There's something about December that brings out the best in the Philadelphia Eagles.
After two straight comeback wins in the fourth quarter, the Eagles kicked off their favorite month by routing the undermanned Atlanta Falcons 34-7 on Sunday.
The Eagles improved to 8-4 with their third straight victory and are tied with Dallas for first place in the NFC East heading down the stretch.
The Cowboys hold the tiebreaker because they already won in Philadelphia, but the division title could be at stake when the teams meet in Dallas on Jan. 3.
While the Cowboys have struggled in recent Decembers _ 5-9 since 2006 _ the Eagles have owned the month. They're 28-11 in December this decade, including 12-3 since '06. Maybe it's the cold air or the anticipation of Santa's arrival. Whatever the reason, the Eagles seem to click when it counts.
"It's that time of the year, that last quarter," coach Andy Reid said Monday. "If you're still in the hunt, things get a little faster, guys play a little faster and so on. That's the nature of the game. That's where we're at. It's important that we keep practicing the way we've been practicing and preparing the way we've been preparing. The guys have been very focused the last few weeks."
Under Reid, the Eagles have always been a strong second-half team. Overall, they're 58-30-1 in November and December during Reid's tenure. That includes a 2-5 mark during his first season in 1999 when he inherited a wretched team and quickly turned the franchise into a perennial winner.
Late-season success usually can catapult teams into the playoffs. The Eagles have used their December dominance to reach the postseason seven times in Reid's first 10 years in Philly. They've reached the NFC championship game five times and the Super Bowl once.
"This is something that has been happening for us for years," quarterback Donovan McNabb said of the second-half success. "You go through the first part of the year where you are getting that chemistry and getting that timing and things going. This is the time of the year that people remember. You never remember September, October. You always keep your mind on November, December and January because, if you have that opportunity, you want to go into the playoffs and hit it rolling."
The Eagles certainly are streaking right now. They had no trouble dominating the short-handed Falcons. Despite missing star running back Brian Westbrook and dynamic wide receiver DeSean Jackson, the offense racked up 380 yards and scored 27 points.
The defense shut down Atlanta's depleted offense and chipped in with a score on Sheldon Brown's interception return.
McNabb threw for 238 yards and a touchdown, continuing his strong season. McNabb has thrown for 2,427 yards, 16 TDs and only six interceptions. His QB rating (94.7) and completion percentage (61.0) are both the third-highest of his career.
Even Michael Vick contributed in his return to Atlanta. Playing in the stadium where he once starred, Vick reached the end zone for the first time in three years. He had a 5-yard TD run and later tossed a 5-yard TD pass.
The Eagles now shift their focus to an important game at the New York Giants (7-5) next Sunday night. The Giants beat the Cowboys 31-24 to jump back in the division race.
Of the three teams, the Cowboys have the toughest remaining schedule. They play home against San Diego (9-3) and the Eagles and on the road against New Orleans (12-0) and Washington (3-9).
The Giants are home against the Eagles and Carolina (5-7) and at Washington and Minnesota (11-2).
After visiting New York, the Eagles host San Francisco (5-7) and Denver (8-4) before finishing at Dallas.
Notes: Reid said both Jackson and Westbrook could return to practice this week and neither has been ruled out for Sunday's game. Westbrook has missed three straight games after suffering his second concussion in a three-week span. Reid said Westbrook hasn't had any headaches and will be tested before practicing. Jackson sat out the win over the Falcons because of a concussion. Reid said he's doing well and has to meet with doctors. ... LT Jason Peters bruised his shoulder and suffered a possible stinger against Atlanta. He left the game, but Reid said he kept pestering him to return. ... CB Ellis Hobbs, already on injured reserve, had surgery for a herniated disk on Monday. ... WR Jordan Norwood was released. CB Joselio Hanson is eligible to come off the suspended list and likely will take his roster spot.
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