A banner night ended as it should for Birds
PHILADELPHIA » Five minutes, 10 minutes, 15 minutes after the scheduled start to the 2018 NFL season Thursday, the longstanding, standard bet was still in doubt.
What was more likely, that an Eagles fan would be struck by lightning … or that a Super Bowl championship banner would be unfurled in the Linc?
As it happened, despite a lengthy delay for violent weather, the expected occurred and a flag was draped from the stadium roof. With a crisp graphic of the Lombardi Trophy and “2017 World Champions” nicely presented in green, black and white, there forever would be an in-house reminder of what once happened when so many were expecting the usual.
“It’s not going to get too much bigger than opening up the 2018 season in front of a home crowd,” Malcolm Jenkins said. “And we’re the ones who get to make them loud.
“We take that responsibility seriously.”
Moments later, the encore would begin. The new championship banner was in place, and long should it wave. The field and the spectators were thoroughly drenched. Only the Eagles would decide whether the moment would be, too. That, they did with an 1812 victory over the Atlanta Falcons, who were typically prepared to provide them with comic foil.
“We had the day after the Super Bowl stuff, then the parade, then we got our rings,” Jay Ajayi had said. “Now it’s here.”
The problem, if there is one, with unveiling a championship banner seven months after it was won is that it technically no longer belongs to all of the players entrusted to hang another. By the time the Eagles made it through their parade, their draft, their mini-camps and that goofy, four-exhibition-game nosethumb, 17 of the Super Bowl champions were replaced by new players. That is enough to field an entire lineup, with six more waiting for a doctor to decide something.
So the team last seen pinning a 41-spot on New England in the Super Bowl was nothing like the one that scored three points in the first half of a home game Thursday. LeGarrette Blount and Torrey Smith were gone, and Brent Celek had been relegated to being the honorary alumni captain. That’s how fast it turns around. One minute, Tom Brady is forgetting to shake hands, the next Nick Foles is forgetting to throw touchdown passes.
“This football team understands it is a new team, a new year,” Doug Pederson said. “They have moved on. It seems like these events sort of keep popping up for us to sort of reflect, which are great, I love them, because we’re all part of it. But here’s still a bunch of guys on this roster that didn’t go through that.”
Enough did, however. And that was enough to keep the Eagles competitive in a game against an opponent that should be a factor deep into the NFC playoffs. As usual, they flustered Matt Ryan, who rarely excels during visits to his home town, stopping the Falcons within the five on each of their first two possessions, Atlanta settling for a total of three points. Julio Jones was a handful, but was unable to score a touchdown.
It was only when Pederson ordered a Philly Special reboot, with Foles snagging a third-and-five pass from Nelson Agholor to move the Birds from the Atlanta 41 to the 26, that the championship-celebration-night feel was re-established. Eventually, that led to the first of Ajayi’s two touchdowns.
At this point, if Carson Wentz wins his job back, it will cost the Birds their top receiver.
“We’ve got a lot of guys who are excited to compete,” said Jenkins. “I think that’s the biggest thing.”
That was difficult to recognize in the first 30 minutes, though the Eagles were alone in their early incompetence. Neither team would score a first-half touchdown and the referees would seem to throw a flag every other play. Not that the Falcons were unprepared to play, but they were flagged for a false start before running their first play.
That entry to the season was the NFL’s penalty for permitting its unprofessional coaches to ruin the concept of a preseason and allow paid players to enter meaningful games arrogantly unprepared.
“The biggest thing that comes if you haven’t experienced a Super Bowl before, and in my career I had only been to the Super Bowl one other time, is how short the offseason is,” defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said. “It comes up on you pretty quickly. You have to get guys transitioned to a different mindset right away.”
Nine months ago, some Eagles were prancing around the Linc in dog masks, celebrating their underdog status. This season, many have said they will “embrace the target,” aware that they will be a team that every opponent takes special care to defeat.
“Every year,” Brandon Graham said, “is a new year.”
This one started late, first because of the weather, then because of a half-agame of sloppiness.
Let the record reflect that the Eagles didn’t make it through one, not one, bloody post-world-championship quarter without hearing some muffled boos. And let it show that Foles was heckled exactly two offensive series after being the Super Bowl MVP. Hey, at least Pederson got in and out of the night without a growing quarterback controversy.
Lightning struck once since the Birds were last in the Linc, and they won a championship. It struck again Thursday night, in more ways than one.
Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie and former player Brian Dawkins lead the pregame celebration Thursday.