Andy Reid is 3-6 in opening games during his career as the Eagles' head coach. In some of those seasons, after the first-game defeat, the Eagles responded by finding their rhythm and turning the year into a good thing and, in the end, they won a lot of games. Nowhere does it say that, as an NFL rule, the first game of the season sets the tone for the rest of the campaign.
Then again, sometimes it sure feels that way. Take last year, for example.
The Eagles lost in Green Bay in the most frustrating, heart-wrenching, punch-in-the-face way that I can ever remember. Tied late in the fourth quarter, the Eagles -- who had misfired on offense most of the game -- were set to take possession in reasonable field position and the optimist in everyone sensed that Donovan McNabb, in his first game back after his season-ending knee injury 10 months earlier, would take the ball and move the Eagles into scoring position and they would win and everyone would feel the huge surge of energy from the victory.
It wasn't to be, of course. The Eagles turned the ball over receiving a punt and Green Bay recovered, fell on the ball and then kicked the game-winning field goal. It was, in its immediate aftermath, a crushing defeat.
At least it seemed that way.
The Eagles were plagued for weeks after that by a variety of miscues. They never hit their stride until they were 5-8 and out of the playoff picture. In those final three games, the Eagles minimized their mistakes and won.
And now we are here. Everybody in the league is 0-0. A long, long season awaits. There are going to be a bunch of twists and turns and ups and downs.
But please, for the sake of everyone's sanity, here is hoping the Eagles begin their season with an extreme sense of urgency and desire and precision. A win is not going to make the season complete, nor will a loss wreck the Super Bowl hopes this team has, but Game One means something for the psyche of a team, and a world of Eagles fans.
Whether or not you agree that the Eagles have enough talent to win the Super Bowl -- and I happen to believe they have the players in place -- one thing everyone understands is the need to open the season with some momentum. The Eagles have good things going right now. They won the three games in December to at least end 2007 with a sliver of optimism. The off-season brought about some positive changes, some exciting moments, and then the Eagles continued through the preseason by playing good football and learning just a little bit more about each other and about the team.
The NovaCare Complex is a great team right now. The Eagles believe they are a very good team. Check that: The Eagles believe they have a chance to be a very good team. To know they are a good team, the Eagles have to go out and win often.
I'm talking about developing a swagger or a confidence or a winning atmosphere once again. All of these early-season tests are taken for that very reason, to allow teams to find themselves. Some teams never do that, and end up with lost seasons and broken dreams. Some teams rebound and have outstanding seasons -- the 2003 Eagles lost their opening two games and later won nine games in a row on the way to a 12-4 season -- but it sure is easy to start from ahead than it is to start in a ditch.
One great example of how a first game set the tone for a season came in 2000, when the Eagles roared into Dallas, opened with a David Akers onsides kick and blew the doors off the Cowboys, 41-14. That team went 11-5, made the playoffs and demonstrated a sense of belief in the ways of second-year head coach Reid that carried on to an unprecedented run of success for this franchise.
I would never label a first game of the season as a "must-win" game. That would be absurd. But it feels like a "gotta-have" game, simply because the Eagles would be so much better off starting the year off the right way. Nobody should take the Rams the least bit lightly, because once you do that in the NFL you end up getting whipped. The Rams had an awful season in 2007, but everybody knows they are much, much better when the roster is healthy. The Rams are going to be a handful on Sunday. Mark that down. Believe it.
This, though, is a battle of the Eagles against the Eagles. I want to see a team that comes out of the chute focused and ready to win the game. No penalties. No turnovers. A minimum of mental mistakes. Few, if any, dropped passes by the offense or the defense.
I want to see an Eagles team that is fully committed to starting the season the right way. This team isn't good enough to "turn it on" when the need arises. Truth is, the Eagles need to take the approach that they need to overachieve to achieve in the NFC and in the NFC East.
I want to see, then, a team that plays on the edge against the Rams. There is no sense saving anything now that the regular season is here. Every game means something. The Eagles are on the bottom. They have a steep hill to climb, and not a lot of people expect them to do so.
So go out and play like you mean it. Like a win on Sunday is the only thing that matters, that the one-day-at-a-time mantra Reid boringly preaches is really the only way to play.
One day at a time on Sunday means win, or get behind the 8 ball once again. It is a place nobody wants to be.