The Eagles watched the first quarter of the season come and go, wasting away four games and three leads and raising far more concerns than inspiring visions of grandeur. Unsettling as it has been through four games, the season marches on into an undetermined future.
This next test is one that we have discussed all week. Once a patsy in the NFL, the Buffalo Bills are now a destiny's darling-kind of team. Young and promising and full of vigor and inspiration, the Bills have been one of the league's feel-good stories. They have been Comeback Kids with their never-say-the-game-is-over attitude. The Eagles, of course, have been the direct antithesis of that, having lost three games in which they led in the fourth quarter.
What are the Eagles, then? Are they a team that has not yet been able to string together four quality quarters of football at a time, or are they a team not capable of mustering such an effort? Are the Eagles a team that, as 49ers running back Frank Gore suggested, stopped playing last week after carving out a 20-point lead only to have it evaporate? Is this a team, instead, that hasn't figured out how to win with so many new faces in key places on the roster?
Buffalo provides a stern test for the Eagles in every way. The Bills have an explosive offense that employs multiple shifts and formations with a spread philosophy. Chan Gailey is a terrific play caller and the Bills have plenty of weapons to attack a defense.
Defensively, the Bills have been up and down, and they have a home crowd that is going to be fired up to help the cause. Buffalo is going to go after quarterback Michael Vick and look for takeaways and Eagles mistakes.
More than anything, the Bills have confidence that no matter what the scoreboard says, they are in the game. They are not going to stop charging.
How do the Eagles respond with so much working against them? They are playing without two Pro Bowl players, left offensive tackle Jason Peters and defensive end Trent Cole. They are on the road, where they are 1-1 this season. They have been the target of intense criticism nationally this week as all comers have piled on "the fall of the Dream Team" story.
And yet, there is a profound sense of confidence here. The Eagles are going to play a great game because they have to play a great game and because they are more than capable of playing a great time.
It is time to turn the season around. It is time right now to do so. We are accustomed to an Eagles team that over the years has won a game like this, with all the chips in the other team's corner. And while we still haven't figured out the makeup of this team, nor have the true leaders of this team been identified, there are enough veterans who understand the importance of the game to make sure the urgency is understood.
How do the Eagles win? They win by playing Eagles football. They win by spreading the field offensively and taking advantage of the speed on this roster. They get the ball in DeSean Jackson's hands. They make sure LeSean McCoy gets his touches. They play mistake-free football in the red zone and ignore the temptation for gizmos and gadgets.
Defensively, the Eagles must change the tempo of the game. They have to be more physical than Buffalo. They need to tackle far better than they did in the first four games. Scheme-wise, the Eagles have to play with more discipline as they look to control the gaping holes that have plagued this defense, and they have to understand the discipline needed in zone pass coverage.
It's a tall task ahead, admittedly. Nobody is taking a thing for granted. This is the NFL, and this is a team that has vastly underperformed through four games. The time is now -- or maybe never -- to make a stand, and to tell the world that the Eagles are worth the headlines and the hype.