Lawlor: This Was A Special Team

Howie Roseman and Doug Pederson held a press conference Tuesday to offer some thoughts on the 2018 season and answer some questions about the upcoming offseason. A reporter asked if they thought the team underachieved or overachieved in 2018.

That was an absolutely terrible question. It missed the point of the 2018 season entirely.

At the beginning of the year, Ronald Darby was the team's top cornerback, Jay Ajayi was the feature back, Derek Barnett was a key part of the pass rush, and Mike Wallace was the deep threat.

At the end of the season? Rookie Avonte Maddox was the playmaking corner. Wendell Smallwood was the feature back. Daeshon Hall had replaced the guy who replaced Barnett. There was no deep threat.

The 2017 season had a flow to it. Time flew by as the team kept winning. There were injuries to overcome, but there was still continuity.

2018 could not have been more different. The opening night win over the Falcons seems like a lifetime ago. So many players have come and gone since then, and there were so many ups and downs that it feels like that was almost a different year.

NFL teams play to win championships. Period. At the same time, coming up short of a Super Bowl doesn't mean the season was a failure. This team had to deal with some tough circumstances. When the Eagles hit rock bottom in mid-November, things could have really come apart.

Instead, the team came together. They battled through adversity and started winning games. They went 5-1 to claw their way into the postseason. They upset the Bears in Chicago, in the wildest of endings. The journey finally came to a halt last week in New Orleans, in another game filled with ups and downs.

Over time, I think I will come to love the 2018 season, flaws and all. As frustrating as the losses were to Tennessee and Carolina, where the Eagles blew leads in excruciating fashion, the joy of seeing the team come alive down the stretch exceeds that.

This team didn't give us a championship, but they did give us some great memories.

Things got off to an outstanding start in the opener. The Eagles and Falcons battled in a defensive struggle, just like their playoff game from last January. The Falcons drove down the field late, only to come up short, just like the playoff game.

The coolest moment of the whole year came in that game. Trying to jump-start a lethargic offense, Pederson dialed up a trick play. Nelson Agholor threw a pass to Nick Foles for a 15-yard gain. That helped the Eagles go down and score the touchdown that proved to be the difference in the game. It wasn't the Philly Special, but it was a great moment.

Lincoln Financial Field had an electric atmosphere for that game. It was the first time in team history that the Eagles took the field as reigning Super Bowl Champs. Seeing them beat another Super Bowl contender in dramatic fashion seemed to set a great tone for the upcoming season.

Looking back, it should have been a hint that nothing would come easy. When you're the champs, everyone is coming after you. Everyone is going to give you their best shot.

Carson Wentz returned to the lineup against the Colts in Week 3. He led the team to a win, and it was great to see him back on the field. The highlight of that game came when Barnett sacked Andrew Luck on a fourth-down play late in the game.

The Eagles went to London to play in a regular-season game for the first time. They took on the Jaguars, who play in London every year. When the schedule came out, that seemed like a possible Super Bowl preview. Oops.

The Eagles won that game and the Jaguars fell completely apart. They were the biggest disappointment of the 2018 season.

After the trip across the pond, the Eagles got a bye week. They were 4-4 and desperately needed some rest. We all thought they might be ready to go on a run. Instead, they lost a tough game to Dallas and then got destroyed by the Saints. That put them at 4-6.

Rock bottom.

To make matters worse, it seemed like half the team was injured. Cornerbacks Chandon Sullivan and De'Vante Bausby played most of the Saints game. It's tough to beat a Hall of Fame quarterback with those guys on the outside.

The high point of the season for me came when the Eagles went to Los Angeles and beat the Rams. That was a sign that the team wasn't just beating bad opponents. They could go play with anyone, anywhere. I think that win gave the players tremendous confidence. I know it made me believe in them.

The next week Nick Foles set a franchise record with 471 passing yards. He drove the team down the field to set up Jake Elliott with a chance to win the game. Elliott nailed the kick and the Eagles beat the Texans 32-30.

Seeing them beat the Rams and Texans, both division leaders, in consecutive weeks made people really start paying attention to the Eagles. This was no longer a feel-good story, but a team to be feared. Still, they would need some help to get into the playoffs.

The final week of the season proved to be dramatic. The Eagles put on a defensive clinic, shutting out the Redskins 24-0. The Eagles only gave up 89 yards in the game, the lowest total in eight years. That put the Eagles at 9-7, but they still needed a Vikings loss.

The Bears could have rested their starters, but instead played to win. Chicago dominated the Vikings, but only led 24-13. When the Bears came up with a final fourth-down stop to seal the win, Eagles players and personnel went crazy. Their game had ended early and they were able to watch the Vikings lose. That was the golden ticket to the playoffs.

Could Foles lead the Eagles on another postseason run?

Foles did help the Eagles to win in the Wild Card round. He threw a touchdown pass to Golden Tate late in the game to upset the Bears. It took a blocked field goal by Treyvon Hester and a couple of lucky bounces to seal the victory. Nothing came easy for this team.

The magic ran out in New Orleans. The season-ending loss is usually frustrating because it means the Eagles came up short. This was different. I was more upset that I didn't get to watch this team anymore. The way they came together down the stretch made it fun. This was a true group of underdogs and you wanted their journey to just keep going. That's just not the way pro football works.

If any one player is the face of the 2018 Eagles, it is Cre'Von LeBlanc. He went from “Who's that guy?” to playoff hero. LeBlanc was given a chance to be the team's nickel corner and he ran with it. He played well enough that he's going to have a chance to be a key player in the future. You love it when guys take advantage of opportunities like that.

The MVP must be Malcolm Jenkins. He didn't miss a snap on defense this year and even played some on the special teams units. Jenkins played at a high level. Beyond that, he was the leader for this team and did a masterful job of holding it together. Jenkins is a special person.

I think you have to give a lot of credit to Doug Pederson for handling a crazy season about as well as anyone could. He never gave up on his players and they never quit on him. He genuinely loves his players and they know that.

There are two veteran players who really stood out this season. Zach Ertz set an NFL record for catches by a tight end with 116. Opposing defenses knew the ball was going to Ertz, but they couldn't stop him. He's gone from good young player to the best tight end in the NFC and an amazing pass catcher.

I also have to mention Fletcher Cox. I'm not sure we talk enough about him. Cox is one of the best players in the league. You can argue he's the second-best defensive lineman in Eagles history, behind only Reggie White. Cox does everything humanly possible for this team when he's on the field. Teams do everything they can to slow him down, but he still makes a difference in every game. Cox is truly an exceptional player.

The journey didn't go as planned, but it still proved to be amazing and filled with some great moments. This was a special season and a special team.

Tommy Lawlor, goeagles99 on the Eagles Message Boards, is an amateur football scout and devoted Eagles fan. You can also find his work at IgglesBlitz.com where he is the site's editor.

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