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When the Eagles closed the door on the 2012 season with a dismal 4-12 record, playoff football seemed like a distant possibility in 2013.
When college innovator Chip Kelly was hired on Jan. 16, making the playoffs still seemed like a stretch. But as the Eagles sit tied for first place in the NFC East with a 7-5 record and four games remaining, their first playoff berth since 2010 is increasingly possible.
“I think if I'm Chip Kelly, I may have started out thinking maybe we can't win,” Brian Westbrook said on Monday’s edition of "Philly Sports Talk" on Comcast SportsNet. “Now, I say we're right in the playoff hunt. We're right where we want to be. If we win out, and we win the games we have in front of us, we have the opportunity to make it into the playoffs.”
Kelly’s critics believed he was in over his head, considering he’s never coached in the NFL ranks before. Yet Kelly continued to discuss his unconventional tactics, and how they would help the Birds win. They appear to be paying dividends, for now.
“Every coach, especially a very successful college coach, is going to come in and say, ‘We can win right now, all I need is this piece and that piece,'” Westbrook said. “Now that he finally has those pieces, he's going to say, ‘We can win.’”
Eagles fans may not have envisioned the 2013 campaign to look like this. Some may still opt for a patient, steady rebuild to focus on the playoffs for years down the road.
“You may think that way, and maybe [Howie Roseman or Jeffrey Lurie] think that way, but if I'm the coach, I can't preach to my players, 'Go out and work hard every single day' if I think to myself, 'Oh, we'll have to wait until next year to make the playoffs,’” Westbrook said. “How could I do that if I'm the coach?”
Part of the reason the Eagles share a tie for first place is the improving play of their defense. Since allowing 52 points to Denver on Sept. 29, the Birds have not allowed more than 21 points in a game -- the result of clicking under defensive coordinator Billy Davis.
“This team has continued to get better on the defensive side of the ball,” Westbrook said. “He's starting to understand his players better, and the players are starting to understand the system better. Now, they're just playing football.”