Said Dawkins, who had 10 tackles against the Giants, "I think we just believed in one another through the dark times. We didn't allow one another to doubt the next unit. We have a collective heartbeat, and a collective heartbeat on a team is a very powerful thing."
Defensive coordinator Jim Johnson said last week that his secondary was the deepest he has ever coached, with Dawkins and Mikell at the safeties and Lito Sheppard backing up Sheldon Brown and Asante Samuel on the corners. But it was the unheralded front four—including defensive tackles Brodrick Bunkley and Mike Patterson—that stymied the Giants, sealing off running lanes and forcing New York to settle for five field goal attempts.
"The middle of that defense, that's where it starts, and it goes from there," Reid said. "People say I like to coach on the offensive side. I know you win games on defense and mashing the football."
Johnson immediately recognized that the Giants were a different team without 6'5" receiver Plaxico Burress, who'd caused the Eagles problems for years with his height. When Burress shot himself in the thigh at a nightclub in late November—the Giants suspended him and placed him on the inactive list—Manning lost his favorite target, and the Giants lost a key part of their versatility. With him, they beat Philly; without him, they lost.
"We didn't have anybody we really could match up [against Burress]," Johnson said. "We feel like we have a guy who can match up against [Domenik] Hixon a bit."
The Eagles could also focus more on stopping the run, which they did with a fervor that impressed Jacobs (19 carries, 92 yards). "I would like to say that Philadelphia is us from last year," Jacobs said. "We couldn't come out and match their intensity."
To truly mimic their NFC East rivals' run to the Super Bowl last season, the Eagles will have to win one more road playoff game and then hoist the Super Bowl trophy on Feb. 1 in Tampa. They're halfway there.
After the game on Sunday, Eagles players piled into the visitors' locker room, chanting about going to Arizona, about the critics who buried them long ago and about the work still ahead. Team owner Jeffrey Lurie came in behind them, smiling wide, his cheeks covered with gray whiskers. Only weeks ago it looked like his club was splintering. Now the togetherness was palpable.
"I'm just so proud of Andy and Donovan, the coaching staff and all the players," Lurie said. "The way they reacted to the down parts of the season, which you are always going to have, was with maturity and courage."
Lurie hasn't worn a beard since he was 17, but Dawkins asked him to join the unity effort a month ago. Lurie's response: "Absolutely." The owner vowed to have the beard on Sunday in Arizona when the Eagles face the Cardinals for a berth in the Super Bowl. And he'd love nothing more than to wear it while sitting on a championship float on Broad Street.