ARLINGTON, Texas - The Eagles changed their wardrobes for their flight back to Philadelphia early Monday morning.
The players packed away the clothes they planned to wear after their 24-22 victory over Dallas on Sunday night at AT&T Stadium and happily put on black T-shirts and baseball caps emblazoned with "NFC East Champions."
The Eagles (10-6) capped an amazing turnaround from last season's disastrous performance (4-12) by earning their first division title since the 2010 season. They are seeded third in the conference for the upcoming playoffs and will host sixth-seeded New Orleans (11-5) on Saturday at 8:10 p.m. at Lincoln Financial Field.
"To see all of our hard work pay off with a division title is an awesome feeling," first-year coach Chip Kelly said. "The players and coaches all bought into this from Day One and have been working hard ever since. They realized that there was going to be adversity along the way, but they kept believing in themselves and kept plugging away."
The Eagles will play their first home playoff game since that 2010 season, when they lost 21-16 to Green Bay in the first round. They haven't won a playoff game at the Linc since 2006, when they defeated the New York Giants 22-20.
A victory over the Saints, who have never won a road playoff game, would vault the Eagles into the conference divisional round. They would play NFC South champion Carolina (11-5) in Charlotte, N.C., on Sunday, Jan. 12 at 1 p.m. in hopes of reaching the NFC championship game for the first time since the 2008 season.
Owner Jeffrey Lurie has bigger goals.
While the players and coaches were in a celebratory mood after the game, Lurie was more subdued. His franchise hasn't played in a Super Bowl since 2004 and has never won one. The Eagles' last NFL championship came in 1960, before the Super Bowl era.
"This was one win," Lurie said Sunday. "I think everyone in the locker room treats it as an important win, but it just opens the door to next week. That's all it does. We won the division, but we've won seven of these (NFC East titles since 2002). We've got to celebrate, but celebrate in a way that motivates us to succeed next week. That's the key."
"It was a big win, winning the division in Chip's first year was spectacularly outstanding. But we've got a long way to go."
Their latest division crown was part of an incredible late-season run in which the Eagles went 7-1 after a 3-5 start. Many of the players who had prominent roles during that stretch - quarterback Nick Foles, running back LeSean McCoy, linebacker Connor Barwin, cornerbacks Brandon Boykin and Cary Williams - also made big plays against the Cowboys.
Foles, who grew up in Austin, Texas, seemed to be bothered by the carnival-like atmosphere at the stadium but settled down well enough to complete 17 of 26 passes for 263 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions.
"The atmosphere was crazy," Foles said. "It's a big, loud stadium with dancers (the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders) everywhere, giant video screens. It's a show. But you can't let that stuff distract you. You have to just zone it out.
Foles led the NFL during the regular season with a 119.2 passer rating, becoming the first Eagle to do so since Tommy Thompson in 1949. He had the third-best rating in NFL history behind Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers (122.5 in 2011) and Indianapolis' Peyton Manning (121.1 in 2004).
Foles threw 27 TD passes against just two interceptions, which was the best touchdown-to-interception ratio in league history, and became the only quarterback to throw more than 20 TD passes and have fewer than three interceptions in a season.
McCoy rushed for 131 yards on 27 carries and caught a 3-yard TD pass against the Cowboys. He finished the regular season with a league-best 1,607 rushing yards, breaking the franchise record of 1,512 set by Wilbert Montgomery in 1979, and became the first Eagle to win the NFL rushing title since Steve Van Buren in 1949.
"The stats and the record don't mean anything if we don't win," McCoy said after the game. "That was the most important thing. None of this stuff matters if you don't win and get to the playoffs. I've had a good year before and (missed the playoffs), and it's no fun. At all. I'm not ready to go home. Our season's starting again and we want to finish it off the right way."
The defense had trouble containing Cowboys backup quarterback Kyle Orton, tight end Jason Witten and wide receiver Dez Bryant for most of the game but came through in the clutch. Barwin batted down a fourth-down pass to end a Cowboys rally. Boykin broke up a pass in the end zone and sealed the win with his team-high sixth interception in the final minutes. Williams prevented the Cowboys from tying the game by swatting away Orton's two-point conversion pass attempt to Bryant.
Now they will face a formidable challenge in Saints quarterback Drew Brees, tight end Jimmy Graham and the rest of a potent offense.
Brees and Foles have a connection. Both grew up in Austin and played quarterback at Westlake High School.
"That just shows that life's crazy," Foles said. "Anyone who went to Westlake knows Drew Brees. I'm 10 years younger than him (24 to 34), and I always looked up to him.
"But I can't get caught up in any of that stuff now. Just because we won the NFC East title doesn't mean we can just coast now. We have to keep working and keep improving, just like we did during the (regular) season."
The Eagles' 2014 schedule of opponents: Away - Arizona, Dallas, Green Bay, Houston, Indianapolis, New York Giants, San Francisco, Washington. Home - Carolina, Dallas, Jacksonville, New York Giants, St. Louis, Seattle, Tennessee, Washington.
Dates and times for the games will be announced at some point before the 2014 NFL draft.
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