IT WAS ONLY about a year ago, those 6 days that shook the Eagles' world. It is so hard to let go of the notion that something fundamentally changed back then, when the Dallas Cowboys stomped the Eagles in the last game of the regular season and then again in an NFC wild-card playoff game.
We all believed it when we saw it, that one franchise was fixing to sprint past the other. Yes, there were explanation and complications, but it seemed so very clear.
In the locker room after the playoff loss, I can still see the crowd of reporters surrounding Michael Vick. He had thrown a touchdown pass in that playoff game, and finished his season as the Eagles' Wildcat gadgeteer, and the question people were asking was if Vick believed he had shown enough on film to demonstrate to the rest of the NFL that he was back.
Vick said he had shown enough. The people listening to him were not sure. The assumption was that the Eagles were going to trade him in the offseason for whatever they could get. It was as strong and as widely held an assumption as the one that said the Cowboys had just placed a considerable distance between themselves and the Eagles.
Proving that, in the NFL, the future is neither definable nor predictable. Or, as DeSean Jackson was saying yesterday in the Eagles' locker room, "That was last year, I'm focusing on this year."
The Eagles can rightly claim that those games last season have nothing to do with what will happen on Sunday night at Cowboys Stadium. On the one side of the ball, the Eagles have Vick and not Donovan McNabb. On the other side of the ball, half of the Eagles' current defensive starters weren't starters when Tony Romo clubbed them, and Romo will be watching this time as Jon Kitna goes about the business of trying to outscore Vick without his most explosive receiver, Dez Bryant.
It really is different.
For whatever reason, this feels like a DeSean kind of a week. If Jeremy Maclin is the more consistent threat - and he has been this season, an increasingly stylish player - Jackson still feasts on weak secondaries and the Dallas secondary is oddly ineffectual this season. Teams are completing 67.8 percent of their passes against the Cowboys, the highest number in the league.
As long as Vick can still buy time with his legs, as long as he isn't too banged up from the pounding he has endured, there likely will be plays to be made downfield against the Cowboys.
Or, as Jackson said, "With Vick doing the things he's able to do, it's just a whole dynamic different on offense."
Last season, Dallas pretty effectively tied down Jackson; in the three games the teams played, he had two, two and three catches. Three of his six least-productive games in 2009 were against the Cowboys, and it didn't help that his Twitter boast before the wild-card game that the Eagles were going to "sting they [butt]" wound up biting him in his own (butt).
But it really is a new season. Talking about his personal growth, Jackson said, "Every day, I think I get more intelligent." And, well, OK. If Jackson's numbers are down (and they are), and if he made a passive-aggressive spectacle of himself in the locker room following the loss at Chicago (and he did), that stuff really does seem to have blown over pretty quickly. He is still one of the more explosive players in the NFL, averaging just over 20 yards per reception. He still commands double-coverage a very high percentage of the time. His very presence makes other people better. Nobody should forget that.
Or this: The Eagles are 5-0 this year and 13-1 over the last 2 years in games in which Jackson has caught a touchdown pass.
Whether that is a cause of victory or a result of overall domination is up to you to decide. Still, a year later, the Eagles are headed to Cowboys Stadium again and it feels different. *
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