From "Dream Team," to punch line and back to potential Division champion and playoff contender?
The latest improbable twist in a season full of surprises — mostly of the disappointing variety — sees Coach Andy Reid and the Philadelphia Eagles back in the mix for the NFC East title thanks to a late-season surge and some help from their faltering division rivals.
The Eagles were all but written off following a Dec. 1 home loss to the Seattle Seahawks that dropped the squad, once seen by many as a Super Bowl contender after a flurry of high-profile roster upgrades in the offseason, to 4-8. Since then the Eagles have won two in a row, including Sunday's 45-19 thrashing of the New York Jets, and the Dallas Cowboys (8-6) and New York Giants (7-7) have both gone 1-2 to keep the division race open.
Now, should the Eagles win out over the final two weeks and continue to get a little outside help, they could finish 8-8 in a three-way tie atop the division with the Cowboys and Giants while holding the tiebreaker with a 5-1 record in the division. The first part of realizing that scenario requires an Eagles win over Dallas on Saturday along with a Jets win over the Giants.
"Well look, anything's possible in the NFL. I realize that, I've been around long enough to understand that," Reid, a Glendale Community College alum, told reporters on Monday in a transcript posted on philadelphiaeagles.com. "I'm a huge Jets fan this week."
Of course, by the time the Eagles kick off late Saturday afternoon, they could already be eliminated, as the Jets and Giants square off earlier in the day. And even if all goes according to plan this week, there's still plenty of factors out of Philadelphia's control, as the Eagles would need to beat the Redskins in their finale on Jan. 1 and hope that the Giants top the Cowboys for the second time this season on the same day.
"You can't control all that," Reid cautioned in his comments on Monday. "The thing you can control is going out there tomorrow and practicing, and Wednesday practicing, and Thursday practicing, and Friday, and playing the game. Those are the things that you can control. So take care of that business, I tell myself the same thing, take care of that business, don't worry about the other thing, there's nothing you can do about that game. Take care of what you can control."
Even if the Eagles' path to the playoffs is blocked, winning out and continuing the resurgent play the team has shown the last two weeks could go far in salvaging a season that spiraled from lofty expectations to a search for answers ever since the Eagles went into a four-game tailspin beginning in the second week of the season.
Although his 13-year stint with the Eagles has included seven division titles, five trips to the conference championship and a Super Bowl appearance, Reid hasn't been spared the wrath of the Eagles' frustrated fan base. Nor has he escaped the inevitable public speculation on his job security as a result of the Eagles' struggles.
But during their brief current streak, which began with a 26-10 win over the Miami Dolphins on Dec. 11, the Eagles have slowly begun to resemble what they were initially advertised to be. The much maligned defense has been on a rampage, forcing seven turnovers and collecting 13 sacks over the two games, and with the return of quarterback Michael Vick from injury and the continued running dominance of LeSean McCoy, who leads the league with 17 rushing touchdowns, the offense has been clicking again.
"That's a hard thing to pinpoint because as a coach, you're so optimistic," Reid said of the reasons behind the Eagles' improvement. "You're teaching, and you're pushing, and you're studying, and doing all those things. You don't look at the highs and the lows and that part. You go in and you get yourself ramped up for each game knowing there's going to be success. That's the frame of mind that you're in.
"I really haven't looked back on that. Just trying to get better, continue to get better, and who knows. Who knows what the next game lays ahead. You never do. It doesn't matter if you're undefeated at this point, you just don't know. But you know you can work your tail off and try to get better at the things you're not good at as a coach and player."