The message was delivered quickly and pointedly.
“One down, one to go,” Eagles coach Chip Kelly told his team Sunday, moments after they obliterated the Bears, 54-11, at the Linc in a statement game broadcast to the entire country.
With the Vikings letdown from seven days prior in their rearview mirror, the Eagles prepared for their showdown next Sunday against the Cowboys for the NFC East title by dealing the Bears one uppercut after another en route to an epic home triumph.
And now, metaphorically speaking, the playoffs start one week early. If the Eagles win or tie against Dallas at AT&T Stadium, they’re the NFC East champs and the No. 3 seed in the playoffs. If not, they go home and get ready for another long offseason.
“It’s gonna be the biggest show on Earth,” veteran Trent Cole said after his three-sack parade against Jay Cutler. “It gonna be a circus like always.”
The Eagles and Cowboys each ensured that the NFC East would come down to another do-or-die showdown by winning Sunday. First, the Cowboys erased a nine-point deficit in the fourth to beat the Redskins at FedEx Field. Then, the Eagles rounded back into form after suffering an 18-point blowout to the hapless Vikings by demolishing the Bears.
“We got an extra playoff game,” center Jason Kelce said. “That’s pretty much what it is. The NFC East title is going to be on the line, obviously, so it’s a big game for both teams.”
The confounding loss to Minnesota at the Metrodome raised questions about the Eagles’ legitimacy as a playoff contender.
That doesn’t seem like much of an issue anymore. Not after the Eagles steamrolled over a surging Bears team that could have clinched the NFC North with a win.
“It's a big-time rivalry between us and Dallas,” linebacker DeMeco Ryans said, “and to be playing for a division championship in Dallas, I mean, that’s awesome.”
The Eagles have been dramatically different since their 17-3 loss to Dallas at the Linc on Oct. 20. With Nick Foles entrenched as the starter, their offense is more stable and prolific. Their defense has continued to develop, holding 10 of their past 11 opponents under 22 points.
But more than the schemes, there’s a certain aura in the locker room that wasn’t there in September and October, a confidence they’ve cultivated along the way.
“They know what’s coming,” linebacker Mychal Kendricks said of the Cowboys. “It’s gonna be a great game. I don’t think you get it. Guys are talking about the game right now. We knew what time it was. We know what’s going on. We know what the outcome is going to be. That’s how we feel.”
The Eagles haven’t won the division since 2010, which is also the last year they made the postseason. Since then, it’s been one dark season after another, an 8-8 year in 2011 that started with four losses in the first five games and then last year’s 4-12 mark that cost Andy Reid his job and led to Kelly’s hiring.
They haven’t won a postseason game since 2008, when they advanced to the NFC Championship game with wins over the Vikings and Giants before losing to the Cardinals.
Before they can think about winning playoff games, they’ve got one more hurdle to clear on Sunday in Texas.
Dallas has lost two of its past three games and three of its last six, but the Cowboys showed their mettle against the Redskins, scoring a touchdown on 4th-and-goal in the waning minutes to edge out a win they absolutely needed.
And now it’s down to one game.
“Playoffs just start a week early for both teams,” Kelly said. "If you win, you get an opportunity to keep playing. If you lose, you’re going home. That is really just the first week of the playoffs.”
-- Geoff Mosher, CSNPhilly.com
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