Football is the ultimate team game.
Barry Sanders might be the greatest running back of all time, but he won a single playoff game in his career. He only ran for one postseason touchdown. Dick Butkus is an iconic legend and one of the greatest linebackers in NFL history. He never even played in a playoff game. The NFL is about teams. Not stars.
The Eagles have been a great example of this all year long. Rookie Corey Clement replaced Darren Sproles and the team kept winning. Halapoulivaati Vaitai stepped in for Jason Peters and the team kept winning. Jordan Hicks, Chris Maragos, and Caleb Sturgis all suffered season-ending injuries. The team kept chugging along and winning.
The Eagles' ability to overcome injuries is about to really be put to the test. Carson Wentz tore his ACL on Sunday and he's out for the rest of the season. Nick Foles is now the starting quarterback. While Foles is experienced and talented, Wentz was one of the best players in the league this season. Postseason football is never easy, but it just got a lot harder.
Sunday seemed like such a good day. The Eagles faced the red-hot Rams in a big game. Wentz and the Eagles got out to a 21-7 lead and all seemed right with the world. The Rams were able to come back and take a 28-24 lead in the third quarter. Wentz marched the offense down the field and threw a short touchdown to Alshon Jeffrey to put the good guys back on top, 31-28. Unfortunately, a couple of plays before that, Wentz hurt his knee. The medical staff checked him out once he got to the sideline and that was pretty much that.
The Rams didn't feel sorry for the Eagles. They went right down the field and regained the lead, 35-31. You could feel that this was a huge moment in the season. Wentz was gone. The rest of the team had to step up and win this game. If the Eagles had lost, it would have hurt their chances of getting a bye. Their confidence would have been shot, having lost two tough games in a row. The Wentz news would make it an overwhelming situation.
That didn't happen.
Foles led the team on a field goal drive to cut the lead to 35-34. The defense forced a critical turnover when Chris Long knocked the ball away from Jared Goff and Rodney McLeod recovered it. That led to another Jake Elliott field goal and the Eagles were back on top 37-35.
The defense came up with an impressive stand, forcing a three-and-out. Foles and the offense were able to eat up all but the final second. The Rams tried a desperation play, but Brandon Graham recovered a fumble and ran it back for a touchdown to make the final score 43-35.
That was a team win. There were ups and downs, but the offense, defense, and special teams all came through with the game, and maybe the season, on the line.
The Eagles clinched the NFC East title. They have the inside track to the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs. They beat an outstanding team in a really big game. There is a lot to be proud of and excited by from that game.
Unfortunately, the Wentz injury is going to overshadow all of that. He threw four more touchdown passes in the game and set the franchise record with 33 for the season. Wentz made some incredible throws and had an outstanding game. It was torturous to see him play so well before getting hurt.
The Eagles can't wallow in self-pity. That isn't going to help you win games. The players, coaches, and overall organization feel terrible for Wentz, but the season isn't over for them. They have work to do.
Doug Pederson has preached the "next man up" philosophy all year long. His players have bought into that and you can see that with the great chemistry this team has. This really is 53 players working toward a common goal. This has been an incredibly resilient team all year long.
I think Pederson's confidence in players has paid off in a big way. Zach Ertz is one of the best tight ends in the league. He's missed two games and the Eagles have used the backup tight ends quite a bit in his absence. Brent Celek and Trey Burton combined to have 11 catches for 186 yards and four touchdowns in those games. That's crazy.
The Eagles will feed the ball to Clement in the red zone and even at the end of some tight games. Pederson doesn't just have him on the roster for blowouts and safe plays. Pederson puts him on the field in key situations. Clement has scored six touchdowns this year. He's been a terrific role player.
There is no question that losing Wentz is going to affect this team. Foles isn't going to play at an MVP level like Wentz did.
The Eagles can still win without Wentz. The rest of the team must step up.
We saw that happen in 2002 when Donovan McNabb got hurt. The Eagles went 5-1 with him out with the ankle injury. The defense was great. The run game was effective and A.J. Feeley made enough plays for the team to win.
The Eagles went 5-1 without McNabb in 2006. Jeff Garcia played well as the backup and that offense continued to put points on the board. They won a playoff game and barely lost in the Divisional Round.
Pederson emphasizes "win the week" to keep his players focused on the task at hand. You can't go win the Super Bowl this week so don't think about it. Focus on beating the Giants. Do that and you'll get a step closer to where you want to be.
The Eagles are 11-2 in large part because Pederson has pushed all the right buttons this year. The players listen to what he says and they put results behind those ideas. Pederson hasn't changed his message since Sunday. This is still a "next man up" team and he wants his players to "win the week".
Pederson isn't going to get conservative with Foles at quarterback. That would send the wrong message to the team. He also isn't going to change his goals. Pederson will hold Foles to a high standard, just like he did Wentz.
Foles has been a Pro Bowl quarterback. He has won a division title. He went 15-9 as the starter during his first three years with the Eagles. Foles started a playoff game against the Saints back in 2013 and left the field with the Eagles ahead 24-23. The Eagles lost that game because the defense and special teams couldn't hold the lead.
The 2017 season is far from over. Things just a bizarre, frustrating turn, but Pederson and his players still have work to do. There are games left to win.