By the time the Eagles won Super Bowl 51, they were looking to build on their best performance in years.
They didn’t do that, of course.
They still have a long way to go to reclaim the title they won with in 1998.
But their biggest triumph came after their first playoff win in franchise history.
The Eagles have gone 4-2 in the playoffs since, and after Sunday’s 24-21 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, they have a shot to win the NFC East with a win over either the Miami Dolphins or New England Patriots.
So how did the Eagles win?
The answer was not easy.
They won because of a defense that has not allowed an NFL-high four touchdowns in a game this season, a defense capable of defending a Super Bowl champion and a quarterback who has completed at least 80 percent of his passes in six of his past seven starts.
The defense was so dominant last season, it didn’t even need to play as a unit to beat the Steelers in the divisional round.
It did it all by themselves.
It has held the Buccaneers to a total of just six points over their past four games.
It’s the best defense in the NFL.
The offense has been a problem for a while.
It ranked 29th in the league in rushing last season with just over 1,300 yards and 28 touchdowns, and it ranked 25th in rushing yards (1,621) and 20th in points (31).
This year, it ranks sixth with 3,547 yards and 25 touchdowns.
And while that is a big jump from last year, the defense still has a lot to learn.
Rookie running back DeMarco Murray has had two straight games with at least three carries in his past four, but he has been slow to get going.
He was a top-10 rusher last season but hasn’t reached that level in his first three games.
Murray, the No. 5 overall pick in this year’s draft, had a very strong rookie season, rushing for 1,722 yards and 19 touchdowns.
But his best rushing day came in Week 10 against the Tampa State Buccaneers, when he rushed for 155 yards on 22 carries.
Murray has struggled to get into the right rhythm, and he’s not playing as well as he did in 2014 when he was No. 3 in the game behind running back Devonta Freeman and wide receiver Anquan Boldin.
If Murray gets back on track and plays like he did last season in Weeks 1 and 3, he could make a big leap forward.
It would be a major step forward for the Eagles.
The most difficult part for the defense is knowing when to trust one another and when to go with your gut.
The good news is that they do have some answers.
Rookie cornerback Nolan Carroll and safety Malcolm Jenkins have done a nice job of stepping up in the second half of games this season.
They have been consistent and solid at their spots.
Defensive end Jordan Hicks has shown to be a solid run defender, especially in coverage.
Defensive tackle Fletcher Cox has been great on the inside of the line of scrimmage and has allowed just five sacks in his last four games against the Buccaneers.
He will be the key to the defense if he can stay healthy.
And defensive end Chris Long is a player the Eagles have been talking about since he was drafted in the first round of the 2015 draft.
Long is coming off a season where he led the NFL with 11.5 sacks and forced six fumbles.
He also had six quarterback hurries and eight quarterback hits, so he is well-rounded and capable of playing all over the field.
That makes him a good fit on the defensive line.
The bad news is the offense isn’t doing much.
The Buccaneers have been playing a more conservative, spread offense that relies on its running game.
This is a team that has struggled with its running backs this season and has struggled in short yardage situations.
Quarterback Jameis Winston is averaging just under 5.5 yards per carry and is averaging 2.4 yards per pass attempt.
The Bucs have allowed a touchdown in the red zone only three times in the past six games.
And if you take into account Winston’s ability to run, they haven’t allowed more than six points to the offense in any game this year.
And even if Winston has improved his performance, the Bucs are still a tough team to stop.
And the defense isn’t quite ready to take on the NFL’s best offense.
Rookie safety Malik Hooker is having a very good season at the position.
He has been one of the best at his position this season with five interceptions and three forced fumbles, but there are questions about his ability to play against the best offenses in the AFC South and NFC South.
If he doesn’t get more consistent, he might not have much of a chance to play in the Super Bowl.
But that doesn’t mean the Eagles should ignore the defense.
The defensive players have been outstanding