LONDON – As far as seven-and-a-half-hour flights, a long bus ride to a hotel followed by team practice, and an NFL-sponsored "NFL Play 60" event with dozens of British kids just 48 hours before an NFL game go, the Eagles came through their trip to Great Britain in great shape as they landed on Friday at Heathrow Airport and tried to keep the day as "on schedule" as possible.
The last of the travel party to arrive – thousands of Eagles fans have been here for most of the week – the players and coaches did as they were told in preparation for the franchise's first regular-season game in London. They hydrated all week. They slept as much as they could on the plane. They focused and gave great energy in the team's practice held at the London Irish Rugby Club in the London suburb of Hazelwood.
All the while, they know the stakes. At 3-4, the Eagles are in desperation mode.
"On a scale of 10, a 15," tight end Zach Ertz said when asked about the team's level of urgency. "We've got to be successful this week. There's really no other way to put it. We've got to put a full game together, 60 minutes. We can't play 58 minutes well and let two minutes slip. We need to play 60 minutes of Eagles football.
"That's what we're focused on."
We draw nearer to Sunday's game against Jacksonville. London is crawling with Eagles fans in full regalia and spirit and throat. The team has held a series of pep rallies throughout the week, in the urban sprawl of London, and those startled reactions from passers-by on double-decker buses have been amusing to watch. As always, Eagles fans have stolen the show in the days leading to Sunday.
The game is what matters. How do the Eagles get to 4-4 at the season's midway point when they can, they hope, get some pieces back? Maybe running back Darren Sproles, out since Week 1 with a hamstring injury. Maybe defensive tackle Haloti Ngata (calf, full participant in Friday's practice) and safety Corey Graham (hamstring, did not practice on Friday and ruled out for Sunday), both of whom made the trip. Ngata could play on Sunday. That would be a boost against an offense that wants to run the football, first and foremost. Maybe defensive tackle Tim Jernigan, who head coach Doug Pederson said is "trending in the right direction" with a back injury, could be on the field in "a couple of weeks" in some capacity.
Until that time, the Eagles have a whole lot of work to do. They're in must-win mode.
"It's a huge game for us," safety Malcolm Jenkins said. "Both teams are in that similar situation. We both need wins."
One of the highlights this past year was traveling to London! Check out photos from our bus tour around the city.
The most perplexing aspect through seven games is the Eagles' lack of consistency playing a full, minimal-mistake game. The mistakes made have been the kind of miscues inexperienced teams make, mistakes that teams unfamiliar with winning key games make.
That has to end. Right now.
"We've been talking about it all season," center Jason Kelce said. "The little mistakes we've been making are killing us. We have repeated them all season. At some point, that has to stop and we have to move forward. We have to play like a team that knows how to win games at critical times. To be where we are now is frustrating, but we also know that the season can turn around and we can find that rhythm very quickly. It's going to take a concerted and collective effort to get that done."
What the Eagles are hoping is that this kind of road trip, where players are forced to spend more time than normal together and at times in unfamiliar circles, will enhance bonding and chemistry. The Eagles are searching for that special magic from a season ago, the kind of glue that stuck through all of the injuries and adversity.
Maybe a win on this road trip, in another country, can provide the spark.
"We just need a win, no matter how it happens," running back Corey Clement said. "I think the bonding aspect is big. You're with the guys all the time and maybe you're with some guys you haven't spent a lot of time with before, and that can only help. But it's going to come down to us executing on the field and completing what we need to do. We're here to win the football game. This isn't a sight-seeing tour. We have business to take care of."
That's the hard line of this London experience. While the Eagles have their marketing team and SWOOP and the Eagles Cheerleaders and the Drum Line out and about in the streets having fun with a frenzied fan base, the football team needs to bear down. This whole experience stinks if the Eagles come back with anything less than a victory.
"It's been a frustrating seven games," Ertz said. "Too many ups and downs. We need to get to a new level and stay there. That's the mission this weekend. I'm excited to be here and I think it's great to take the NFL international, and I know how great Eagles fans are and they travel so well, but we have a purpose. We're here to win a football game. That's the task for us. That's the only thing that matters."