Williams is a reasoned voice of experience for the Eagles

Posted: January 06, 2014

FROM 1981-2001, the top-seeded team won the NFC championship 16 times. The No. 2 seed did it four other years.

In the last eight seasons, the Super Bowl champion has played the first weekend of the playoffs six times, including the last three.

It used to be mostly about securing a homefield edge. Now it's more about making the right run.

Cary Williams knows. He was part of one last year when the fourth-seeded Baltimore Ravens won four postseason games, including two on the road (at Denver and New England) to get their second Lombardi Trophy.

"Every year, we knew we had the pieces in place," said the veteran cornerback, who signed here in the offseason as a free agent. "It was something we were used to. Anything less [than a Super Bowl] was considered a failure.

"With Ray [Lewis] retiring, the sense of urgency became much more intense. They wanted to do everything they possibly could to give their general, the team leader, a last hurrah.

"The Denver game [38-35 in the divisional round] really cemented our conviction. Peyton Manning is Peyton Manning, but we didn't have any doubt. And the way we won it, after that we knew."

He's the only Eagle with a Super Bowl ring. The team has won seven of its last eight, although only one of those was against anyone that's in the playoffs. And that was Green Bay without Aaron Rodgers on Nov. 10. But in December, the Birds beat four teams - Arizona, Detroit, Chicago and Dallas - that might or would have made the playoffs if not for that loss. Three of them were in South Philly, which is where they'll be tonight when the New Orleans Saints try to win on the road for the first time in their postseason history.

The Eagles are already on a roll. A bunch of folks seem to think that makes them dangerous. Of course, many of those same people weren't thinking that in August. Or even after they scored a combined 10 points in back-to-back home losses to the Cowboys and Giants a little more than 2 months ago.

"It doesn't matter what they say," noted Williams, who knocked down the late two-point conversion pass to Dez Bryant that was the difference in Sunday night's NFC East-clinching win at Dallas. "You have to ignore the noise. They may say something great about you one week, then you do something wrong and they want to say there was a letdown or the team wasn't focused or wasn't ready, whatever it might be. It's funny how people speculate. You still have to go out there and get it done. Paper means nothing. We didn't necessarily start off hot, but we continued to work hard at it and progressively get better. And now we're reaping the benefits of the determination and preparation and dedication. That's been good."

The Eagles haven't won a playoff game in almost 5 years. They haven't won one at home in nearly seven. They haven't even played in any in 36 months.

The Ravens at least were experienced. This is new ground for much of this team and its first-year coach.

"To a degree, a lot of guys look to me with some respect, since I guess I'm one of the old men," Williams said. "A lot of guys just want to see your body of work, results. They don't want to see guys just talking. So I think it's imperitive of me to show them what you have to do. Hopefully, they'll see that and want to follow. Right now, I think it's more of a mental game than a physical one.

"Early on, everybody was asking what it was like to win a Super Bowl. I said it was great and feels cool, but to be honest, it all happens so fast. Even now I'm, like, 'Wow.' When I think about it, it's almost like an out-of-body experience."

Obviously, it's a long way from wild-card weekend to the ultimate stage. Most people who at least give the Birds some kind of a shot probably do so, because of what they can do with the ball. But the defense gave up more than 22 points only once in the second half. Williams is a part of that. Last year, the Birds had way too many issues, not the least of which was their secondary. Drew Brees - despite his alleged problems on the road and in bad weather - still figures to test that group, even at the dome-less Linc. He also has a ring.

"I don't know if we're surprising people," Williams said. "I don't care. You have to understand the season's a marathon, not a sprint. We trust in each other. We've persevered. And now we're a defense that shouldn't be overlooked. We're capable of making plays.

"Going into the season, I didn't know what really to expect. I really didn't know anybody. Initially, it was kind of a rebuilding year. But I can tell you these guys are resilient, man. And without the other 10 guys on the field, I wouldn't be the guy that I am."

So, is there another ride in his immediate future?

"You've got to want it," he stressed. "You got your foot in the door, that's fine, but you want to do something once it's there. There's a lot of opportunities out there. You can't take them for granted. There's a lot of guys who've been in this league for years and never been to a playoff game. It's short. I'm fortunate.

"You want to make the most out of every chance, basically sacrifice everything you've got for this moment. You never know when you're going to get the next one."

Unless maybe it's next week at Carolina.

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