PHILADELPHIA – Fly, Eagles, Fly.
For the past month, the NFC East champions’ (in)famous victory song seemed more like exhortation as Philadelphia closed the regular season with two losses and one unimpressive win.
Saturday night, it was sung with resounding exclamation as the conference’s No. 1 seed throttled the New York Giants 38-7 to advance to next weekend’s NFC title game against either the Dallas Cowboys or San Francisco 49ers.
And just like that, a team that just two weeks ago seemed battered and looked like it might have peaked prematurely, suddenly looks rejuvenated and back on a championship flight path heading into next Sunday.
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And if there’s one through-line on a 31-point postseason dismantling from the team that was outscored by five points over its final four regular-season games, it has to be Philadelphia’s collective health – something that was evident from the opening drive.
There was quarterback Jalen Hurts, who missed Weeks 16 and 17 with a bum throwing shoulder and looked significantly limited in the regular-season finale, launching a 40-yard completion to DeVonta Smith on the game’s second play.
There was tight end Dallas Goedert throwing a wicked stiff-arm on the subsequent play, a 9-yard gain, mere prelude to his left-handed stab for the 16-yard touchdown that capped a possession from which the Giants would never recover.
‘It’s always big to start fast, and I love when I can touch the ball early,’ said Goedert, who missed more than a month late in the season with a shoulder injury of his own.
‘I think that stiff-arm (brought) some energy on our team.’
There was All-Pro right tackle Lane Johnson, who hadn’t played since Christmas Eve due to a core muscle tear, leading the way as the offensive line mauled the Giants front to the tune of 416 yards – 268 on the ground, where the Eagles averaged 6.1 yards per carry and scored three of their five touchdowns.
‘Lane’s the best tackle in the NFL,’ said head coach Nick Sirianni. ‘To have him back and just shutting down a side is huge.’
And it wasn’t only on offense.
Defensive end Josh Sweat, who was carted off the field with a neck injury on New Year’s Day, had 1½ sacks and laid two QB hits on New York’s Daniel Jones.
And how about defensive back C.J. Gardner-Johnson. He tied for the league lead with six interceptions – even though he missed five games with a lacerated kidney and had only played once since Nov. 27. He made three tackles, broke up a pass, lined up at safety and even went back into the slot given one other key player – corner Avonte Maddox (toe) – has not been able to get back into the lineup.
But as critical as those guys are, it was Hurts’ return to the form that seemingly had him on an MVP trajectory at the outset of December, that could bring this franchise its second Lombardi Trophy in six seasons.
“You work really hard for these opportunities, they’re not a dime a dozen,’ said Hurts, who won a national title at Alabama.
‘It’s a special thing, it’s a special feeling, and it’s a special type of togetherness that we have, and I don’t think it’s something that I’ve experienced quite like this for sure on the NFL level.’
His numbers didn’t boggle the mind – 154 yards and two TDs passing, with another 34 yards and a TD on the ground. But it was his mere presence that seemed to buoy the Eagles after they nearly frittered away the NFC’s No. 1 seed following a 13-1 start.
‘To have him out there is like – I know this is high praise – is like having Michael Jordan out there. He’s your leader, he’s your guy,’ said Sirianni.
‘He’s as tough as they come. To me, nobody’s played any better football than him.’
And few teams have put together a more dominant 60 minutes of football this season than the Eagles did Saturday night.
The Cowboys or 49ers will surely provide a much stiffer test a week from now, San Francisco in particular a clear and present danger given the star power that has fueled a league-best 11-game winning streak.
But the Eagles have served a fresh reminder they’re not to be trifled with and are just as tough and talented as any team left in the field.
And perhaps hungrier.
“I truly never put a limit on myself, and I never put a limit on what this team can do, so there’s always more out there for us to get,’ said Hurts. ‘To come out there and play the way that we did tonight, I’m proud of this group, I’m proud of this team.
‘I’m excited to have another opportunity to play for something big again.”
Maybe two more opportunities.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis.