How the Blowout in the Big Easy Turned the Eagles Season Around
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - It's darkest before dawn.
The low point of the Philadelphia Eagles season was unquestionably the Nov. 18 implosion in New Orleans when Sean Payton put his foot on the gas en route to sending the reigning Super Bowl champions away from Bourbon Street with the nastiest of hangovers.
At 4-6 after that game, the thought of a sequel and another Lombardi Trophy was not even a consideration for the Eagles. Even a playoff berth seemed far-fetched.
Turns out that was the Eagles' rock bottom, however, and instead of rolling over Philadelphia decided to show the heart of a champion by winning five of six to end the regular season and then topping Chicago, 16-15, on Wild Card weekend, setting up a rematch that Sean Payton likely never envisioned when he was calling wheel routes on fourth down in the fourth quarter with a 38-7 lead.
The Saints wounded the Eagles but they didn't finish them and all of a sudden, Philadelphia is back in the batter's box waiting to swing again, this time with Nick Foles leading the offense instead of an injured Carson Wentz and with a much more competent secondary due to the rapid development of Avonte Maddox, Rasul Douglas and Cre'Von LeBlanc over the past two months.
“When we played the Saints the first go-around, it was definitely a tough loss,” Foles acknowledged earlier this week. “When we look back, I thought that they executed well and there were times that we didn't do a great job as a team. But I think when we look back, we learned a lot about ourselves then."
The lesson, according to Foles, was about staying together and battling through adversity.
“There was never once that we pointed a finger at one another,” Foles insisted. “We continued to gain strength, we continued to believe in one another and trust one another through that process. Even in a game like that didn't go our way, our team stuck together, and I think that tells you a lot about the people that work here.”
Star safety Malcolm Jenkins did actually question the "demeanor" of certain players when the snowball started rolling downhill against the Saints but the dirty laundry was kept in house as Philadelphia found a way to turn things around with its only loss since coming in overtime at Dallas.
“It's really about trust, it's about relationships,” Foles said when describing the turnaround. “Everybody wants to know the secret of a great team. And everyone wants to make it about rah-rah and X’s and O’s and all that stuff. But from my experience, it's the team that has the best relationships, the team that trusts each other the most are the teams that are usually successful."
And that trust was cemented by the embarrassment of the performance in New Orleans.
“That game has helped us become who we are today,” Foles said. “It actually brought us closer together. It can separate a team, or it can bring us closer and it brought us closer."
The irony is that the blowout in the Big Easy was the launching point of the Eagles' return to the city on Sunday for the divisional round of the playoffs. And this time, no one -- not even the Saints -- expects a laugher.
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen