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For years, it seemed like a good thing that the Eagles played their best football in December. Now, it's probably starting to feel a bit maddening for their fans.
Since Andy Reid took over as head coach in 1999, the Eagles are a staggering 28-12 in December. The only losing December came in 2005 -- when the Eagles finished 1-3 following the T.O. debacle (OK, sorry I brought it up).
At one point this decade, the Eagles reached the NFC title game four straight seasons -- and winning Decembers were just a sign that they were peaking at the right time. In recent years, though, strong Decembers were required to make up for tepid Septembers and Octobers. In 2006, Jeff Garcia relieved an injured Donovan McNabb and the Eagles finished with five consecutive wins (all in December) to qualify for the playoffs.
|Rich Kane/US Presswire|
|Andy Reid and the Eagles have won back-to-back games heading into Monday night.|
In 2007, the Eagles finished with three straight wins, but they were sitting home during the playoffs with an 8-8 record. For whatever reason, the team refuses to leave itself any margin for error. And that's why the Eagles are in another single-elimination situation as they prepare for Monday night's game (ESPN, 8:30 ET) against the 4-9 Cleveland Browns.
"I think the Super Bowl year (2004) was the only time we played a complete season," said veteran right tackle Jon Runyan, a 13-year veteran. "We have huge lulls in the beginning and the middle of the season before we get things going."
The Eagles' final two games are at Washington and at home against another wild-card contender, the Cowboys. We all thought the tie against the Bengals was a crushing blow, but the prospect of a 10-5-1 record doesn't sound half bad.
Runyan, who will be an unrestricted free agent after the season, said Reid's responsible for the Eagles' strong finishes. He thinks Reid's ability to stay "even keel" causes players not to panic when they drop games early in the season. But the Eagles saw a different side of Reid in the wake of the loss to the Ravens three weeks ago. Even though it seemed like a desperate move at the time, his benching of McNabb sent a clear message to the rest of the team.
"He did it to create a spark," Runyan said of Reid. "It's the whole thing about making an example out of a player. He told guys to start producing or they wouldn't be around."
Runyan is questionable for Monday's game because of swelling in his right knee, but he told me Saturday night that he didn't have any doubt about making his 190th consecutive start, the third-longest active streak in the league.
In fact, he hasn't missed a game because of injury since the 1994 Holiday Bowl. Incidentally, Runyan said having a tie in the standings doesn't seem like a big deal to him. In 1992, he was on a Michigan team that finished 9-0-3, with ties coming against Notre Dame, Illinois and Ohio State.
"It eliminates the tiebreaker," he said of the tie against the Bengals.
Another reason the Eagles love this time of year is because the weather forces Reid to commit to the running game. Reid admitted that the swirling winds and frigid temperatures in the Meadowlands caused him to feed the ball to Brian Westbrook 33 times in a Week 14 win over the Giants. And Runyan explained why the running game seemed to frustrate the Giants so much.
"Against a team like the Giants who play crazy games with their defensive ends and linebackers, running the ball stops some of that," he said.
For the Eagles, it's better late than never. Now we'll find out if they waited too long to make a charge.