Chal­lenges get steeper for Ea­gles in sec­ond half

The Review - - Sports - Jack McCaf­fery Colum­nist To con­tact Jack McCaf­fery, email him at jm­c­caf­fery@21stcen­tu­ry­; fol­low him on Twit­ter @ Jack­McCaf­fery

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.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.