Coming off a 4-12 record in Andy Reid's final season, the Eagles entered 2013 with a new coach, new schemes and a new attitude. While many predicted an eventual turnaround from the horrendous 2012 season, not many saw it coming so soon.
"I think it was a surprise for everybody on the outside that we got so far, but for us, that is what we expected," cornerback Brandon Boykin said. "I think we know that we can do better than that, but at the end of the day we are happy with that kind of year."
"You had to expect this coming in," said guard Evan Mathis, who will be playing in the Pro Bowl next Sunday in Honolulu. "You don't aim to improve to 6-10 or anything like that; you go for it. We knew we had the talent in the room as well as with the coaches, and we played for each other to improve."
For the 2007 Phillies and 2013 Eagles, the similarities are quite clear. Both teams won theirs division with a lot of talent and not so many big names as well as a lot of promise moving forward. Neither team had been predicted to finish where it did. Each team earned a playoff berth on the final day of its regular season and lost in the first round of the playoffs.
In 2007, the Phillies were led by shortstop Jimmy Rollins, who was named NL MVP after batting .296 with 30 homers, 38 doubles, 20 triples and 94 RBI and 139 runs scored. Entering the 2008 season, Rollins predicted the Phillies would win 100 games and the World Series. While the Eagles are hoping for similar success to that of the Phillies in 2008, quarterback Nick Foles was reluctant to make such a prediction.
"I've never been to the Super Bowl, so I don't know," Foles said, when asked if the Eagles would be good enough to win a Super Bowl in 2014. "I know we have great guys here that are going to work and work together. I'm not going to make any statements like that, but I know the personnel that we have here and I believe in the personnel that we have here. I believe in everybody on this team. There's going to be pieces added. It's the NFL, there always is. As long as we can come together as one team, I think that's what's important."
After Shane Victorino grounded out to end the 2007 NLDS, he and his teammates had nearly 5 months to reflect and build before spring training began in 2008. The Phillies were able to add extra pieces before and during the 2008 season, something cornerback Cary Williams believes the Eagles must do to improve their roster in 2014.
"I think the potential is there, but we have to make changes and that is going to happen naturally because that's how the business is," Williams said. "There's going to be different faces in the locker room next season. I think if we continue to work hard, press at it and keep plugging away each and every day and take advantage of this offseason and OTAs, we won't have those mental mistakes in the playoffs and we will be better overall."
Said Mathis: "There's always plenty of areas to work and improve upon and we're going to do whatever we can to get better. Every single guy in the room can be held accountable to improve themselves as a player this offseason."
The Phillies started the 2007 season 3-10. They ended the regular season with 89 wins by winning 13 of 17 games and overcoming the New York Mets' seven-game lead.
For the 2013 Eagles, a 3-5 start was not ideal, but also not a reason to throw in the towel. They came back to win seven of their last eight games to finish 10-6 and won the NFC East title on the last day of the season in Dallas.
"It's just crazy how I think we were 3-5 at one point then we turned it around and started getting on this win streak and we started figuring things out," said Foles, who also will be in Hawaii for the Pro Bowl. "We started bonding as a group, we started growing in the locker room. And I can just tell you right now, the guys in there, myself included, want to keep playing and we're going to take it into the offseason where we're going to keep working and working together and we're going to be better because of it."
After an impressive first year, coach Chip Kelly believes the first thing the Eagles need to do is to move on, just as the Phillies did in 2007. While there were many signs of positive things to come following LeSean McCoy's league-leading 1,607 rushing yards and Foles' 27-2 touchdown-interception ratio, Kelly wants to add to an already solid foundation.
"We've got to move forward and we've got to get going and we have a lot of things to do. That's an exciting thing for us," Kelly said. "It's an exciting time for us to take the next step and what's the next challenge. I think we've laid a foundation but you've got to build something upon that foundation, you just can't rest on your laurels. Never been that way, and excited for what's the next step for us."
After taking the first step in 2007, the Phillies responded a year later in 2008 to become world champions. The next step for the Eagles is to build off of a successful 2013 season with an even better 2014 campaign under Kelly. If the Eagles can fill the missing pieces of the puzzle and come together as a team like the Phillies did in 2008, the sky is the limit in 2014.
"I know we have the ability to do so," tackle Lane Johnson said. "I don't want to say what we're going to do next season yet, but I think we're just going to keep on getting better and better and I think we're going to go a long way next year."