PHILADELPHIA —- The Eagles were about to win their 10th game of the season, and because they could, they would prolong the celebration.
So there was DeSean Jackson in mid-punt-return TD, strutting along the goal line as much for effect as for time-expiring cause. And there was Andy Reid, afterward in the press room, playfully and uncharacteristically begging for difficult questions. And there was Michael Vick continuing to mount such an MVP candidacy that even the President of the United States would be preparing a shout-out.
They were hot. They were miraculous. They were headed places, the Eagles were. So hoot they would, and holler they would, and joke around they would at the microphone. And even if they technically would remain within sportsmanship bounds, they would make their belief clear that they not only had arrived, but were preparing to stick around for a long, long while.
Their season. Their party. Their terms.
Then, the reality. Then, the blizzard, literal and otherwise.
And before they would enjoy one game-day’s worth of joy from that outrageous victory in the Meadowlands, the Eagles were blindsided with:
n A snowstorm so gooey that it caused the postponement of their next game.
n A rescheduled Tuesday night special, at whatever cost to a humming routine.
n A loss to the retreating Minnesota Vikings in a meaningful, signature game —- and with it any chance for a first-round playoff bye.
n A decision by Andy Reid to effectively rest everyone of value Sunday for a game against the Cowboys.
n Another loss, 14-13, with Dallas scoring the winning touchdown with 55 seconds left.
n And an unfortunate break on the scoreboard, as the dangerous Packers won the final NFC wild card playoff berth, at once eliminating the sagging Giants and the overachieving Buccaneers.
There is no wrong way to participate in a postseason. Get in. Then win. Those are the rules. Teams have frolicked in the playoffs after backing into them, storming into them, winning a first-round bye or being forced to play the full four rounds. The Eagles willingly backed into the 2004 tournament by resting their starters for the final two games of the season … then pranced into the Super Bowl.
So the Birds didn’t necessarily do anything over the past week-plus to deliberately rob themselves of a chance to win a championship. But they are required to do one thing now: Resuscitate a momentum that for everything from acts of nature to acts of Stephen McGee has suddenly, dramatically vanished.
“You’re going to have things happen,” Dimitri Patterson said. “You are going to have distractions. You are going to have things that you can’t account for. But that’s just part of everyday life. You just have to be steady and consistent. Things are going to happen. Thing are not always going to go your way. That’s just how it is.
“The main thing is how you are going to respond when things are not going your way.”
The Eagles were due, perhaps, to a certain crash to football earth after rallying from 21 lengths to nose the Giants at the wire. But the recent blizzard was more than that. The loss to Minnesota was as damaging as a Week 16 loss can be, for had the Eagles won and played to win Sunday too, they likely would have had only to win one home game and one road game to reach the Super Bowl. Instead, they must lug the full postseason load, and that will begin with a visit from Green Bay Sunday. Weather permitting, it will be the Eagles’ third game in 13 days.
What Reid did Sunday was understandable. He made certain that his most valuable players would be available for the more valuable games. But the Eagles may forever wonder what would have happened had they not postponed the Minnesota game under the threat of snowflakes, for even if the cause-effect cannot be validated, this remains a fact: Nothing has gone right for them since.
“I’ve done this in the past,” said Reid, of resting his starters. “It gives me a chance to see some of the younger guys. It gives some players a week and a half rest.
“I think it’s the right thing to do for us. Other people do it in other ways, but that’s what I believe in. It gives everybody an opportunity to rest up.”
So the Eagles rested, but so too did their momentum. Now, it is up to them to summon it again, on demand, in a week.
“We look forward to that challenge,” Reid said. “They (the Packers) have a good football team and we have a good football team. It should be a heck of a game.”
It might. But it would be a heck of a game that wouldn’t have had to be played had DeSean Jackson —- and everything else about the Eagles — just kept running.
To contact Jack McCaffery, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org