It felt like January, didn’t it? The Eagles marched into a sold out Lincoln Financial Field to play an Atlanta Falcons team that has garnered respect as one fo the NFC’s finest outfits. Adversity stared deep into the soul of this team and it responded by getting up off of the ground and winning one of the biggest week one dog-fights in recent memory. It’s easy to look at this game and the inefficiencies that came with it, but let’s look at the bigger picture.
What would the reaction be if Philadelphia had lost on Thursday night? What would the reaction be if Julio Jones had landed in bounds with on that final play? I think we all know the answer. Radio hosts, TV presenters and columnists across the country would be discussing complacency and how the Eagles did not look ready to step into that week one bout. But even if they had lost, it’s not as if the Sky would’ve fallen down.
Was this team really ‘expected’ to win? Were they expected to overthrow a well-rested and healthy Atlanta team with no Nigel Bradham, no Alshon Jeffery, no Carson Wentz, no Mack Hollins? The answer was no. But once again, the Eagles donned their underdog masks and proved that the culture within that locker room will outweigh any adversity the team face.
“It was a dog fight.” Veteran defensive end, Chris Long, told reporters after the game. “It was everything you would expect from two of the best teams in the NFC. They’re a really physical team. They’re a talented team. I know a lot of people – I don’t want to keep doing this – but I know a lot of people who didn’t really give us much of a shot. The sky’s falling – this, that and the third. It’s just the beginning for us and we need to keep building on that.”
GET FREE SHIPPING ON THESE OFFICIAL LIMITED EDITION NIKE EAGLES AIR MAXES
It wasn’t just the fact that the Eagles were battered, bruised and shorthanded. But the emotion of seeing the ‘World Champions’ banner hoisted to the rafters would be hard to dial down. For fans, it was a sight they had literally dreamed of for years and for the team to be surrounded by an outpour of love, happiness and support, then expected to forget it all and execute as normal, was always going to be difficult. Alternatively, you cannot help but imagine it would’ve left a sour taste in the mouth of Dan Quinn.
But again, this team did the unthinkable. It wasn’t pretty and it was filled with more flags than the opening Ceremony of the Olympic Games, but Philadelphia shined in the game’s darkest moments.
Five times the Atlanta Falcons drove into the Eagles red zone. Only once did they leave with a touchdown. The front seven was absolutely vicious from start to finish, tallying 11 quarterback hits and 3 sacks along with 8 tackles for a loss. When the defense needed a swing in momentum, Jay Ajayi and the Eagles backfield delivered. When the offense looked to be drained of all momentum, Rasul Douglas honed his inner ballhawk to snag an interception. This team simply would not quit.
” I just think it’s the mentality that we have as a team, the fight that we have as a team.” Zach Ertz said. “We never feel like the game is out of hand. We never feel like we’re going to stop fighting for one another. Good teams find a way to win, and that’s what we did today. That’s what we did at the end of last year. The odds were against us. We were down again. We have to play better obviously, but we’ll take the first win against a really good football team.”
“A lot, actually.” Pederson replied when asked what he learned about his team on that fateful night. “The biggest thing, again, [there was] just no panic on the sideline. Resiliency, toughness, hanging with each other through all the ups and downs, the ebb and flow of the game, the mistakes, the penalties, turnover. Just the guys hanging together. Again, there was no panic tonight. I’ll tell you, the deciding factor in this football game, to me, was our defensive line and then our offensive line, how they controlled that line of scrimmage. That was a big part of this football game tonight.”
If the Eagles had lost this week one contest, it would’ve undoubtedly winded them. To play your first home game as defending champions and lose to the team who in a different universe could be in that very spot if not for a similar 50/50 last-play spectacular, it would’ve caused a deafening silence for fans, players and just about everybody. It wouldn’t have helped that a really shoddy and disappointing preseason effort showed no signs of promise offensively, especially from Nick Foles.
Preparing for week two would seem daunting and it would be even tougher for Doug Pederson to rally his troops, how could he? After taking so many punches throughout a long offseason that was filled with White House controversy, book tours and signings and plenty of injury decisions, just how much power could this team muster? Was it time to admit that this could be a tougher fight the second time around? As a wise man once said, ‘Hungry Dogs run faster.’
The truth is, we may not learn the true identity of this team until October or even November. Until Carson Wentz is back at the helm and the offense is at full strength and the team have had a few games to sink back into the flow of things, we may have no idea just how much of a step forward they’ve taken. But that makes this win all the more important.
It was a ‘statement’ game. For the Eagles to square up against the Falcons and melt the Ice that once froze the veins of Matt Ryan despite being shorthanded, banged up and incredibly emotional, is one of the most impressive feats of the Doug Pederson era.
It’s a long wait until next Sunday, but instead of that week dragging with the weight of a loss hanging heavy, the defending champions will have an extended break focusing on the right things. Sure, there are buckets of things that will need to change if the Birds’ are going to keep Tampa Bay under wraps, but this team is 1-0…and that is really all that matters.
Mandatory Credit: James Lang-USA TODAY Sports