This is the finale, the last page of a 2020 season story that has not gone anywhere close to what the Eagles planned. Instead of ramping up for the postseason, the Eagles are the subject of wild rumors (He's staying! He's going!) and innuendo. Instead of a team peaking heading into the playoffs, the Eagles are rejiggering the roster to make sure they have enough healthy bodies to play the role of spoiler tonight against the Washington Football Team.
This is a terrible feeling.
And it is a feeling that should stick in the craw of everyone with the Philadelphia Eagles, a reminder of just how difficult it is to win in the NFL and, as we sit here and count down the hours until kickoff, a reminder of just how lousy it is on the losing side of the league.
"The new normal" that Head Coach Doug Pederson enthusiastically shouted out during the Parade of Champions on February 8, 2018 was to be this franchise's bedrock. It wouldn't be enough for the Philadelphia Eagles to reach the playoffs each year. Returning to the role of annual Super Bowl contender is what Pederson meant. Winning one Super Bowl was great. Now, let's get some more. Instead, the Eagles needed late-season rallies to reach the playoffs in 2018 and 2019, with one postseason win combined. Now, the Eagles are 4-10-1, heading into an offseason with franchise-altering decisions to make.
They call the NFL Not For Long for a reason. Things change in a hurry, as they have for the Philadelphia Eagles.
Instead of opining on what may happen in the weeks and months ahead, the perspective here is to provide a bit of a Viewer's Guide to the final 60 minutes of 2020. We have plenty of time to discuss the future. Let us, for now, live in the moment of the finale …
Jalen Hurts starts his fourth game and he works against a ferocious Washington front four, one that garnered eight sacks against Carson Wentz on September 13, and that front has improved throughout the season. The Eagles are playing with another new-look offensive line – Matt Pryor and Brett Toth will start at tackle – so it's going to be interesting to see how Hurts reacts. Is Washington going to bring pressure? Is Hurts going to work on his quick-throw game? How are the Eagles scoring without running back Miles Sanders, with an unproven offensive line, with no Dallas Goedert at tight end?
Reports are rampant that quarterback Carson Wentz won't be active and that Nate Sudfeld will play the second half. We'll see how that looks when the Eagles release the inactive list 90 minutes before kickoff.
All of these injuries along the offensive line will someday, hopefully, pay dividends: Players like Jordan Mailata and Pryor and Jack Driscoll and Nate Herbig have played a lot of snaps and are going to be better for it. I dream of the day when the Eagles have Lane Johnson and Brandon Brooks on the field and healthy, when they have the best of Andre Dillard at left tackle, and when left guard Isaac Seumalo and center Jason Kelce are on the field, completing what has been one of the best offensive lines in the league.
Tonight, though, Toth makes his first NFL start. It's a difficult assignment, but we'll get a chance to see a player the Eagles have liked for a couple of years. He's built his body to 315 pounds. He's a good athlete. He's tough. Maybe Toth is part of that future vision, as well.
It sure would be nice to see Jalen Reagor and Quez Watkins and John Hightower and Travis Fulgham and Greg Ward – he's been so consistent and productive this season – finish the 2020 campaign with some positive momentum. These players are the future of the wide receiver corps. One of the sayings in the NFL is that "potential" is a dirty word. It's all about "production." And it's about "consistency." These young receivers aren't young any longer. Not after tonight. So, start it off the right way and make some plays.
WHO IS PLAYING ON DEFENSE?
Brandon Graham, Malik Jackson, Javon Hargrave, Vinny Curry. Those are your starters up front. Alex Singleton and T.J. Edwards and maybe Joe Bachie are the starting linebackers. In the secondary, the Eagles will go with, guessing here, Darius Slay and Michael Jacquet at cornerback, with Marcus Epps and Rudy Ford and rookie K'Von Wallace at safety. Grayland Arnold will play a lot, and now Nickell Robey-Coleman is out with an illness and the Eagles are just slammed even more in the secondary with injuries.
This is not where the Eagles wanted to be, nor where they expected to be. But it's reality. And the feeling absolutely sucks. Let that stick with everyone once the offseason begins, and let's not find ourselves in this position again anytime soon. Super Bowl winner/contender is the goal every year. Deep playoff runs are what Jeffrey Lurie's Eagles are all about. The faster the Eagles get back to that, building a roster that is going to sustain, is the goal.
First, a finish to a season we'll never forget, one we don't want to remember. But it's a reminder of the harsh reality of the NFL. Winning isn't easy.