Eagles fans are primed for a December playoff run

YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Posted: November 20, 2013

IF CHIP KELLY thinks the atmosphere at Lincoln Financial Field was off the charts Sunday as the Eagles ended their miserable, 10-game home losing streak, wait until he sees how Eagles fans react during the final five games, now that his Birds have made December football in Philadelphia relevant again.

"[The fans] were into it the entire game," Kelly said yesterday, a day after the Eagles' 24-16 win over Washington. "It was an awesome feeling. There was a lot of energy in that stadium."

When the Eagles return to the field on Dec. 1 after their bye week, the worst position they can be is tied for first in the NFC East.

That means that for the first time since 2010, Eagles fans know that their squad is legitimately in a playoff race down the stretch.

And with three of the Eagles' final five games at the Linc, you can be sure the fans will do their part to try to help the Birds get over the hump.

"It was great to get a win in Philly, because I know the fans are excited," quarterback Nick Foles said. "They are probably out running the streets going crazy."

Actually, Philadelphia reserves the running out in the streets stuff until one of it teams actually makes it to a championship game or series.

But there is no doubt that when the Eagles are playing in December with a realistic shot at making the playoffs, the atmosphere gets a little more amped.

And that, more than anything, is what's been missed over the previous two seasons.

Giving credit where credit is due, former Eagles coach Andy Reid spoiled us.

In 10 of his 14 seasons, he always positioned his team to have games in December that would impact its playoff status.

Fans want to enjoy the ride of going to a game on a December day with the understanding that something is on the line for the Eagles, that one more win in December could mean the difference in making the playoffs.

That is the ultimate theater of sports. December has been no fun for the past 2 years.

In 2011, the playoffs were already lost when the Eagles won their final four games to finish 8-8. Everyone knew that streak was a mirage and would not result in a playoff berth, even though the math made it possible.

Last season, Reid's final, the Birds finished 4-12 and were out of the playoff picture before Thanksgiving.

The December ride that is about to begin is unexpected.

Hardly anyone thought at the beginning of the season that Kelly's Eagles would be leading the NFC East in late November.

I believed Foles would be the starting quarterback, but not because he was leading the Birds to victories.

I figured that the Eagles would be so far out of it by December, Kelly would be playing Foles and rookie Matt Barkley to see whether either displayed some potential to be the quarterback moving forward.

Only 3 weeks ago, when the Eagles were 3-5 and coming off consecutive losses to Dallas and the Giants, the only whisper about playoffs was because the NFC East was so bad and someone had to win.

Yet while the Eagles' best chance at the playoffs would be to win the East, the Birds are also in the middle of the wild-card hunt. Games against Arizona (6-4), Detroit (6-4) and Chicago (6-4) at the Linc will have huge implications on the wild-card race.

"We always thought it was possible," Kelly said of the Eagles' bouncing back to get back in the playoff mix. "But it doesn't matter unless you do it. There was never a point where we said we were not going to play meaningful games in December.

"Then I'm only talking about meaningful games in December because our next game [Arizona] is in December. I'm always talking about the next game. We play Dec. 1, so it is a pretty meaningful game."

That's coachspeak. That's what coaches say and what they should say.

Zeroing in on little else but the next game is how they are wired. Heck, last season, Reid was talking about the next game being a big one when the Eagles were belly-up at 4-10.

Fans know better. They know when December matters and when it doesn't.

After a decade of watching the Birds fight and claw for playoff position down the final stretch of seasons, Eagles fans know how playing "meaningful games" in December is defined.

They know that last time the Eagles won a game in December that really mattered was Dec. 19, 2010, when they beat the Giants in the Meadowlands, 38-31, and ended up winning the NFC East on a tiebreaker.

If Kelly thought he saw something special out of Eagles fans on Sunday, wait until he sees how they react at those three final home games and how they travel to Minnesota and Dallas for the last two road games.

They have the ride back and they're going to enjoy it.


Email: smallwj@phillynews.com

Blog: ph.ly/DNL

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