Drexel engineering student Connor Gallagher summed up his thoughts on the Philadelphia Eagles in one word: “Finally.” After a 4-12 record last year and the ups and downs of this season, this is a moment that Eagles fans have been longing for and are hoping will last. The team got its first home win in 413 days, the fast-paced offense is still rolling, the defense is still stingy, and – most importantly – Philadelphia is in first place in the NFC East.
And last it will, at least for a little while. Because the 6-5 Eagles are on a bye this upcoming week, both fans and players will not only be able to relax with friends and family over Thanksgiving, but also continue their tradition of rooting against the now second-place Dallas Cowboys, who are 5-5. The Cowboys play twice, first against the New York Giants and then the Oakland Raiders, before the Eagles take the field again. And as long as Dallas loses at least one of those games, the Eagles will remain in first place going into their week 13 matchup at home versus the Arizona Cardinals.
While Eagles fans love nothing more than seeing the Cowboys lose, with the way head coach Chip Kelly’s offense has been progressing and Billy Davis’ defense has been playing, it may not even matter. The Eagles are looking like a team that has begun to hit its stride; a complete transformation has seemingly taken place since their week 7 beatdown at the hands of Dallas.
As Gallagher put it, “Chip Kelly’s credibility as an NFL coach looked bleak after the loss to the Cowboys, but over the last three weeks he is proving that his style can work in the NFL.”
On Nov. 17 against the Washington Redskins, Nick Foles proved some doubters – myself included – wrong with yet another consistent game-winning performance, as Philadelphia won 24-16. Foles went 17-26 for 298 yards and a rushing touchdown. Now that the Eagles have snapped the home losing streak, a new streak can take its place: 329. That marks the number of days since Foles has thrown an interception in a regular-season game.
The rest of the offensive players continued their impressive run, too. LeSean McCoy added to his NFL-leading rushing total with 77 yards and two touchdowns to go along with four grabs for 73 yards. The offensive line was pretty solid as well, while DeSean Jackson and the rest of the receivers made plays when the ball came their way.
Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III was hit relentlessly throughout the game, as the tremendous coverage down the field allowed the pass rush to get to him. Going into the half, Griffin had only 26 yards passing. Defensive tackle and last year’s first-round pick Fletcher Cox looked like an all-pro. Cox constantly disrupted plays and plucked a clutch fumble recovery after a Connor Barwin sack. The Redskins were able to rally back in the fourth quarter, but with the game on the line, Davis’ unit stepped up and made the stop, which is what championship football is all about. Over the past five weeks, the Eagles defense has conceded just over 16 points per game to opposing teams – quite an impressive feat.
However, some unanswered questions remain going forward, and by no means should anyone within the organization be sitting too comfortably. After being up 24-0, the Eagles nearly let the game against Washington slip away. In addition, Kelly will not be pleased with nine team penalties and a missed opportunity in the red zone. As great as Foles has been, he still has yet to win against a top team. None of the opponents the Eagles have faced over the course of their winning streak – Washington, Oakland and the Aaron Rodgers-less Green Bay Packers – are playoff-caliber teams. On top of that, the enigmatic NFC East remains enigmatic; the win against Washington essentially eliminated the Redskins from contention, but after dropping six straight to start the season, New York is on a winning a streak and remains alive in the quest for a division title. Meanwhile, the Cowboys are coming off a bye and should see the return of several key players.
So although the Eagles have finally put themselves atop the division, much of the season has yet to play itself out, so stay tuned to what should be an incredibly exciting final six games. But for now, enjoy the bye week.