Doug Pederson had 'em wearing pads in practice this week. The focus, everyone says, was good. The energy, excellent. Going by the practice report leading to this NFC East game against the New York Giants on Monday, the Eagles have full comprehension of what it means, at 5-7 and hanging in a half-game behind the Dallas Cowboys in the division.
The Eagles haven't earned the right for us to know, without a doubt, what to expect. There is apprehension in the fan base, frustration for sure. The fans who stuff Lincoln Financial Field on Monday night for the Back in Black (jersey color, that is) game are going to be on edge and it certainly behooves the Eagles to have early success against quarterback Eli Manning and create some positive momentum. And then, unlike what happened a week ago in Miami, sustain it.
I'll reject any suggestion that the struggles of this season are due, in any way, to a lack of effort. The Eagles want to win and they've played hard, if not exceedingly inconsistent. They just haven't put it all together. They haven't had that game, and that stretch of games, during which every phase of the team is in sync and playing its best football. Teams that are 5-7 in the NFL are just as good as any other team, but fail in critical moments or have stretches during games when it is off-kilter. At the end of the game, they look up at the scoreboard and have lost a close game, a one-possession score, and say something after the game like, "Today, we just beat ourselves with self-inflicted wounds. Too many mistakes. We were a play or two away from winning this game."
Almost every game in this league is a play-or-two-away game. The playoff-bound teams find ways to make those plays and win games.
"This team is always going to fight and always going to play hard," tight end Zach Ertz said. "That's not a question about the Eagles. We just haven't been able to put it all together."
Ertz said during the summer that the locker room, as he looked around, was the most talented he had ever seen in Philadelphia. He was asked about that comment this week and explained, correctly, that while the talent was undeniable as it was constructed on paper, there is a lot more to winning games in the NFL than talent alone. It takes chemistry, patience, great coaching, some luck, and good fortune. The loss in Miami was a perfect example.
Holding a 28-20 lead in the third quarter, the Eagles' offense mounted a drive on the ensuing kickoff after a Miami touchdown. A pass from quarterback Carson Wentz to Ertz, running a pattern on the left side of the formation, was thrown perfectly, right on Ertz's hands inside the Miami 10-yard line. Ertz couldn't hang on to the pass, which was stunning because Ertz just doesn't drop passes. On the next play from the Dolphins' 20-yard line on third and 10, Wentz was sacked for a loss of 10 yards. On fourth down from the 30, the Eagles called on placekicker Jake Elliott, who had been perfect on his field goal opportunities this season. He missed the kick, wide left.
Miami seized on the instant shift in momentum and launched a 61-yard touchdown drive and followed with another touchdown drive and before the Eagles knew it, they were down 34-28 and Miami had all the momentum and, ultimately, the shocking upset victory.
"We have to be able to put teams away with leads in the second half," Ertz said, "and we just haven't been able to do that. That's got to change. We need to take momentum and carry it."
Week 14 of this season opened with Chicago's 31-24 win over Dallas in a game that, for anyone who watched it, was not nearly as close as the final score indicated. But it ended as a one-possession game, and there were a bunch more of them on Sunday. That's the nature of the league. The games are going to be close. Thinking you're going to "blow a team out" is a dangerous mindset to have going in.
For the Eagles, playing a 2-10 game in what could be inclement weather – the forecast is for heavy rain in Philadelphia all day on Monday – the team has to understand that the Giants are going to be juiced to play on Monday Night Football with Manning back at the helm on offense. This is going to be a tough game. This is a critical game. It could be an ugly, muddier-type of game on the natural grass at the Linc.
The Eagles feel good about the week of preparation they've put in for Sunday night. How much that means when the game begins, we'll all learn together. The Eagles need a win, any way they can get it. And that is all that matters. Win the game, and then we can talk about what's next. A win and the Eagles are tied for first place in the NFC East and who cares what anybody else says.