Eagles are a legit playoff contender

Eagles quarterback Nick Foles. (Clem Murray/Staff Photographer)

The Eagles announced their arrival on Sunday afternoon. They did it loudly and emphatically in the first three quarters and shakily in the fourth quarter, but the result is the result: Eagles 24, Redskins 16.

Whatever happens from here will happen, but there can be no denying that Chip Kelly's football team, in his first year as the Eagles' coach, is in the middle of a playoff race -- and deservedly so. They are 6-5 going into their bye week, alone in first place in the NFC East, and probably about a coin flip to make the playoffs with five games remaining. It is something that no one predicted. In August, there was not a coin to be found in the vault of the American Numismatic Society that would have flipped that way. Yet here we are.

The game against Washington presented the Eagles with a test of their credibility. They were favored at home, a place where they had not won in 10 games. They were playing against a quarterback, Robert Griffin III, who has legitimate moments in the present and is assumed to have a significant future. It was the kind of a day that would test the Eagles in both a football sense -- Could Griffin solve an increasingly stingy defense? Could quarterback Nick Foles continue his otherworldly statistical domination? -- and also an emotional sense. That is, could they continue to summon the level of play that would identify them as legitimate?

Well, we have our answer.

They are legitimate.

Yes, the NFC East is down -- but what you are witnessing is real. At this point, it is silly to suggest otherwise. This offense has moved the ball against pretty much everybody, with either Michael Vick or Foles at quarterback. This defense has improved steadily since an ugly first month of the season. Skepticism is fine -- they did play all of the good quarterbacks early in the schedule, and they were backpedaling seriously at the end of this game -- but skepticism is becoming a loser's bet. 


Is the Eagles defense good enough to win in the playoffs?

The continued, incremental improvement of the defense cannot be emphasized enough here. Yes, we talk about the explosiveness of the offense all the time, and the innovations that Kelly has brought, and the emergence of Foles as its leader, and the monstrous year that LeSean McCoy is having, and it is all true. But the play of this defense, which shut out the Redskins for the first three-fourths of the game, has been the wildcard.

Yes, the Redskins had an odd game plan for much of the game -- run first, run second, run always -- but even when they did call a pass play, Griffin had nowhere to throw it (and was surprisingly inaccurate besides). Yes, at the end, the Redskins opened it up and got it to a one-score game in the final minutes, 24-16 -- but that is just the NFL anymore, when most games look just like this one, with one offense driving and the other defense hanging on by its fingernails.

And here is how it ended, from the Eagles' 18-yard line: Fletcher Cox pressured up the middle and Griffin tried to throw the ball away, over the back of the end zone, but the lollipop never quite got there and Brandon Boykin intercepted it with 32 seconds remaining.

Nerve-wracking? Certainly. Untidy? Undoubtedly. But that is the NFL in 2013.

The point is, the Eagles held on.

The point is, this is now officially real.

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