Unselfish play key for first-place Eagles

By ROB MAADDI - AP Pro Football Writer
    2013-12-10 18:20

PHILADELPHIA (AP) - From Jason Avant's blocks to Brent Celek sliding short of the end zone to run out the clock, the Philadelphia Eagles have a group of unselfish players.

That's part of the reason they're positioned to go worst-to-first.

The Eagles (8-5) were in sole possession of first place in the NFC East when they took the field for an indoor practice Tuesday.

Chicago's win over Dallas on Monday night gave Philadelphia a one-game lead with three to go.

So, the Eagles control their playoff hopes. If they win out, they'll secure their first NFC East title since 2010 and at least the No. 3 seed in the conference.

It's an impressive turnaround for a team that finished 4-12 last season.

But rookie coach Chip Kelly instilled a new attitude along with his innovative offense and players have bought into his philosophy from the start.

Unselfishness is a priority.

''The people we have here is a great place to work,'' quarterback Nick Foles said. ''It's an honor to be a Philadelphia Eagle because of the people here. We hold each other accountable and we play for each other. That's why I love it here.''

Players care more about the team's success than individual stats. A prime example came at the end of Sunday's 34-20 victory when Celek caught a pass from Foles and had a clear path to the end zone.

But he slid into a pile of snow at the 10-yard line so the Eagles would run out the clock instead of giving the ball back to Detroit with just under two minutes left.

Point differential is far down the list of tiebreakers, so Celek's heads-up move is unlikely to cost the Eagles in a negative way.

''That's the kind of player Brent is,'' guard Todd Herremans said. ''He always puts the team first and before his own accolades.''

Then there's Avant, a slot receiver who does whatever it takes to win. Avant doesn't get the ball thrown his way as often as DeSean Jackson or Riley Cooper, but he contributes with downfield blocks to spring LeSean McCoy for big gains.

Avant drove cornerback Bill Bentley to the ground and blocked him into safety Louis Dumas on McCoy's 57-yard TD run in the fourth quarter.

Jason is on the sideline asking me: `Can we run the ball my way?''' Kelly said. ''I don't know how many wide receivers in this league are asking to have the ball run their way, but I think that's kind of a testament to the team we have right now.''

Avant's whatever-it-takes attitude is contagious.

''We are just trying to do everything we can to win,'' Avant said. ''As a receiver you want to catch passes, but if you don't get that opportunity there are other ways you can help. If that's what we need to do in order to win, I'll do it.''

After winning three straight games at the Linc following a franchise-worst 10-game losing streak at home, the Eagles hit the road to play Minnesota (3-9-1).

They return home to face the Bears (7-6) in a prime-time game on Dec. 22 and finish up at Dallas (7-6) in a game that could decide the division.

The Eagles are 4 1/2-point favorites against the Vikings and it would be easy to overlook them with two tough opponents looming on the schedule. But the coaching staff has cautioned players not to take any team lightly.

''We hit the reset button,'' offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said. ''Our guys believe in the process that we go through each week. The veterans that have been around here have helped them. They've been really good about putting the last game to bed and moving on. We talk about this being the best Tuesday of the year, and they've embraced it.''


AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org


Follow Rob Maaddi on Twitter: https://twitter.com/AP-RobMaaddi

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