‘doubt’ is the inescapable by-product of every fan’s internal struggle between perception and reality, hope and execution.
Before a single Eagle’s player had warmed-up for the first day of training camp the team were perceived as the favourites in the Beast, with an historic collection of talent poised for a deep playoff run. One perceived notion was that opposing receivers blanketed by DRC, Samuel and Asomugha would allow Babin and Cole to pin their ears back and go after the QB – the reality, unfortunately, is ever so slightly different. Asomugha, the most coveted prize of free-agency, has a total of 3 interceptions (0 TDs) and his longest interception return is for 6yds (his total is 10yds); that’s the same number of interceptions as Atlanta’s Thomas DeCoud (I’ve never heard of him either). Meanwhile Babin and Cole have combined for 15 sacks so far, which is a whole sack more than Demarcus Ware’s solo effort.
The hope was that the Eagles dominance on both sides of the ball would stand them in good stead to see off the Packers in the NFC championship game. However as a result of the Eagles’ inconsistent execution they are one of the 14 teams in the NFL with a losing record, their playoffs hopes hanging by a thread; a single defeat in the coming weeks will likely halt any chance of a playoff spot.
Entering Week 11 every member of the Eagle’s organisation, from locker room to front office, knew that they needed to win the remaining games of the regular season. There is not a doubt in my mind that that amount of pressure can take its toll on players; the knowledge that every play matters, that every snap, tackle, pass, reception, kick and run could mean the difference between winning and losing is a responsibility of such enormity that it is beyond the comprehension of us lesser mortals.
When I consider the game on Sunday night in this light, the knot in my stomach begins to unravel ever so slightly. Given the pressure, Vince Young’s ability to lead a calm, consistent and confident 4th quarter drive cannot be underestimated (nor the contribution of Babin’s sack which led to a fumble) and is a welcome contrast to the Eagles previous endeavours in the final 15 minutes of play. Looking back on the 2011 season it would be fitting if the Eagles’ revival was started by Vince Young, the architect of the cursed “Dream Team” moniker.
Tempting as it may be though I simply can’t fully convince myself all is well. The Eagles have been adept at toying with our emotions this season; the same team that obliterated the Cowboys were made to suffer defeat at the hands of a Skelton led Cardinals team. Accordingly the win on Sunday night does not necessarily mean that the ship has been righted.
It may well be that the team has finally fused together as a unit under intense pressure, like the emergence of a diamond from a lump of coal. It may also be the case that they are playing with a sense that they have nothing to lose and as such are loose and relaxed. Frankly I don’t care which is right, so long as they win games.
Standing in the way of the Eagles and the playoffs are the Patriots, Seahawks, Dolphins, Jets, Cowboys and Redskins. As we often hear from players we just have to take it one game at a time; the Patriots are not the team of 2007 and have shown that they can be beaten, a high octane and consistent defensive unit can overcome anything Tom Brady throws its way, and the Eagles have the offensive tools to pick its way through a questionable Patriot Defence.
There is no escaping the fact that the Eagles playoff chances are still mathematically alive – so long as that is the case there is always hope.