Lawlor: Tough Times Don't Last, Tough People Do

The Eagles had it all in front of them. A win would have put them above .500 and right in the middle of the playoff hunt. They were at home and facing a struggling Dallas team. The Eagles had the chance to bury the Cowboys, all but ending their season. It was all right there for the taking.

And the Eagles blew it.

This loss hurts. Bad. Instead of creating some momentum, the Eagles dug themselves a deeper hole. That's the way this season has gone. One step forward, two steps back.

There is still almost half a season left to play, but the Eagles have minimal wiggle room at best. Their backs are officially against the wall. Everyone is frustrated by this team right now, including the players and coaches. This season is a mystery, a disappointing one, but the Eagles are not the first team to deal with something like this.

The 49ers won their first Super Bowl back in 1981. They went 13-3 that year and looked like the team of the future. They had a brilliant coach in Bill Walsh, a great quarterback in Joe Montana, and all kinds of young talent.

The team went 3-6 the following year. That was a strike-shortened season and that certainly affected the Niners. Overall, they just didn't play as well, especially on defense. The takeaways that fueled their Super Bowl run just disappeared.

People wondered if 1981 or 1982 was the anomaly and that was a fair question. The 49ers rebounded to dominate the next dozen years, collecting Lombardi Trophies the way I collected baseball cards as a kid.

New England came out of nowhere to win the Super Bowl in 2001. Some young quarterback named Tom Brady led his team from a 1-3 start to the franchise's first Super Bowl win. That team had a ton of free agents on short deals and analysts wondered if they could sustain that success.

The Patriots started 3-0 in 2002, but then lost four in a row. It was a back-and-forth season and they finished 9-7, missing the playoffs. The team that had been so clutch in 2001 just couldn't make those same key plays.

The Patriots have done OK since then. Many now consider Brady to be the greatest quarterback of all time, replacing his hero Joe Montana. Many now consider his coach Bill Belichick to be the greatest coach of all time, replacing Bill Walsh.

I wish I could promise you the Eagles are about to go on a run like the Patriots or the 49ers. I can't do that. It is important to understand that a disappointing season doesn't define this team. There are years when things just don't work out as expected. That is true even for the legends of the game.

It is hard to think big picture after a crushing loss, and Sunday night certainly would fit that category, but I think it can help a lot.

Who would you rather have as your coach? I'm not trading Doug Pederson for anyone else.

Who would you rather have as the head of your front office? I'm not trading Howie Roseman for anyone else.

Who would you rather have as your quarterback? I'm absolutely not trading Carson Wentz for anyone else.

This team is banged up beyond all belief. The injuries have been relentless this year. It reminds me of being a kid at the beach. If you got to the right spot where the waves crashed and they knocked you down, every time you thought you had your feet under you, another wave came and pummeled you.

Watching a Doug Pederson's Monday press conferences have turned out to be scary, with each week seemingly bringing more bad news. Now Ronald Darby is lost for the season. The secondary that began the season is almost totally depleted. Malcolm Jenkins must wonder who the guys around him are.

Pederson says not to make injuries an excuse. That's the right attitude, but the reality is that when you're signing guys off the street to play a lot of snaps, things aren't going to go well.

All the Eagles can do now is live in the moment. Don't look at the standings. Don't think about the playoffs. Just give your heart and soul for four hours every Sunday.

They have the toughest remaining schedule in the NFL. Five of the seven remaining games are against first-place teams. It is scary to think that the Eagles are 4-5 and they've played the "easy" part of their schedule.

In a way, this challenge might just be the best thing for them. The Eagles have been favored to win games all year. That won't be the case from here on out. The media will look at them as underdogs, a role the team thrived in last year.

If being underdogs can help the Eagles regain an edge, then playing the harder schedule can actually be a good thing. Winning games will be even more difficult, but they might have a focus and a toughness that has been lacking so far this season.

Think of a golfer who struggles at some mid-level course, but then goes to the U.S. Open and plays brilliantly. The rough is brutal. The fairways are narrow. The greens are treacherous. Somehow that forces the golfer to focus and play his best.

The other possibility is that the Eagles are going to remain up and down the rest of the year and drive us all crazy. As a lifelong sports fan, I can tell you that's what teams tend to do.

These final seven games can give the Eagles some answers for this year and the future. This isn't the time to give up. This is the time to play with some energy and some urgency. The coaches need to keep trying to figure this team out.

There is a lot of the season left. Coaches and players need to embrace that and do everything they can to get this thing turned around. Tough times don't last, but tough people do.

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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