Back at .500, Birds have some direction

LeSean McCoy finds a flock of Eagles fans at Lambeau Field and celebrates with them after the win. McCoy rushed for 155 yards against the Packers.
LeSean McCoy finds a flock of Eagles fans at Lambeau Field and celebrates with them after the win. McCoy rushed for 155 yards against the Packers. (RON CORTES / Staff Photographer)
Posted: November 12, 2013

GREEN BAY, Wis. - The tundra wasn't frozen - it doesn't actually freeze anymore since they put heating coils beneath the sod - but it wasn't a toasty day in old Lambeau Field, either. The deep-fried cheese curds were the only warm thing in the building when the Eagles and Packers kicked off on Sunday.

This isn't an easy place to play, even against a team missing its starting quarterback and, after one offensive series, missing its backup quarterback, too. That didn't hurt the visitors, but the wind still blew cold and steady off the bay, the 78,000 fans still howled along with it, and the Eagles were aware they hadn't beaten a team with a winning record yet this season.

It was a setting that might have made them gulp, particularly when three starters left the game with injuries and despite a fortunate first half after which they led the game by just a touchdown. The gulping didn't happen, though. In fact, the Eagles were able to play a settled and secure game against a good team in a difficult place despite a whole lot of weird things that kept happening on the field.

"Most of the guys on this team have been through a lot of adversity. It's no stranger," guard Evan Mathis said. "You roll with it, and you keep going. You keep going no matter what happens - an injury, a bad play. You keep going, and you can't even think about it."

All season it has been hard to know what to make of the Eagles, simply because they never sat still for their portrait. The defense started out very shaky and has appeared to come together in the last four games. The offense started out very well, went haywire and flat as Michael Vick and Nick Foles traded injuries, and has gotten back on track the last two weeks under Foles.

Whether the next set of changes is positive or negative is anyone's guess, but the team is back to .500, with all the potential and peril that record would suggest. The next three games are at Lincoln Financial Field, where the team hasn't won since Sept. 30, 2012. That one was a narrow, late win over the Giants that boosted them to 3-1, and it seemed Andy Reid might be able to reinvent himself as Eagles coach once again.

So, yes, it's been a while, and a lot of reinvention has indeed taken place within the franchise, but none of it involves Reid any longer. Now it is Chip Kelly's turn, and even though this season would have been fine as an educational on-ramp to the future, the Eagles somehow keep hanging around the division lead. Dallas holds the tiebreaker at the moment, but that could change. Suddenly, as Foles has emerged from his concussion to play two extremely good games, a lot more seems possible. As basketball coach Dean Smith used to say, "You can learn when you win, too."

"We're not good at home, and we're good on the road," Kelly said Sunday after the Eagles put away the 27-13 win. "We better figure it out, because we're coming home."

With just six games left, it's fair to start parsing the remaining schedule. If the Eagles can beat Washington and Arizona, two games sandwiched around the bye, then they might gain momentum and confidence for the remainder of the schedule, where three of their last four opponents currently have .500-or-better records.

"We are playing our best football of the season right now, but we need a home game," Mathis said. "It's been way too long since we won a home game."

The fans might agree, but a win against the Redskins would forgive a lot, particularly since this is an easy team to like at the moment. For one thing, the Eagles are starting to play with a little what-the-hell to their game, and it is starting with Foles and rippling out like a rock thrown in the pond. Anyone who saw that coming after the Dallas game, please raise your hand.

"If I had to define it, I'd say he's playing with a ton of swag," running back LeSean McCoy said.

Enough swag - or maybe still on a confidence high from his seven-touchdown day in Oakland - that Foles was willing to toss up the ball and see what happened. Once, a bomb somehow got through the arms of a leaping defender and found DeSean Jackson. The next time, Foles badly underthrew a long pass to Riley Cooper, but Cooper was able to come back for the ball while the defenders couldn't brake, and that was another improbable touchdown.

The Packers were selling out their defense to stop McCoy, and Foles had chances to go over the top of the man-to-man defense. He took them, and, on this day, it worked out.

Most impressive of all was the way the Eagles handled the last two possessions. Green Bay recovered a Foles fumble - his first turnover of the year - at the 13-yard-line, but couldn't get the ball in the end zone. Then the Eagles took over and ran the final 9 minutes, 32 seconds off the clock. Everyone from Oshkosh to Fond du Lac knew the Eagles were going to run the ball, but the Packers couldn't stop them.

For most of this season, the defense and the offense haven't been clicking at the same time as they did to finish off the Packers. That was different, and everyone in the locker room had to feel it.

"We feel we can't afford no mess-ups, but we've got six games left, and we just have to keep it going," Jackson said.

They still don't know where they are headed, but right now, it feels as if there might actually be a destination out there on the highway and not just a rest stop.


bford@phillynews.com

@bobfordsports


www.inquirer.com/

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