John Smallwood: Eagles need to take advantage of Giant opportunity to improve

Running back Brandon Jacobs reacts after Giants defeated Dallas last weekend.
Running back Brandon Jacobs reacts after Giants defeated Dallas last weekend.
Posted: November 06, 2008

THE PHILLIES had reached a crossroads in their season.

They had lost three out of four games early in September, and were 3 1/2 games behind the New York Mets in the National League East and four games behind the Milwaukee Brewers in the NL wild-card race.

A four-game homestand against the Brewers likely would determine whether the rest of the season was meaningful.

The Phillies made a stand. They swept the Brewers, finished the regular season 13-3 and carried that momentum all the way to a World Series championship.

The Eagles face a similar situation Sunday night when they host the NFC East-leading New York Giants.

With half a season left to play, it's hard to say the Eagles' situation is as desperate as the Phillies' was, but this still is an opportunity for the Birds to make a statement about what they want the rest of the year to be.

"We are playing a very good team," Eagles running back Brian Westbrook said. "They are at the top of the division, and we're playing the team that is the world champ, so it's a big opportunity for us to go out there.

"It's almost a statement game, where we can go out there and prove some things to ourselves and other people - that we are a team to be reckoned with."

I'm not big on the term "statement game," but I am big on taking advantage of opportunities when they are presented.

And there is no question that the game against the Giants presents a huge opportunity for the Eagles.

If the Birds (5-3) beat New York (7-1), they will be right back in the hunt in the NFC East Division and the NFC playoff race.

If they lose, they won't be "stick-a-fork-in-them" done, but the path to the playoffs will become exceedingly more challenging.

As it stands right now, the Eagles are a woeful 0-2 in the division and an acceptable 4-3 in the conference.

A victory puts them within a game of the Giants and vaults them toward the top of the NFC standings.

A loss will do the opposite.

As a rule, coach Andy Reid tries not to emphasize one game as any more important than another, but even he realizes the perceived significance attached to this one.

"I can see that," Reid said when asked whether he understands why this is viewed as a statement game for the Eagles. "That's OK. We'll all be excited, but we have to take care of business.

"It's one of those situations where you would like to wake up and it's Sunday, but you have to go through the process. You guys can already get there in the paper, but we have to do it physically and mentally and make sure we are right by the time it comes to Sunday."

From 2001 through 2004, when they won four consecutive NFC East titles, the Eagles were a virtual lock in these season-defining types of games.

In 2001, they were 3-3 when they won in Arizona and turned that into an 8-2 finish. In 2002, an ugly 35-13 loss at Indianapolis had many wondering whether the Eagles (6-3) were a legitimate Super Bowl contender. A victory over Arizona started a six-game winning streak that carried them to a 12-4 record.

In 2003, the Eagles were 2-3, when Westbrook returned the punt for a touchdown against the Giants for the "Miracle in the Meadowlands, Part II." The Birds went on to win the game, and 10 of their final 11 games.

Even during the Super Bowl season of 2004, when the Eagles finished 13-3, there was a big win at Dallas after the Birds had been humiliated, 27-3, in Pittsburgh. A 49-21 thrashing of the Cowboys started a six-game winning streak, all against NFC opponents. The Birds likely might have have finished 15-1, but took it easy the last two games after securing homefield throughout the playoffs.

That hasn't been the case for the Birds recently. They've missed playoffs in two of the last three seasons largely because they have not been able to win "big" regular-season games. *

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