EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J.— There is a commonly used refrain among NFL coaches that is hard to dispute. "You are what your record says you are."
Apply the adage to the Eagles and it begs this question: What does it say about a team that not long ago was 5-5-1?
"We were always one or two plays away from making the big play," cornerback Sheldon Brown said. "We knew that as a team and we would always say we're not as bad as you think we are. But it's true. You're only as good as your record.
"And, now, in the postseason, we have a new record."
With Sunday's 23-11 win over the top-seeded Giants at frigid and unfriendly Giants Stadium, the sixth-seeded Eagles continued to reinvent themselves.
They no longer are the team that barely can claim a .500 record. After thoroughly outplaying the defending Super Bowl champions, the Eagles moved to 2-0 in the postseason and 6-1 in their past seven to reach the NFC Championship Game for the fifth time in eight seasons. They'll face the Cardinals on Sunday in Glendale, Ariz., playing for a conference title for the first time since the 2004 season. Never did Philadelphia seem less likely to be one win shy of the Super Bowl.
The team that showed a propensity for not finishing, losing five games by seven points or fewer, is finding ways to slam the door. The Eagles stopped consecutive fourth-down attempts in the fourth quarter and got better as the game went on. When the Giants were still within striking distance at 20-11, the Eagles struck a lethal blow with a late field goal set up by a 48-yard pass from Donovan McNabb to DeSean Jackson.
Seems the Eagles learned some things during their tumultuous journey.
"It's about playing hard and having tough times and trying to get back on our feet," linebacker Trent Cole said. "We fought our way here and we're playing good ball."
That's particularly true in McNabb's case. The longtime team leader has been alternately praised and cursed in Philadelphia, but he outplayed Giants quarterback Eli Manning, finishing 22 of 40 for 217 yards and performing better than his 58.0 rating suggests (though his intentional grounding in the end zone resulted in a safety).
"He's basically carrying this team," running back Brian Westbrook said.
McNabb, 32, had plenty of help from a defense that coach Andy Reid said he would "put up against anybody" right now. Asked about the play of his front line in short-yardage situations, Reid said the penetration was so deep "it looked like a mosh pit."
The Giants became the third team with a bye to lose this postseason. An NFC East title and a 12-4 regular-season record seem meaningless.
"It all comes down to what you do in the playoffs," Manning said.
Which is precisely why an otherwise average season for the Eagles now feels memorable.
"We weren't playing good football (early in the season)," Westbrook said. "We weren't playing consistent football. We found a way to consistently do the right things. When you do that, you have the opportunity to win."