Sunday Was Huge Test for Eagles

Some wins matter more than others. And the victory over Arizona was enormous.

Photo | John Geliebter-USA TODAY Sports

Photo | John Geliebter-USA TODAY Sports

It’s tempting to look at the various missteps taken by the Eagles in Sunday’s highly imperfect win over Arizona and worry that their recent prosperity could be in jeopardy. Doing that would be a mistake. It’s true that almost giving away a 24-7 lead and needing a couple generous calls by the officials to maintain order are not the best ways to continue an assault on the post-season. But the end result, a three-point victory that maintained a tie with Dallas atop the NFC Island of Misfit Toys Division, is all that matters.

At this time of year, there is no need to earn style points. It’s about winning. Just ask Chicago, which dropped an overtime decision to Minnesota and hurt its NFC North title chances, about that. Or New England, which won’t care one bit that it snuck past lowly Houston to maintain a grip on the second AFC playoff seed. After Sunday’s triumph over Arizona, the Eagles are now 7-5, and that’s what counts.

Granted, Chip Kelly and his staff will have plenty to do this week, thanks to some errors and shaky moments. The O-line surrendered five sacks. The ground attack was hardly overpowering, albeit against a stout rival. And the team still has issues late in games with clock management and putting away opponents.

Again, those details are important, but they pale in comparison to the outcome. The Eagles are not only tied atop the division; they are also a game out of the second wild-card spot and hold the tiebreaker over the Cardinals. All in all, it was a very good day.

This was an important test for the Eagles. Although they had won three in a row, none had been over a team that was particularly strong. After the bye week, the 2013 season had almost reset for the team, and the stretch run was established in a five-game bunch that began with a resurgent Arizona team that had won four straight.

By prevailing, the Birds demonstrated their ability to win a game that mattered. Although Andy Reid told us repeatedly, “It is always good to get a win in the National Football League,” some games matter more than others. This was the first time the Eagles had played a quality opponent with something important at stake, and despite the aforementioned imperfections, the result was a win.

Next up is Detroit, which leads the NFC North and would love to push its lead over the Bears to two games. The Arizona game was important, and now the matchup with the Lions is vital, too. In order to play increasingly meaningful contests for the rest of the season, the Eagles need to keep winning. That makes even the visit to Minnesota in two weeks a significant trip. The best thing about all of this is that the team seemed to respond today with a quiet confidence that showed it understood what was necessary and that it had the talent and experience to do the job.

Contrast that with what was going on in September, when the Eagles couldn’t do very much right. Take away the first half of the game against the Washington NFL Franchise, and the Eagles looked ready to challenge Tampa Bay and the rest of the NFL bottom feeders for a sweet draft position.

A few things happened to change that, and most of them came from the sideline. First, Kelly learned that it might be possible to blitzkrieg an overmatched Washington team for 30 minutes, but that stuff doesn’t work for a full game, because it puts too much strain on an NFL team’s defense. The Eagles still want to play fast at times, but they can’t afford to throw the D onto the field every 90 seconds or so. Further, as teams loaded up to control LeSean McCoy, it was imperative to throw the ball more and in a more sophisticated, NFL manner. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Nick Foles isn’t ever going to throw an interception, and should he make a bad decision, some divine (or stripe-shirted) intervention will erase the mistake and allow him to continue his turnover-free streak.

The Eagles won a meaningful December game for the first time since 2010. The team showed itself capable of knocking off a quality opponent despite an uneven effort. The payoff? Another meaningful December game, next week versus Detroit. This is how it sets up for the rest of the season. Win the next one, and the following game becomes even more important. It may be a lot to ask of a first-year coach and a relatively young team, but it sure beats the alternative. After two years of December games that didn’t matter, it’s fun to have cold weather mean hot football.

Warts and all.

Sucker Punches

• Now, that’s more like it. The Sixers have lost eight of nine and are beginning to resemble the team we all expected them to be before the season began. There are plenty of culprits, most notably a defense that has become overly generous. With 10 of the next 15 on the road, the potential for continued trouble is high. Let’s hope things don’t get any better.

• Villanova’s wins over Kansas and Iowa guaranteed it some attention from the college basketball pollsters. More importantly, the impressive wins will have positive impacts come March, when tournament talk begins. There are still three long months of ball to play, but these early victories will have long-term meaning.