PHILADELPHIA - To find inspiration for today's regular season-finale at Philadelphia, all Roddy White has to do is close his eyes.
There, in the solitude of his own imagination, he can think back to days when he played football in his backyard, to days when there was no pressure to succeed, to days when the game was fun.
The wide receiver for the Atlanta Falcons, who will start today (4:15 p.m., Fox-Ch. 54) in place of injured Ashley Lelie, said that's all that's missing from Atlanta's approach the past couple of months. The team has lost six of eight games, putting its playoff hopes in the hands of others.
White believes the team has been too caught up in the playoff picture and thinking too hard about its troubles of the past two months. To him, the only way out is to return, if only mentally, to a time when football was fun.
"We need to find that energy and passion," he said. "We're not having fun. When you were 11 in school and out there playing, you had fun. You weren't thinking about all this other stuff.
"We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to win. We start thinking we need to make a play when we need it. Everybody is pressing. That's how it is. It's time to let everything go. Just play and have fun. Let it go. Play hard and enjoy it."
There are five teams fighting for the final wild-card berth in the NFC. The Falcons are way down on that list.
To make it interesting, the National Football League has spread the games that count toward the playoff picture over two days.
Atlanta will have a good idea if it's still alive long before kickoff at Lincoln Financial Field. To qualify, the Falcons need losses by the New York Giants (at Washington on Saturday night), Carolina (at New Orleans at 1 p.m. today) and Green Bay (at Chicago at 8:15 tonight).
The Falcons also have to win.
The Eagles are 9-6 after winning four consecutive games. Philadelphia needs a victory to clinch the NFC East. The Eagles, however, aren't sure whether versatile running back Brian Westbrook will be ready for the game. He was sick Thursday and missed practice.
"We're not in the best situation," tight end Alge Crumpler said. "The only thing we can worry about is our game with Philadelphia. We have to line up and play football. I'd like to leave that field knowing we played hard and gave it everything we had. If we do that, I'm not going to worry about anything else. We did what we had to do."
Today's game could be telling for several people. Head coach Jim Mora Jr. is under fire for another late-season collapse. Quarterback Mike Vick has been criticized for his erratic play and obscene gestures made toward the fans following a loss. Offensive coordinator Greg Knapp and defensive coordinator Ed Donatell are certain to take much of the blame for the late-season swoon.
Mora said his only focus today is winning the game, not saving his job.
"They know there is still an outside shot of doing something this year depending on what happens to everybody else. Our focus is on just taking care of our business. We have to focus on taking care of our business, and that is all we can control," he said.
WHO: Atlanta Falcons (7-8) at Philadelphia Eagles (9-6)
TIME/TV: 4:15 p.m./FOX-Ch. 54
Reach Don Coble at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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