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Eagles Prove The Importance Of Good Chemistry

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A lot of people have made comparisons between the 2009 Eagles and the 2010 Eagles.  They had similar records, high powered offenses, and porous defenses.  Each team came up small at the end of the regular season.  Last year that meant no division title and home playoff game.  This year that meant no number two seed and automatic bye.  There are definite similarities in the two teams. 

There is one huge difference - good chemistry.  Think about what a strange season this has been.  Going from Kevin Kolb to Michael Vick and then having Kolb start some more games before going back to Vick.  There was no friction.  There was a little drama with DeSean Jackson, but tame for the most part.  Long time starter Brodrick Bunkley lost his starting job.  No complaints.  Akeem Jordan lost his starting job.  No complaints.  Ellis Hobbs had one of the epic meltdowns you'll see in the Titans game.  No one said a word about him.  The offensive line has had major issues.  Neither Vick nor Kolb has derided them publicly.  Peyton Manning has thrown his guys under the bus a few times over the years.  Simply put, the 2010 Eagles get along well. 

2009 was very different.  It wasn't that the players didn't get along for any personal reasons.  The problem was that it was a time of transition.  The Eagles had several long time veterans who basically knew their time in Philly was coming to an end.  Donovan McNabb, Brian Westbrook, and Sheldon Brown knew they were gone.  It is impossible to stay completely focused when you have that thought in the back of your mind.  These guys didn't quit or anything like that, but they had to bring a lot of emotional baggage to the end of the season.  "Is this the last time I'll ever wear this jersey?" is something you know they had to be thinking about in the season finale and wildcard game.  That's tough. 

It wasn't just them.  There were other guys who probably checked out somewhat mentally and emotionally.  Chris Gocong, Reggie Brown, and Darren Howard had each been Eagles for several years, but knew they were headed out.  They didn't have the same level of emotion as the big three, but you know these guys had to have one eye on the present and one on the future. 

There were other players in the locker room who weren't long time Eagles.  Guys like Sean Jones, Alex Smith, and Will Witherspoon were here for a season (or less).  They didn't have the history with the team and the emotional investment that can help build chemistry. 

Don't underestimate the age situation and how that affected things.  DeSean Jackson, LeSean McCoy, Jeremy Maclin, Brent Celek, and Kolb were the young guns.  They were the future of the franchise.  There wasn't an us vs. them thing between the veterans and young players, but there wasn't the kind of positive bond you really need to get through tough times. 

I'm not saying the 2009 team was completely dysfunctional or anything close to that.  My point is that they didn't have the the chemistry of past Eagles teams.  Remember 2002?  The great highlight from that year is Koy Detmer being put on the cart in San Francisco during a Monday night game.  The team came over to offer encouragement and support.  I'd never seen that before.  In the past it was always a teammate or two who came over.  Literally, the whole team went to talk to Koy.  That showed you the kind of bond those guys had.  They overcame Donovan's injury.  They overcame Koy's injury.  They played terrific football up until that final day at The Vet.  That was a team that was had great togetherness.  All for one and one for all. 

The 2002 team had been together for a few years.  There was a core of players that shaped that team.  Last season you had a mixture of young guys, veterans, and stop-gap free agents.  The failures of the 2003 and 2004 draft classes robbed the team of the core it needed to be at its best. 

How can 2010, just a year later, be so different?  Leadership goes a long way.  Vick is a natural leader.  The players absolutely love him.  He bonds incredibly well with the young guys.  Vick is only in his second year in Philly so he doesn't feel like an established veteran.  He can't say "That's the way we did it with TO or Duce Staley or Jon Runyan".  Vick is as new to the Eagles as his young cohorts.  They're all learning on the fly.  That helps them bond well. 

Vick also embraces being a leader.  He stays on DeSean Jackson to keep his head up when things aren't going great.  Vick isn't afraid to challenge his teammates on the field.  He got on Jorrick Calvin a few weeks back when Calvin didn't handle a kick smoothly and almost lost the ball.  Vick let him know that was unacceptable.  This isn't offense vs. defense vs. special teams.  This is the Philadelphia Eagles.  You win or lose as one. 

Kolb is also an excellent leader.  He's handled the strange quarterback situation with unbelievable grace.  He and Vick are surprisingly close and there isn't any bad blood between them or the coaches.  Kolb could have really blown things up if he went to the media and complained.  He's said nothing that could be considered negative or inflammatory. 

I think all the young guys also bring a different vibe to the team.  This isn't McNabb and Westy making a final push for a Super Bowl.  This is a young bunch learning how to play together and win.  They don't have the baggage of the NFC title game losses or Super Bowl disappointment hanging over them.  The flip side of that is that the young guys don't have the postseason experience that you'd prefer.  Everything is new with them.  None of the young stars has every played in a home playoff game.  Maclin and McCoy have never won a postseason game. 

Having the right personalities goes a long way to good chemistry.  Vick is perfect for this group.  He's both humble and cocky.  He fits in well with veterans like Quintin Mikell and David Akers as well as the young guns.  Vick seems to be having a lot of legitimate fun on the field.  McCoy looks like a kid in a candy store at all times.  He's always having fun.  DeSean is...DeSean.  Trent Cole is Mr. Serious.  He's dialed in all game long.  Stewart Bradley and Jamar Chaney are vocal leaders, which is what you want at middle linebacker.  Even a guy like Colt Anderson does his part.  He looks like he was born to play special teams.  He's got an infectious energy that I think the other players love.  There is no way to measure this, but I get the feeling that these players just genuinely like each other. 

Good chemistry won't necessarily win you games, but it will help you get through tough situations.  There is no way Vick pulls off the Miracle at the New Meadowlands on a dysfunctional team.  This group stayed together and created magic.  Bad chemistry can lose you games.  Football is the ultimate team sport.  You need players working together and fully committed to the same cause to compete for and/or win championships.  If you have players pulling in opposite directions the results aren't going to be good.  Think about the Patriots with Randy Moss this year.  Good team, but hardly a juggernaut.  They replaced him with Deion Branch and now are easily the favorites to win the Super Bowl.  They lost talent, but gained chemistry. 

I don't know if the Eagles will win on Sunday because there are so many question marks.  I do know that chemistry isn't one of them.  This group of players will play like a team.  They've given us some great memories this year and something tells me there will be a couple more special moments on Sunday afternoon.  Let's hope that is enough to earn a trip to Chicago for next weekend.