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Confidence, Not Nerves,Tonight

Posted Dec 29, 2013

ARLINGTON, TX -- The feeling, as the crowd builds and the kickoff nears, is one of confidence. This is a day and a feeling to embrace. It's a huge game, a spotlight moment. And the Eagles are ready to go out and win the NFC East ...

This football team deserves every bit of being in this spot. The Eagles are 9-6 and winners of six of their last seven games, a team peaking at the right time. In the first year of head coach Chip Kelly, the Eagles are a team to love: They play hard football. They play as a team. They have complete trust in each other and in the coaching staff.

And they are poised and ready to win the NFC East.

It all comes down to tonight and a tough assignment: Beat the Dallas Cowboys on their turf, AT&T Stadium. Beat them in front of the home folks. Turn this NFC East upside down from a year ago.

OK, so how do the Eagles do it? Well, they play Eagles football, which has been defined over 15 games. The Eagles have as complete an offense as we have seen in Philadelphia and one that is playing as well as any in the 2013 NFL. They gash defenses in oh, so many ways. As long as that outstanding offensive line continues to hum and quarterback Nick Foles continues to make good decisions and play the way he's played, and the skill-position players deliver as they have, the offense is marvelous. I love the play calling, the unpredictability and the relentless pursuit of points that this offense exhibits.

The defense has allowed no more than 21 points in six of the last seven games. It isn't a star-name group, but they have been sound in the scheme, have worked well together and are really solid.

Special teams has been a big part of the story this year, for mostly the right reasons. Kick coverage is outstanding. Alex Henery had some early-season misses, but he's been very good since the leaves dropped (a missed 39-yard field goal in Green Bay is only blemish since October 20). The kickoff return game has been close to busting one. The Eagles are still looking for consistency and some big plays from the punt return game.

I love the energy of this team, and the discipline. Playing on the road doesn't seem to bother this team at all, and all of that music at practice has really paid off. In fact, you look at the program that Kelly runs and you see it on game day and it's impressive. The training sessions -- that is how Kelly refers to practice -- have been crisp and demanding and certainly helpful to this team in terms of weekly consistency in focus.

The Eagles come into this game fresh and in good shape and full of vim and vigor. Everybody is excited and confident.

So that's the message here. I understand the tendency we all have. Very logical. Being nervous is part of the DNA. The Eagles have to play a very good game to win. No matter what we think of Dallas and the season they've had, it all comes down to tonight. The Cowboys have a new quarterback, Kyle Orton. They have DeMarco Murray healthy at running back. They won a game in the fourth quarter last Sunday, they're feelling a new sense of confidence.

I guess I have to pause for a moment and think back to last December, and the awful feeling I had about this team. It was all going to change after that dreadful loss to the Giants, and who really knew what waited for all of us?

Then the Eagles hired Chip Kelly as head coach and the team went out and made some fine offseason moves and it's all come together to this moment. Remember what you felt that first night against Washington? It was a stroke of magic, a bolt of lightning. Would it really be true?

There have been some ups and downs along the way, but the Eagles are here now, and we're all enjoying the ride.

The journey, then, takes us to this moment. Eagles at Cowboys. The NFC East on the line. The whole nation watching.

Enjoy the show.

A QUICK LOOK AROUND THE LEAGUE

I spent much of Sunday watching the early games in downtown Fort Worth. Some observations ...

  • The Giants and Redskins put on a miserable exhibition of football. New York won, but the Giants have so many problems. Eli Manning was an interception machine this season and he left the game banged up and bruised. What kind of impact will that have next season? Offensive lineman Will Beatty suffered a broken leg and is now a concern for 2014. Washington is just a terrible, lifeless team and the Redskins are going to clean house and try to improve without a first-round draft pick.

  • Carolina has one heck of a defensive front. The Panthers registered 9 sacks in the win over Atlanta and have 60 for the season, highest in the league. The Panthers will be rested for the NFC Divisional Playoff round. Good team. Ron Rivera has done an excellent job turninig that team around, and Cam Newton is playing smart, fun football at the quarterback position.

  • The Miami Dolphins had just to win last week in Buffalo or today at home against the Jets to make the playoffs, and stumbled both times. It's very hard for a young team to close out a spot in the playoffs. That's one of the challenges for the Eagles tonight. The next step is closing it out, and Miami had zero offense the last two weeks and stays home for the playoffs.

  • Cleveland had a terrible, terrible season. Awful team other than wide receiver Josh Gordon. Superstar wide receiver.

  • I watched today with a transplated Steelers fan who has lived in Texas for a decade. He told me an amusing story about Cowboys fans and how quickly they bail on their team. I chuckled. Anyway, the Steelers needed Miami to lose (done), needed Baltimore to lose (done). Then the Steelers needed to beat Cleveland (done). And then the graphic flashed showing that Kansas City was resting many of its regulars against San Diego (a team the Steelers needed to lose) and the Steelers fan nearly lost it. We all knew Andy Reid would rest his regulars, right? I mean you had no doubt, did you?

  • So happy to see Minnesota beat Detroit. Leslie Frazier is one of the all-time great guys (and great coaches) and he was shown doing what I expected him to do after that game: hugging every player, coach, staff member as they walked from the tunnel to the locker room. Classy, classy guy.

  • Aaron Rodgers comes back and drives the length of the field in his first possession and throws the red-zone interception. Chicago goes right down the field and scores a touchdown. Amazing how a turnover, a giveaway, a mistake, turns a football game around.

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