A few seconds after Nick Foles ran onto the field for pregame warmups on Saturday afternoon before the divisional playoff game, Carson Wentz emerged from the same tunnel. Wearing an all-black Eagles sweatsuit and a green Eagles beanie, Wentz hobbled his way past onlookers with a single crutch tucked up under his right arm.
A reminder of what could have been.
More importantly, a reminder of how improbable all of this has been.
The Eagles are one win away from going to the Super Bowl without their franchise quarterback, their Hall of Fame left tackle, their starting middle linebacker, their most dynamic offensive playmaker, their original kicker and their special teams captain.
If a few months ago someone would have told you the Eagles were going to lose all of those players and still be in the NFC championship game, you probably would have laughed in their face. You probably would have called the men in the white coats to come and take them away.
But here we are.
The question is, how did we get here? How the hell is this even possible?
Well, it starts with coaching. Remember when that attention-seeking bozo said Doug Pederson was the least qualified head coach in NFL history? (see story.) Oops. If Pederson pulls this off, winning a Super Bowl with Foles and a group of other backups, it'll be one of the greatest achievements in modern coaching history. All season, his players have believed in him and he's believed in his players.
The front office deserves a ton of credit, too. Howie Roseman and Joe Douglas built this roster. They stockpiled talent at the back end of the depth chart. They overturned the team from a year ago. They brought in the exact right mix of vets and players yearning to prove themselves on one-year deals. They drafted well. They gambled by adding who some considered to be a problem child running back at the deadline and relied on a veteran locker room to put him in his place. At every single juncture, they pushed the right buttons.
And then the players believed.
They took that clichéd "next man up" philosophy and wore it on their chests like a badge of honor. The second-year left tackle stepped up. The linebacker who once requested an offseason trade acted like a true professional and started balling. The veteran backup quarterback who was once named the starter in Philly for "the next thousand years" was able to block out the haters and keep his confidence high.
The injured guys didn't go anywhere either. Wentz was finally allowed on the sideline against the Falcons and was able to help Foles settle down. Jason Peters was on the field before Saturday's game, offering advice and words of encouragement for his fellow offensive linemen. Jordan Hicks and Chris Maragos are always present in the locker room. Darren Sproles met up with the team during its week-long trip to Southern California and flew back with his teammates to be here for the stretch run.
This is a team. This is a dance-together, put-it-on-the-bulletin board, wear-the-dog-masks-together team. They were underdogs against the Falcons. They're underdogs against Vikings, who have dealt with a couple huge losses themselves this season.
With one more win, the Eagles are going to be underdogs in LII in Minneapolis on Feb. 4.
They're doing all this without Wentz and Peters and Hicks and Sproles and Maragos and Sturgis and without just about anyone outside of the NovaCare Complex believing in them even a little bit. That's why it's all so crazy.
So of course they're going to be underdogs from here on out.
Just bet against them at your own risk.