It's one month and not so very different from any of the other three in an NFL regular season, but December is the time to separate the contenders from the rest in this league, and the Eagles are handling their business a whole lot more efficiently than they did last year.
In 2014, the Eagles stumbled to a 1-3 record in December, with those three losses KO'ing the team from the playoff picture before an end-of-season over the New York Giants. In 2015, the Eagles are 2-0 in December with wins over New England and Buffalo.
Why the difference? We'll start with some of the basic numbers.
In their 0-3 December in 2014, the Eagles gave the football away 7 times and opponents scored 5 times (23 points). They had 5 takeaways, leading to 17 points. Three giveaways killed them in the loss to Dallas and the takeaway/giveaway differential clearly impacted the team in the 27-24 loss at Washington which officially ended the playoff hopes.
The win over New England this season featured a plus-1 turnover ratio - the Eagles had two interceptions, one which led directly to a 99-yard return by safety Malcolm Jenkins for a touchdown - and turned the ball over only one, a late-game Kenjon Barner fumble that did not lead to any New England points.
Against Buffalo, the Eagles recovered a muffed punt and turned it into seven points and also ended the Bills' fourth-quarter chances with an Ed Reynolds interception in the fourth quarter. The lone giveaway - a Sam Bradford interception - cost the Eagles a chance to score points in the red zone.
In two games, the Eagle are at plus-2 in the turnover department. That's huge.
It wasn't a pretty first half in New England for the Eagles, who fell behind 14-0 before tying the game at halftime (more on that later). New England accepted 7 Eagles penalties in the first half of that game (another two were declined), but the Eagles cleaned up their act in the second half. They were penalized just one time in the final two quarters, for an illegal formation infraction.
It was no coincidence, then, that the Eagles beat New England after turning that 14-all tie into a 35-14 lead before hanging on to win, 35-28.
Against Buffalo, the Eagles had just 5 penalties for 55 yards in losses. Buffalo had 15 penalties accepted, losing more than 100 yards in the process. Big difference.
Special Teams Are Special Again
A blocked punt returned for a touchdown and a Darren Sproles 83-yard punt return for a touchdown highlighted the win in New England, and then on Sunday the Eagles again dominated on special teams. Caleb Sturgis was good on all of his field-goal attempts. All of his kickoffs except for a squib kick at the end of the first half were touchbacks. Donnie Jones averaged 50.4 yards on 7 punts. Sproles averaged 11.8 yards on punt returns, including a 28-yarder. Bryan Braman recovered the muffed punt and a few plays later quarterback Sam Bradford threw to Nelson Agholor for a 53-yard touchdown connection.
After a dominating first half of the 2014 season on special teams, the Eagles showed some cracks late in the year. Sproles was stifled, for the most part. Josh Huff, if you remember, fumbled the opening kickoff against Dallas at Lincoln Financial Field in that critical Week 15 games and Dallas got the early jump. Cody Parkey missed two chip-shot field goals at Washington. Those moments came back to haunt the Eagles down the stretch.
Better Quarterback Play
Sam Bradford threw for 120 yards against New England, and that's really nothing to brag about. But he also threw 2 touchdowns, both in the red zone, and did not commit a turnover. He came back with some big plays against Buffalo, and while he threw an interception, it was more a product of a great defensive play by Bills defensive back Leodis McKelvin snatching the ball out of the hands of Brent Celek.
Last year, with Nick Foles sidelined because of the broken collarbone, Mark Sanchez threw an interception in Seattle territory in one game, tossed a pair of interceptions against Dallas, one that the Cowboys turned into a touchdown and the second that ended the game, and then fumbled (that led to a Washington field goal) and threw that very costly interception late in the game to kill a drive and lead to another Washington field goal in the crushing loss at FedEx Field.
It's still early, so nobody should assume anything. This has been an Eagles team as unpredictable as any in recent years. But we're two games in, and two wins to show for some good ball security, improved discipline, better play at the most important position in the game and an elevated performance from the special teams.
Add it up and it means two critical wins that have the Eagles still alive in the NFC East.