PHILADELPHIA — By the time they reached the locker room after winning the NFC East title and completing a worst-to-first journey under rookie coach Chip Kelly, the Philadelphia Eagles already were thinking about their playoff opponent.
They’ll have plenty of time to reflect on their accomplishments later.
“The way they shifted their focus to the next game just minutes after we won was most impressive to me,” general manager Howie Roseman said Monday.
The Eagles went from 4-12 to 10-6, a remarkable turnaround after a miserable ending under Andy Reid last year. The makeover started with the hiring of Kelly, who needed convincing to leave Oregon.
While most people outside the organization expected this to be a rebuilding season in Philadelphia, players and coaches bought into Kelly’s way right from the start and accelerated the process.
“It was evident to me on April 1 when I got here with these guys and got a chance to be with them for the first day that they were kind of the mindset: ‘Whatever it takes, what do you want us to do and where do we got to be and how are we going to do it,’ and that’s a credit to them,” Kelly said.
The Eagles advanced by beating Dallas 24-22 and will play host to New Orleans (11-5) on Saturday night. It will be their first playoff game since Michael Vick threw an interception in the end zone in the final minute of a 21-16 loss to Green Bay on Jan. 9, 2011.
Win or lose, it has been a successful season. But nobody is thinking that way around the Eagles locker room.
“That’s not how we are built or wired,” Kelly said. “It’s what’s the next challenge and what’s the next opportunity, and the great thing about where we are right now is if you win, you get to play again. So I think if you get caught up looking back at what happened or where you were, I think that’s just not how we’re wired.”
A win over the Saints sends the Eagles to Carolina (12-4) on Jan. 12. But they have to beat Drew Brees and the Saints first.
Everyone from Kelly and Roseman to owner Jeffrey Lurie has already called on fans to be loud and make it an uncomfortable environment for the Saints, who were 3-5 on the road.
“I think this is big for the city and for this franchise,” NFL rushing champion LeSean McCoy said. “It’s amazing that this is Coach Kelly’s first year and we made the playoffs. We’re going in the right direction, but everyone knows that each week is important.”
It took some record-setting performances for the Eagles to get this far this fast. McCoy had a franchise-best 1,607 yards rushing and 2,146 yards from scrimmage. Nick Foles had the best TD-interception ratio (13:5-1) in NFL history, the third-highest passer rating (119.2) in league history and the club’s best completion percentage (64.04). The offense set team records for (442), total net yards (6,676), touchdowns (53), and gross yards passing (4,406).
And, they’re not done yet.
“Chip and the coaching staff have done a great job,” Foles said. “The players have done a great job of buying in and when adversity happens, guys really stay together. We lean on each other.”