Are the Eagles Going to Win It All?

Seeing is believing

The Eagles are going to the Super Bowl.

That’s what you wanted to hear after Sunday’s win over the Giants, isn’t it? Now that the Birds have taken over first place in the NFC East, their destiny is most certainly a trip to the Big Game. That’s how it works around here. Win a big game, and glory awaits. Lose one, and depression abounds.

If you detect a note of sarcasm in the first two paragraphs, congratulations. No one will be tricking you into buying a $15 iPad this holiday season. But don’t mistake a harmless bit of fan-bating as nay-saying doom. Sunday night’s win over the Giants was indeed a big step for this team, which had attracted the nation’s attention with a humiliation of the Redskins a week ago but which had to get past a quality division opponent in order to prove itself real. [SIGNUP]

By beating the Giants in a wild, sloppy, maddening affair, the Eagles proved themselves worthy of our faith. It was one thing to whip the injured Colts and quite another to spank division-leading New York, which — we hope — appears ready to follow up a dynamite start to the season with yet another late-season collapse. More importantly, it was important to win a game in which everything didn’t go perfectly smoothly, the quarterback wasn’t infallible, and the opposition wasn’t inept. The pretty wins are fun. The dirt-covered, unsightly triumphs reveal character. Sunday night, the Eagles displayed their mettle by overcoming a variety of self-inflicted (and some caused by the Giants) roadblocks to earn a victory.

When a team can get past 10 penalties, four fumbles, a blocked kick and two dropped TD passes to beat a quality opponent, observers have no choice but to be impressed. Instead of stunning the Giants with flash, the Eagles beat them with hard work, perseverance and character. Those traits, much more than highlight-reel plays, define winning teams. Everybody smiles when things are easy. It’s only when breakdowns occur that we learn whether a team has what it takes. Sunday, the Eagles had what it takes.

The Ghosts of Blown Leads Past began to circle Lincoln Financial Field Sunday after the Eagles let a 16-3 lead turn into a 17-16 deficit in just 1:54 of play and a couple flicks of Eli Manning’s right wrist. If fans were honest, they would admit to expecting the worst, having seen plenty of this team’s ancestors start quickly, only to fade later on. The Giants had shaken off a poor first half, were forcing Michael Vick to scramble right and not to his comfortable left side and all but eliminated the Eagles’ rushing attack. All was hardly lost, but the Birds were teetering. That much was certain.

Since they couldn’t rely on big-play magic against a rugged Giant defense and suddenly competent offensive attack, the Eagles had to look elsewhere for answers. They found them in the quick legs of LeSean McCoy, Vick’s cool success under pressure, and of course, some gifts from the bumbling Giants. On the drive that gave the Eagles the lead for good, Vick completed 4-of-6 passes, two of which went for first downs. And on the game’s most dramatic play, McCoy’s 50-yard TD bolt on fourth-and-one that conjured images of John Riggins in Super Bowl XVII, Vick’s calm prevented him from turning a bobbled snap into disaster. Instead of losing the ball, he adroitly regained control and made a perfect pitch to McCoy, who used blocks by Todd Herremans and Jason Peters — both of whom had been whistled for costly penalties earlier in the game — to go the route. Before that moment, McCoy had gained 13 yards on nine carries. When he tacked on a 40-yarder after Manning’s fumble after a boneheaded scramble-concluding dive on the Giants’ next possession, McCoy had gone from invisible man to hero. That’s not bad.

That’s the way it went for a lot of the Birds Sunday night. After dropping a perfect pass from Vick alone in the end zone back in the second quarter, Jason Avant made a nice move on the two-point conversion play following McCoy’s TD bolt and scored the deuce. Quintin Mikell, whose careless interference penalty set up the Giants’ first touchdown, made some solid plays against the run and pass after that.

It was the kind of win that good teams register this time of year. It established the Eagles atop the NFC East, for now, showed the league they are capable of succeeding when their deadliest weapon is rendered mortal and set the tone for the rest of the season. The Eagles can accomplish a lot, especially in an NFC that has no significant powerhouse. It won’t be easy. Next week’s game at Chicago is fraught with danger, since the Bears are playing nasty defense. Dallas has awoken from its nap and is playing with renewed purpose. And there’s that December 19 visit to the Meadowlands for a rematch with the Giants to keep things interesting. The Eagles took a big step Sunday night, but they haven’t concluded their journey.

They’re just walking a whole lot taller toward their destination.

• Congratulations to Penn’s football team for its Ivy League title. The Quakers overcame the emotional death of lineman Owen Thomas and fashioned a perfect campaign in the Ancient Eight.

• Kudos also to Villanova, which climbed from the canvas after two straight losses to whip Delaware in OT Saturday and earn a berth in the I-AA playoffs. It won’t be easy, but the Wildcats are in the tournament, and that’s what counts.

• Three games and 15 goals aren’t enough to cause a panic, but the Flyers need to tighten up a bit on defense. Tonight’s visit from Montreal is a perfect time to start, especially considering the controversy (choking, poor fan behavior) that accompanied last week’s 3-0 loss in Quebec.