Fresh-Faced, First-Place Eagles Keep Andy Reid Young
"He loves to play the game," Andy Reid gushed Sunday, after Jackson's six catches for 140 yards helped the Eagles beat the 49ers 27-13 and clinch a spot in the playoffs. "He's like all of us were when we were kids, out playing in the backyard. He just has a good time, and he's doing it in the National Football League, which is amazing."
The day after a winter storm hit Philly, the Eagles won a romp in the snow. Fitting, since kids love to play in the snow and these first-place Eagles have made it to 10-4 with the help of some impossibly young skill-position players. Jackson is the breakout star, but they're not where they are without rookie running back LeSean McCoy, rookie receiver Jeremy Maclin and young offensive stars like Brent Celek and Jason Avant. These Eagles, with their 11th-year coach and their 11th-year quarterback, have managed to become, in some very crucial ways, a young team.
And they dig it.
"Everybody's had a part -- the rookies, the first-year players, the second-year players, all of them, and they give us all a little edge," Reid said. "They're going to make mistakes here and there, but they're going to do it 100 mph."
That about sums up these Eagles. On defense (where their first-year coordinator is only 35, by the way), they are a swarming, hyper-aggressive unit focused on turnovers and willing to take big-yardage risks in pursuit of the takeaway. Sunday, they came up with four takeaways (three interceptions and a fumble recovery) and three sacks, manhandling the 49ers from the start.
But the defense and offense work in tandem, each bearing a healthy respect for the controlled insanity that defines the other. When Reid decided to go for it on fourth-and-one from his own 29-yard line in the first quarter and didn't get it, the defense reacted exactly the way he'd have hoped.
"We need to go for it on fourth-and-one all the time," cornerback Sheldon Brown said. "If we don't get it, that just makes us as a defense that much more intent on going out there and getting the stop."
Which they did, three plays later, when Brown forced a fumble and Asante Samuel recovered it and the six-yard line. With new life, QB Donovan McNabb marched the offense down the field and scored on an eight-yard scramble to put Philly up 14-3. The bizarre fourth-down decision was forgotten, chalked up as part of the way the Eagles play -- and the way they expect their coaches to coach.
"It was a gutsy call, but man, we're a confident team," LeSean McCoy said. "So it wasn't a bad call."
The calls stayed gutsy all day. Even as the Eagles built their lead, they didn't back off. Up 20-13 in the fourth quarter, facing a third-and-two on their own 19, McNabb threw deep to Jackson and picked up 59 yards.
"That just shows you confidence from our coaching staff and our players," Jackson said. "We don't care if it's third and an inch -- we're going to go downfield."
On the first day of Eagles training camp, way back in the sweltering heat of late July at Lehigh University, McNabb held a press conference and said his biggest question about his team was how quickly all the young skill position players they had on offense could come together and learn the pro game at a level required to compete for a championship. As the Michael Vick experiment has fizzled (he almost never plays, and he left Sunday's game with a thigh injury) and veteran running back Brian Westbrook has missed much of the year with concussion and other injury issues, the young Eagles' ability to that has become paramount.
"This offense has definitely opened up a lot of eyes, including my own," McNabb said Sunday. "The confidence level is high, and we just need to continue to feed off of each win and move forward."
The kids have answered McNabb's questions by helping deliver a playoff berth.
"It's exciting," McCoy said. "You hear a lot about the playoffs and what a difference it is from the regular season as far as the tempo. So I'm excited to play in it and see for myself."
The kind of comment that makes the veterans in the room grin.
"I think it might be good for the young guys to not have a clue what it's all about," Brown said. "Maybe that way there's no pressure. Like they're young kids playing in college. They have their own thing, their own flavor. I know DeSean and Coach Reid like to chest-bump, so maybe those guys give Coach a youthful energy."
It would seem that way. Reid is in the playoffs for the eighth time in his 11 years as Eagles coach, and this time seems to come with a little extra spark. The assemblage of exciting young talent he has on offense has loosened him up as a play-caller and a sideline celebrator. And Sunday's game -- a romp in the snow -- may have been the perfect metaphor for what these Eagles have become. In the fourth quarter, after Philly scored to go up 27-13, a massive snowball fight broke out in the stands. It had the players on the field giggling.
"They were throwing them at the refs, at (local TV personality) Howard Eskin -- I guess everybody they don't like," Brown said. "People are crazy. You don't realize the danger or the risk until you hit a little kid in the face or something like that. But it's foolish and it's fun and that's what the game of football is all about sometimes."
Especially, these days, for the Eagles.