EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – There would be no Miracle of the Meadowlands, preseason style, after the Eagles failed to capitalize on a clumsy New York Jets handoff attempt and subsequent fumble in the final 1:55 of Thursday's 16-10 loss to the Jets. Didn't matter. This preseason didn't need a cherry on top.
While the four preseason games didn't please aesthetically all the time, and while there are still some concerns moving forward with Washington waiting to open the regular season on September 10 at FedEx Field, where the Eagles have not won since 2013, the offseason and the spring workouts and Organized Team Activities and Training Camp and the preseason games all rolled into one spell out a resounding success for this football team.
The Eagles, in Year 2 with Doug Pederson as the head coach and with Carson Wentz as the quarterback, are playoff contenders. There is no denying that. The goal is the postseason and beyond for the Eagles, a rapid turnaround from the downward spiral only a couple of years ago.
This is how it's going to work for the Eagles in the next two days: They're going to reduce the roster to 53 players, not exactly as simple a cut-and-paste operation as you might think it would be. They might try to keep five running backs, with rookies Corey Clement and Donnel Pumphrey joining veterans LeGarrette Blount, Darren Sproles, and Wendell Smallwood (a young veteran, to be technical about it). Maybe they try to keep an extra tight end, understanding that Trey Burton can be an unrestricted free agent after the season and Brent Celek's contract is up after 2018.
They are going to go heavy where you don't expect it, light where you thought of a heavy number, and they're going to do trades. Oh boy, are they going to do trades, at least they're going to be open to the very idea of doing them.
The 53-man roster will be established by 4 p.m. on Saturday and then the personnel department will tinker with it for the next day or two and at the same time will establish a practice squad and then, by Monday, the Eagles will have all of their attention turned toward Washington.
They will do it knowing that they've accomplished so, so much in the months since the 2016 season ended. Combining practicality, creativity, and aggressiveness, the Eagles rebuilt the offense by adding playmakers like Blount and receivers Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith. They've overhauled key areas on defense, trading to acquire defensive tackle Tim Jernigan and cornerback Ronald Darby. The draft brought them an instant contributor in defensive end Derek Barnett.
said. "That's where it all starts. We haven't been able to win down there in a while (opening game, 2013, to be exact) so we need to get a jump on them and win in the division."
The preseason was a success on many levels, notably in the health department. The Eagles go into this regular season whole, healthy, and very fortunate to be in that position. They go in with an improved roster, starting with the revamped wide receiver corps and crossing through the running backs and the cornerbacks and the defensive line.
There is a promising blend of experience and youth here that must find a way to win A) on the road and B) in close games.
"We have to finish better," quarterback Carson Wentz said. "That's an important focus for us. We're going to be in a lot of close games. That's the nature of the NFL. We have to find a way to win those close games."
How the team matures in Year 2 of the Pederson/Wentz Era may very well be the key to the whole next steps for the Eagles. There were too many mental errors in 2016 that cost the Eagles dearly. There were blown late leads in Detroit and Dallas. There was an inability to finish off the Giants at MetLife Stadium.
Close games went the other way too often. So the Eagles went out and brought in some veterans, very talented ones, who fit the profile of what this team wants: Players who love the game, and who embrace the competition and who are physical and fast and team-oriented.
We're almost to the regular season. So much has changed with this team. What that means, we are going to learn together. But getting through the preseason unscathed from a health standpoint and seeing that the acquired pieces fit the scheme and should be high-level producers in the fall is exciting and encouraging.
A win on Thursday night would have put a pretty bow tie on the preseason, but it didn't happen. So we move on and find out how the Eagles will get to 53 players and what this team is going to look like when the full squad reports to the NovaCare Complex next week to dig in to prepare for Washington.