Losing is painful. It doesn't matter whether you lose by three points or three touchdowns. When you are on the wrong side of the scoreboard, it is no fun. The Eagles had to deal with that for five straight weeks before breaking through on Thursday night and beating the Giants.
Getting that win had to be a great feeling for players and coaches. It is easy to get down on yourself when you come up short, over and over. You question what you're doing and everything around you as well. This can lead to players pointing fingers in the locker room. The media, in search of answers for what's gone wrong, could unearth a controversial comment or two from a frustrated player. The Eagles have showed plenty of fight, but things could have gotten ugly in the offseason if the team had ended the season on a seven-game losing streak.
The win changes everything. The coaches get to feel good for a week. The players can enjoy the holiday mini-bye. Heck, the Eagles can actually feel confident right now. They are a couple of plays removed from being on a three-game winning streak. They were close against Washington. They were even closer against the Ravens. They finally got over the hump in beating the Giants. This wasn't a lucky win where a bunch of crazy plays went their way. The Eagles have been playing much better since the Cincinnati game. In the last 13 quarters, the Eagles have outscored their opponents 79-76. This team hasn't rolled over at all. The Eagles hit rock bottom in that Bengals game and have been a different team since then.
I'm not trying to convince that this is all of a sudden a great team. The thing you have to understand is the losing can be contagious. Bad habits set in. Bad attitudes cast a cloud over the locker room. This team never got to that point. In fact, they rallied together to play better down the stretch. That is very encouraging for next season. It shows there is good chemistry in the locker room. It also shows that the players are still responding to Doug Pederson and the coaching staff.
One of the big keys to the win over the Giants is that the Eagles made big plays. Darren Sproles opened the scoring with a 25-yard touchdown run. Malcolm Jenkins followed that with a pick-six that put the Eagles up 14-0. The final touchdown was a 40-yard pass from Carson Wentz to Nelson Agholor. There was another interception by Malcolm Jenkins. Caleb Sturgis hit a clutch field goal. Leodis McKelvin broke up a pass in the end zone. Nolan Carroll broke up a pass on a fourth down to end a drive. Terrence Brooks sealed the game with a pick.
That's how you win.
We can talk about yards, drives, time of possession and other stats, but making big plays really does trump everything. The Eagles have been close in the last month, but just didn't make enough game-changing moments to win. That changed on Thursday night.
Wentz did not post great numbers. He was 13-of-24 for 152 yards. That actually looks like his stats for a half from recent games. It was good to see him not have to throw 40 or 50 passes in a game. Wentz got back to managing the game instead of having to carry the load. He threw the one touchdown. He completed a few other key throws. He used his legs better than in any game all season, running four times for 27 yards. He turned sacks into first downs. That is crushing to a defense. The rushers beat the blockers and get to the quarterback, only to have him duck or spin and run for the first down. Plays like that kill defensive players and coaches.
Lane Johnson made his return to the field and was an immediate upgrade at right tackle. The Eagles ran behind him on the first play of the game and Sproles got loose for a gain of 17 yards. That sort of set the tone for the whole game. The Eagles ran for 118 yards. It wasn't always pretty, but it was effective. The Giants have one of the best run defenses in the league. The Eagles ran for the second-most yards of the season against them. That is two weeks in a row when the run game got the job done against a very stout run defense.
Ryan Mathews has run hard all season. He has punished tacklers and fought for every yard he could get. Unfortunately, he got hurt in the Giants game and his season is over. No one can ever question Mathews' toughness. Here's to hoping he makes a full recovery and is back on the field in the future.
The Eagles' defense had a funny game. They gave up 470 yards, but only 19 points. The Giants were just one for five in the red zone. You can live with giving up yards if they don't result in points, especially touchdowns. Eli Manning wasn't sacked once. That sounds bad, but anyone who watched the game saw he was under constant pressure. Brandon Graham was in the backfield all night long. Manning completed 38 passes. Wait, that's not true. He completed 41. It's just that three of them went to Eagles defensive backs. Manning threw a career-high 63 pass attempts so allowing 38 completions doesn't look so bad.
If Graham was the star of the game up front, Jenkins was the star in the secondary. He picked off two passes, broke up another and was credited with five solo tackles. He covered well on other plays and made his presence felt all game long. It is too bad the Pro Bowl voting took place before this national game. Jenkins would have gotten more votes if people had seen a performance like that.
While the Eagles won the game, there are still mistakes to correct and issues to fix. Receivers must do a better job of coming back to the ball. They can't sit and wait for it to come to them. Members of the front seven have to show better gap integrity against the run. Nigel Bradham got out of his gap and allowed a long run when the Giants were backed up near the goal line. Wentz has to be careful about throwing the ball downfield on scramble plays. He got picked off doing this on Thursday and had some other passes that were a combination of bad decisions and bad throws.
Coaches and players will be happy to work on these things, because they happened during a win. Pro football requires a tremendous amount of effort. Players work hard lifting weights, practicing, studying in the classroom and that's before gameday. After a win, you can't wait to get back to work. There just isn't the same pep in your step following a loss.
Winning makes life easier. It makes the grind more enjoyable. If the Eagles can win again next Sunday, they will head into the offseason feeling great about themselves and the team's chances to compete in 2017.
Tommy Lawlor, goeagles99 on the Discussion Boards, is an amateur football scout and devoted Eagles fan. He is the Editor of IgglesBlitz.com.