Eagles stocked with players who have something to prove

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Eagles stocked with players who have something to prove

They're playing like they're mad at the world. Like they're trying to shut people up. Like they have something to prove. And there's a pretty good reason for that.

The Eagles' roster is largely made up of guys who were late-round draft picks. Guys who went undrafted, who were unwanted by their previous team, who were benched somewhere or toiled on the practice squad.

Castoffs, misfits, journeymen.

Put it all together and you have a roster stocked with guys who were told they'd never make it. Who have a chip on their shoulder. Who are driven by a team or coach or GM or even a fan base who doubted them and questioned them and gave up on them.

That's who this team is.

Let's look at the 53-man roster.

There are 20 guys drafted in the fifth round or later. There are seven undrafted free agents (and that doesn't include guys like Jason Peters and Chris Maragos, who are on IR). There are a dozen who've been released at some point in their career. A bunch more have been traded and several have been benched.

A good chunk of this roster is made up of players who've been doubted or questioned or left by the wayside, and that can go one of two ways. You can wind up with a group of football players who just aren't good enough to play in this league. Or you can wind up with a locker room full of men who are hungry, motivated, selfless and determined.

Find the right combination of those guys and find the correct roles for them and then develop them and what do you have?

You have the 2017 Eagles.

Heck, even some of their first-round picks play like they're fighting for their lives.

Carson Wentz heard repeatedly that he'd never be a big-time quarterback coming from an FCS school like North Dakota State. Brandon Graham heard for years he was a bust and the Eagles should have taken Earl Thomas instead. Even Fletcher Cox heard that his level of play dropped last year after he signed his massive contract.

Good luck finding a guy in this locker room who didn't have to overcome some long odds or who isn't driven by being treated unfairly at some point in his life.

Jason Kelce is playing at an All-Pro level. He was a sixth-round draft pick.

Corey Clement scored three touchdowns against the Broncos Sunday. He was undrafted.

Patrick Robinson and Jalen Mills have been unreal at cornerback. Robinson is with his fourth team in four years, and Mills was a seventh-round pick.

Go right through the roster.

LeGarrette Blount, released by two different teams and unwanted in New England after rushing for 18 touchdowns last year.

Tim Jernigan, cast off by the Ravens. Nelson Agholor, benched a year ago. Mychal Kendricks, shopped by the Eagles for the last few years. Jake Elliott, released by the Bengals and dumped on the practice squad. Stefen Wisniewski, started the season as a third-stringer. Rodney McLeod, undrafted.

“You look at this locker room, a lot of guys have things to prove," McLeod said.

"There’s a lot of different stories on this team. Guys being cut. Guys going undrafted. Guys getting overlooked. And they all make up a team that’s hungry as a whole. So that’s what you have. A lot of guys who are hungry and just want to win."

And it goes beyond the locker room.

The general manager was essentially benched two years ago, exiled to the equipment department, of all things. The head coach was released eight times in his NFL career and toiled in the Arena League and World League when he couldn't get an NFL job.

When Pederson talks about culture, this is what he means. A whole bunch of people thinking the same way, believing the same thing, working toward a common goal.

The Eagles are the best team in the NFL because he's got 53 guys, most of them driven by some significant obstacle in their lives, playing like the only thing that matters is proving everybody wrong.

It's not the normal formula for building a winning football team. Take a handful of premium draft picks and surround them with a whole bunch of guys off the scrapheap.

But for this team, it's working. And all the guys who are motivated by proving people wrong? They're well on their way to doing exactly that.

Torrey Smith totally redeems himself

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Torrey Smith totally redeems himself

After an all-too-familiar drop, Torrey Smith assured Nick Foles he would redeem himself. What followed was one of the most memorable catches in Eagles history: a 41-yard flea flicker in an NFC Championship Game.

Smith struggled with dropped passes all season long and never really materialized as the consistent deep threat the Eagles hoped for. But the seventh-year veteran knew they had the Vikings' number and plead with Foles to keep taking shots down the field.

Finally, Smith reeled in the long touchdown that felt like the dagger in the Eagles' 38-7 victory.

"We were talking about it all week, and we knew we were going to hit on one," Smith said postgame. "Just don't do anything differently, and I knew he was going to come back at some point."

Despite the trickery at the line of scrimmage, there was a high degree of difficulty involved with the catch. With All-Pro Vikings safety Harrison Smith in hot pursuit, Smith cradled the pass over his right shoulder as it came plummeting back to earth, got two feet inbounds and maintained control of the football while being tackled to the ground.

No matter. Smith wasn't about to let that one fall incomplete.

"I thought it I was inbounds, but I knew it was pretty close," Smith said. "Probably should've dragged my foot, but the ball kind of disappears a little bit when you catch it at that angle, and I wanted to catch it first."

Smith failed to haul in a potential 50-yard gain on the Eagles' first possession. The ball was slightly underthrown by Foles, allowing Vikings cornerback Trae Waynes to get back into the play and break up the pass.

Still, the ball was in Smith's hands, and he took full responsibility, going so far as to approach Foles on the sideline after the Eagles' drive ended in a punt.

"I had it," Smith said. "I should've caught it.

"I just told him, 'Don't do anything different.' I don't want him to think that it's his fault. That's my fault. That's a play I can make. I knew it was going to be contested when I slowed up a little bit, but that's a play I can make and I should make."

The opportunity for redemption came in the third quarter. Already leading the Vikings 24-7, Eagles coach Doug Pederson decided to go straight for the jugular after halftime, capping off an eight-play, 75-yard drive with the flea flicker.

Smith sold the call brilliantly, running at half speed to fool Waynes into thinking the ball was going elsewhere, only to take off and leave the defensive back in his dust.

"I knew that I had to get far enough down the field that he thinks I'm releasing like a pass, but then get my eyes back like lazy receivers do sometimes," Smith said. "We all do it, where you're like kind of looking to see where the ball is going.

"He looked, and I took off."

With the cornerback out of the play, the safety help was a little too late to break up a perfectly delivered pass from Foles.

"I don't know if I've ever run a flea flicker," Foles said. "It was my first time so I just tried not to smile. Any time you're a quarterback and you can have a play like that, it's pretty exciting."

Smith has taken his share of criticism throughout the season, finishing sixth in the NFL out of 94 qualifying receivers in drop rate, according to Pro Football Focus. Prior to Sunday, he caught just two passes of 40 yards or more all season long.

Yet neither Foles nor Pederson lost confidence in Smith and were comfortable going to the veteran wideout when it was time to drive the final nail in the Vikings' coffin.

"Nick did a great job of stepping up and sliding right, and then what a finish," Pederson said. "What a catch by Torrey, and right in the front corner of the end zone."

Just how injured is Tom Brady's throwing hand?

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Just how injured is Tom Brady's throwing hand?

Tom Brady's hand injury didn't end up costing the Patriots the AFC title game. But the Patriots quarterback wasn't always so sure that would be the case.

On WEEI's Kirk and Callahan Show, Brady went into some detail as to what he was thinking when the injury occurred, how it happened, and how his bit of bad luck was followed by some good fortune. 

"We ran into each other, and my thumb just got bent back," Brady said. "It wasn't his helmet or anything. It just kind of got bent back, and that's why I thought it was a lot worse. The doctors checked it out and we did the things just to kind of check on everything. Fortunately there wasn't the damage that normally comes associated with that. I think we were very lucky."

Brady said once again, as he did Sunday night, that he hopes to have the stitches in his hand removed this week. Once that happens, Brady indicated that the hope was his hand would essentially be back to normal at that point.

"Because I was fortunate not to tear any ligaments or anything like that, there was no broken bones, that was obviously the best news I could ever hear based on what you thought it could be," he said. "It ended up being a lot of good luck after, I'd say, a pretty unlucky injury. It turned out to be a lot good luck it wasn't more serious than it was."