Is there a record for quickest quieting of critics? I'd like to hear of a case in which a team and an individual took heat and turned it around faster than Donovan McNabb, Andy Reid, and the rest of the Eagles did tonight after a short week of preparation. There will always be questions about McNabb's status in Philadelphia, but it seems that the criticism will return to its normal murmur after reaching a crescendo of alarm following McNabb's abysmal performance against Cincy and Baltimore and subsequent benching. Andy Reid came out with a terrific offensive gameplan and Jim Johnson once again dazzled with a smothering secondary strategy, using up to 5 DB's at certain points in the game. Quentin Demps continues to impress on special teams, and tonight looked like a future starter at the safety position. Things are looking up in Philadelphia.
Now, the Arizona Cardinals are by no means the kind of defense that the Eagles will face for the rest of the season, particularly with the Giants looming on the horizon, but the mental value of overcoming the poor rushing performances over this past month cannot be overlooked. With Shawn Andrews out, the offensive line opened the right holes and Brian Westbrook took advantage when it mattered most, against a rush defense previously ranked 8th in the league (though that stat is somewhat inflated thanks to the weak NFC West in which the Cardinals compete). Further, 3rd & short became an area of confidence, with freshly minted Eagle Kyle Eckel performing valiantly when the calls came. Averaging 4.5 yds/carry and snatching up three first downs in short yardage situations, including a first quarter scoring drive-saver and a fourth quarter clock-killer, former Navy Midshipman Eckel might be the bruising back Philadelphia has been searching for to give Westbrook a breather. McNabb seemingly could do no wrong, throwing for four touchdowns, 260 yards, and pushing 70% in completion percentage. He looked confident, both with his arm and on his feet, and responded to calls for his departure with class behind the microphone and grit behind center (though he still can't throw a touch pass...). The whole affair was eerily reminiscent of Philadelphia's Week 1 throttling of the St. Louis Rams.
But, and there always seems to be a "but" with this squad, can they make the playoffs? At 6-5-1 (which is effectively 6-6), the Eagles will most likely need to win out to snatch a wild card spot in this year's NFC. All four NFC East teams can't make it, so the Eagles will have to catch Washington or Dallas, a move they can launch themselves towards with wins over each squad in the coming weeks. If the playoffs were to begin right now, every team in the NFC South, including the last place Saints at 6-5, would make it in over the Birds. With the Bucs and Panthers at 8-3 and the Falcons at 7-4, the Eagles are going to need to rely on some divisional cannabalism and solid performances of their own as they hit the home stretch. Over the coming weeks, the Eagles will have only one week, a possible laugher against the reeling Browns, where they wont be fighting their opponent for playoff position. It's not going to be easy, but... it's not impossible.