Pseudo-Playoffs Proving Invaluable for Young Eagles
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - Fresh off vanquishing the one NFC East team that has given him trouble in recent seasons, Doug Pederson was fired up in the wake of turning next week's visit to North Jersey into a win-and-you're-in scenario.
A stifling 17-9 triumph over Dallas means all the Eagles have to do to recover from a 5-7 three quarters to win four straight games and reach the NFL postseason for a third consecutive year is beat the 4-11 New York Giants.
When Pederson was asked by 973espn.com about his young players gaining experience in a playoff-like environment, he interrupted with a correction of sorts.
"Yes, it is. It's a playoff game. Tonight was a playoff game," the coach insisted.
Factually, Pederson is incorrect of course but Philadelphia has been in a win-or-else mindset for three weeks now, although this was the first sudden-death situation because if the Eagles did lose to the Cowboys Sunday, they would have been eliminated from the hunt and Dallas would have been declared the NFC East champions.
Now the Cowboys are the ones on life support with a lame-duck coach asking for help from a bad football team at MetLife Stadium. The Eagles, on the other hand, are in the driver's seat.
That mindset doesn't change even if the landscape has, though Technically Philadelphia could lose to the Giants next week and still win the division if the Cowboys lose again to 3-12 Washington but nobody in the Eagles locker room wants to tempt that kind of fate by laying an egg against a team showing some life with rookie QB Daniel Jones throwing for five touchdowns Sunday against Washington and Saquon Barkley returning to his dominant form in what has been an injury-plagued season.
So many unlikely heroes have stepped up for the Eagles in this late-season run as the team attempts to close out a perfect intra-division December led by recent practice-squad promotees Boston Scott, Greg Ward, and Josh Perkins. On Sunday Rob Davis was the latest to get into the mix with his first reception.
The new core, meanwhile, is led by the one veteran -- tight end Zach Ertz -- as well as a rookie in Miles Sanders and a second-year player in Dallas Goedert, the two Carson Wentz options who found the end zone against the Cowboys.
“I’m so proud of these guys; I’m so proud of them," Wentz said of his young playmakers. "It’s been really fun. Obviously we’ve had our backs against the wall for a while now. You can see the sense of belief these guys have, and you see it each week with them getting better and better and believing in themselves and believing in this team. I can’t say enough good things about these young guys that are continually stepping up for us. And we are going to need these guys down the stretch.”
The experience already gained in high-leverage situations is already invaluable, according to Pederson.
"It means everything," the coach assessed. "I think that's something that our team understands, that each week now starting a couple of weeks ago every week was a playoff game, otherwise we are going to go home here in a couple weeks. Our season is not done. We have another week left We have another division opponent on the road and a chance to continue our season."
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen