Written off after a lopsided loss at Baltimore in which Donovan McNabb was benched for the first time in his career, the Eagles (7-5-1) rallied with consecutive wins over playoff-bound teams. They'll have an easier matchup against the struggling Cleveland Browns (4-9) on Monday night.
A 48-20 victory over NFC West champion Arizona gave Philly reason for hope. A convincing 20-14 win on the road against the conference-leading New York Giants put the Eagles back in the playoff mix.
They couldn't have done it without Westbrook and a suddenly stout defense. Westbrook had 241 yards rushing, 92 more receiving and five touchdowns in the last two games. The defense held Kurt Warner and the Cardinals' high-octane offense to 260 total yards, and limited the Giants' top-ranked rushing attack to only 88 yards on the ground.
There's no room for a letdown now. The Eagles know better than to take the Browns lightly when every game is a must win. It was the same way in 2006.
Nearly everyone counted the Eagles out when McNabb tore a knee ligament with six games remaining that season. But Jeff Garcia filled in for McNabb and led Philadelphia to five straight wins, including three in a row on the road against division opponents. The Eagles actually clinched the NFC East title before their reserves wrapped up that fifth win.
With McNabb out, Westbrook carried the load on offense and Garcia did his part. Brian Dawkins and the defense also stepped it up, helping the Eagles advance to the second round of the playoffs.
"We were playing at a high level at that time, and I think that it's similar to where we are playing at now," Westbrook said. "We still have to continue to prove it every single week, and I think that's the struggle that we are going through now of going out there and playing every single week, not looking past any one team but winning every single week."
The mood in the locker room remained upbeat, even when it seemed the Eagles were finished following a tie with Cincinnati and the awful loss to the Ravens. This is a team that has always embraced the underdog role and plays its best late in the year. The Eagles are 9-2 in December over the last three seasons.
"I think the feeling is the same. The confidence level is the same," Dawkins said, comparing the current run to the one in '06. "We are believing in what we can do as a unit, collectively as units. We are believing in the coaches and what they are going to allow us to get into. They're calling aggressive game plans.
"You have a confidence that when you step on the field, you should win that game. It's not: 'We can play with this team.' I hear that a lot: 'We can play with this team.' It's not about playing with teams that we face. We believe that we go into every game and if we do what we're supposed to do, then we should win that game."
The Browns can't even aim that high. Their immediate goal should be to simply score a touchdown. They haven't found the end zone in the last three games.
A season that began with playoff expectations fell way short a long time ago. It might end up costing coach Romeo Crennel his job, and another rebuild looms.
The offseason is three weeks away, though. For now, the Browns are trying to play spoiler with a third-string quarterback. Ken Dorsey will be making his second start for injured QBs Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn.
The team announced Sunday that injured running back Jerome Harrison will also sit out the game.
"It's going to be a challenge," Dorsey said. "They've got a great crowd behind them every year. It's going to pose some challenges for us."
The players on the field are more formidable than even the tough Philly fans.
"McNabb is a great quarterback," cornerback Brandon McDonald said. "They've got a great receiver in (DeSean) Jackson, a fast guy who can do different things. They have a good defense, a lockdown corner in (Asante) Samuel. They are hungry. They are fighting for a playoff spot. They are definitely going to come out with their 'A' game."