PHILADELPHIA – After playing four games in 18 days, the Eagles needed a second bye week, and the NFL schedule makers and coach Andy Reid teamed up to give them one.
After the Eagles (8-4) defeated the Texans Thursday night, Reid sent his players home for five days before reconvening everybody at the team's practice facility on Wednesday morning to prepare for the Cowboys (4-8).
"When you get away and you come back, you have a little bounce in your step, and that's how these guys are," Reid said. "That's how the coaches are, same thing, they took a couple days off and are ready to go. But, it's important how you channel that. You have a little extra energy. Then you have to channel it the right way."
Because of a Monday night game against the Redskins, and then the Thursday night game against the Texans three weeks later, the Eagles played four games in 18 days for the first time since 1939.
They won three of the four, and will head into a nationally televised game Sunday night against Dallas in a tie for first place in the NFC East with the New York Giants. Philadelphia owns the tiebreaker, having won the first of two games vs. New York.
After the win over the Texans, Reid encouraged his players to use the down time to get away from town, get away from football, rest their bodies and rest their minds.
It seems to have worked.
"We're fresh," quarterback Michael Vick said. "Practices are going to be up-tempo. We're fired up, ready to get out there and be sharp."
The Eagles have the second-best November and December record in the NFL since 2000 at 63-26-1. Their .706 winning percentage in November and December trails only the Patriots' .750 mark (66-22). So, Reid has always had a keen sense for how much rest his players need and how to keep them fresh late in the year.
"It was much needed," safety Quintin Mikell said. "You can feel it. Everybody's got a bounce in their step and everybody's smiling and ready to go to work. We know that we've got a long road ahead of us, these last four games and the playoffs, so we needed that break. But it's time to get to work and everybody's ready."
Mikell said the mental break — a few days with no film study, no meetings, no interviews — was just as important as the opportunity to rest sore bones and let bruises heal.
"A lot of people underestimate that," he said. "Physically, we're conditioned to go as long as we need to go, but mentally is where it starts to get tough. You start to make mental mistakes, all that little stuff, so it's good to get away from everything and refocus."
The Eagles are 12-0 under Reid in games played immediately after the bye week, including a win over the Colts this year. This isn't technically a bye week, but it was close.
"What's the secret? The secret is that we get time off," rookie tight end Clay Harbor said. "The guys get a chance to go home, be home with their family, clear their mind, have fun with the family, and when they get back, they have a little extra energy, feel a little stronger, and refocused and ready to go.
"The little nicks and bruises have had a chance to heal up. And mentally, when you're healthy and feeling good physically, that gives you a lot more confidence, and that means everything in this game."