Take heart, Eagles fans. We’ve seen them pull this off before.
Jalen Hurts’ sprained shoulder is likely to keep him out of this Saturday’s Christmas Eve match-up against the Cowboys in Dallas, even if team officials and Hurts indicated on Tuesday that he might play.
That sentiment is likely a ploy to keep the Cowboys off their trail. It’s far more likely Hurts sits, which stinks. Everyone was looking forward to a Hurts vs. Dak showdown, and now it appears as if that isn’t going to happen.
Still, the Birds enter this Saturday’s game in a terrific position, one that allows them to be extra cautious with their MVP signal caller. Thanks to the Cowboys’ OT loss to the Jaguars last week, the 13-1 Eagles have a three-game lead on the 10-4 ‘Pokes, meaning one win in their last three games, any of those games, assures them the No. 1 seed in the NFC postseason.
A game that once looked like it could determine who will win the NFC East now appears to be a slight speed bump to the Eagles securing home field advantage. But it’s still a game they, and the fanbase, desperately want to win.
Should Hurts be unable to go, back-up Gardner Minshew will grab the torch, and as far as back-ups go, Minshew is one of the better ones in the league. He can absolutely beat the Cowboys on Sunday, especially with A.J. Brown, Devonta Smith, Quez Watkins, Miles Sanders, and the best offensive line in football supporting him, as well as a defensive line that is sacking quarterbacks at a recored pace and the return of Dallas Goedert to the starting lineup.
If anyone is experiencing a little deja vu, it’s because this scenario played itself out 14 years ago.
It was Christmas Day in 2006 when back-up QB Jeff Garcia led his team into Dallas, needing a victory in the penultimate game of the season in order to keep their playoff hopes alive.
The Eagles had struggled for much of the ‘06 season, and when Donovan McNabb went down for the year with a knee injury in Week 11, all seemed lost. A 45-21 loss to the Colts in Indianapolis in Garcia’s first game as starter only seemed to drive that point home, but a 27-24 home win against the Panthers in Week 13 gave the Eagles a 6-6 record and some life.
They needed to win their last four games, including three straight on the road against Washington, New York and Dallas, in order to make it happen. It seemed like an impossible task — three straight division games on the road. But Garcia went into the nation’s capitol and eked out a 21-19 win to improve to 7-6, followed by a 36-22 victory over the Giants in Week 15.
The Eagles entered their Christmas Day match-up with an 8-6 record against the 9-5 Cowboys, although a victory against the ‘Boys would give Philadelphia the tiebreaker thanks to a 38-24 win in Week 5. Garcia had played well in his previous three games, with 312 yards and 3 TDs against Carolina, 164 yards and 2 TDs against Washington, and 237 yards with a TD and interception against the Giants.
Philadelphia’s offense, meanwhile, was less talented but got hot at the right time. Brian Westbrook totaled more than 1900 yards of rushing and receiving yards that year, but Reggie Brown was the leading receiver with 816 yards. Donte’ Stallworth was their No. 2, and he turned in a superstar performance down the stretch for the Birds.
Dallas, coached by Bill Parcells, had won five out of their previous six, led by Tony Romo, who was in his first year as the team’s starter. Romo had two star wideouts to throw to, with both Terrell Owens and Terry Glenn accumulating more than 1,000 yards receiving, a 1,000-yard rusher Julius Jones and a future 1,000-yard rusher Marion Barber, giving the team a dynamic duo in the backfield. Oh, and Jason Witten was in his prime, too.
The game crackled with playoff implications and, when it was all over, the Eagles had soundly defeated Dallas 23-7 to move to 9-6, needing just one more win to clinch the NFC East.
Garcia wasn’t amazing that afternoon, 15-for-23 for 238 yards, with a TD and an INT, adding 43 rushing yards as well, but Westbrook ran for 122 yards and the defense held Tony Romo to a passer rating of 45.5 thanks to two interceptions and three sacks. Jones ran for a mere 38 yards on 10 carries, and the Eagles defense stiffed Marion Barber and three straight runs from the one-yard line in the second quarter.
If the Eagles are to repeat the success of the 2006 Birds with a back-up quarterback, the 2022 version will likely need another big effort from the running game and the defense, too, although Brown, Smith, Goedert and the offensive line give Shane Steichen and Nick Sirianni a viable passing game to work with.
It’s amazing how history repeats itself, and Eagles fans are hoping what happened 14 years ago on Christmas Day will happen again on Saturday afternoon.