Challenges get steeper for Eagles in second half
Efficiently, convincingly, even in a rainstorm, the Eagles Sunday finished the first half of their season with the usual. They out cla ssed somebody, making 3310 fun of the San Francisco 49ers.
With that, they were 7-1, and deserving of everything it means to be an .875 football team. They didn’t arrive there by luck or mistake. They won on the road, in the division, in the conference. They won when they should have won. They avoided traps. They won in prime time. They finished the first half on a six-game winning streak. They were tremendous. Were. Past tense. Already? “They don’t pass out awards for being 7-and-1,” Jason Kelce said, “the last time I checked.”
They didn’t hand out any Sunday, and they didn’t hand out any in 1994, either. That’s when the Eagles were 7-2 and Rich Kotite began the party early, challenging the critics, and there were plenty, to judge them by their record. That team dropped its last seven, finishing the season on Christmas Eve in Cincinnati, losing on a late field goal.
The 2017 Eagles are not the 1994 Eagles, even if history sometimes can haunt. Butas they’ve soared toward the top of the Las Vegas Super Bowl futures board with their third double-figure victory in their last four, they also must face this question: Are they the Eagles of 2004, who went 13-1, rested their regulars in the final two games, and reached the Super Bowl? Are they a classic NFL team, one of the best ever? And why would it be unfair to ask that about a team on a clear 14-2 trajectory?
After the game Sunday, one in which his team once led by 26, Doug Pederson mentioned the leadership in his locker room, which is strong, and his quarterback, who has been special, and his defense, which hits and covers. Inside the room, much discussion reverberated about how much fun it has been, with the standard rule applying: There is nothing wrong with using the first 24 hours after a nice victory to exhale and enjoy.
“It feels good,” Malcolm Jenkins said. “Obviously, we work really hard. We’re having a lot of fun. It’s not every day that you get to be in this position. But we’re going to enjoy every moment and keep doing what got us here.”
No football season can be neatly broken in halves, each mirroring the other. If the Eagles don’t go 7-1 again, it doesn’t mean they are any less respectable or dangerous. As long as Carson Wentz remains active, enough other things will fall into place and deliver the Birds to the postseason. Just the same, they might aswell brace for a correction. No NFL team dominates as the Eagles have without a reminder that the opponents make millions of dollars to play, too.
Though the Birds did what was necessary in the first half, missing a shot at 8-0 perfection by one possession in a Week 2 loss at tough Kansas City, there were some relaxing moments. They beat Arizona, 24-7, the Cardinals barely showing up. Sunday, the 49ers were ill-prepared and inept. But the Denver Broncos will bring a sturdy defense to the Linc Sunday. The Eagles still must play the Cowboys twice, with all that carry-on. There is a two-game West Coast obligation in Seattle and L.A., where they’ll play the Rams. The Giants aren’t much, but there is that second-time-around division-game burden to lift.
“In this league, any team can beat anybody,” said Kelce, a veteran voice of reason. “They talk all the time about ‘any given Sunday.’ That’s not a joke. That’s a reality. Every teamin this league has good players. Some teams play better than others.
“If you don’t go out there and execute the proper techniques, and if you don’t go out there and prepare, you can get beat pretty easily. We have to take it one game at a time. Everybody else, it’s their job to kind of look at it and say how good you’re doing at 7-1. The reality is, if you don’t continue to improve, that can change very, very quickly.”
It didn’t change in 2004 when the Birds were 7-1, then went to 13-1. But that team had Terrell Owens at his best, and Brian Westbrook, a more dangerous runner than any of Pederson’s 2017 options. Wentz is more talented than Donovan McNabb, but McNabb was more experienced. Brian Dawkins was still at his best. That teamwas better, probably. But this Eagles team has a chance to prove otherwise, one baseball-themed end-zone celebration at a time.
“We have to live in this moment and enjoy it,” Fletcher Cox said. “We’ve got the Broncos coming in. So we will enjoy this and get ready for that.”
Through eight games, they have given themselves plenty to enjoy. They have to realize that the next eight just might bring some rain.