No Longer Underdogs, the Eagles face an identity crisis



Not to be outdone by his previous efforts, GM Howie Roseman sank his teeth into 2019 free agency. The new regime in Philadelphia was becoming characterized by venerable veteran additions and savvy, thrifty acquisitions to bolster the bottom line. Yet, without king underdog Nick Foles on the roster, this year had a different feel from the outset. There was too much talent on this roster to ever be considered an underdog and while analysts were wary to crown the Eagles as favorites, the team did don a new hat: one that read contender.

This was another new identity for Philadelphia. It’s one that has the feeling of familiarity rooted in the Andy Reid days; one that was forgotten in Chip Kelly’s brief coup. For Philadelphia fans, it’s a sign that maybe, just maybe, this is the new norm.

The problem is that the word underdog is grafted onto the hearts and spirits of the Philadelphia Eagles. Jason Kelce’s parade speech has become the dust jacket for the modern-day Eagles’ story. This is a team led by a former backup-QB who’s coaching experience was questioned from the day of his hiring; a brilliant defensive coordinator who may still be remembered as the head coach who authored possibly the worst NFL season of all time, and a GM who was banished to a broom closet while Chip Kelly traded away his team for pennies on the dollar. This is a team captained by an undersized center drafted in the sixth round, a number two overall pick from a Division 1 school, a former first-round pick that wasn’t given an offer sheet from his original team, a sixth-round linebacker from Eastern Illinois and Fletcher Cox. With a roster full of underrated, undervalued players, this team was made for the underdog role.

For better or for worse, this undertaken identity shows up on the gridiron. Last season, Philly was involved in twelve one-score games; six of them losses. Whether favored or not, the Birds always seem to keep it close. In a similar fashion, the Eagles have trailed in each of their first three games this year. Still, they have made valiant second efforts to win or come breathtakingly close to winning in all those games. In both losses, the offense was a yard away from making a game-altering final push. It’s admirable — it’s gutting.

Really, it’s more than just the scoreboard telling an underdog’s tale. It’s hidden in the finite details of the Eagles’ game plan — repeatedly choosing to defer the opening kickoff, going for it on fourth down, calling all-out blitzes on third-and-five. The Birds’ decisions do as much to push the narrative as the actual outcome. Of course, a risky fourth-down conversion looks much better when successful. When it works, it likens to a desperate team banding together in the face of adversity and hardship — something Philadelphia is never without. A clean bill of health has become a foreign concept; bad calls and unlucky bounces have become commonplace. In that summation, the effort is admirable.

Phrased as, “the Eagles came inches away from beating an underrated Detroit Lions team without their top two receivers, top corner and a rotating door of left tackles,” it doesn’t seem all that bad. Like any good dark horse, the Birds are never out of the game. Watching Carson battle the Lions seemingly by his lonesome, you realize the fight truly never leaves this team.

However, sometimes it feels as if a team with all the talent and pedigree to succeed hasn’t learned how to be the favorites. It seems like it’s been ages since we’ve seen the Eagles dominate from whistle to whistle. In games that should be easy wins, the door is always left ajar for opponents to claw their way back. In an effort to capture the perennial contender nameplate, the Eagles have yet to show they can handily finish the winnable games.

For now, the underdog designation might stick. With so many players sidelined with injuries and a suddenly tough slate of upcoming games, it’s unlikely the Eagles will get the nod from bettors. That fits the team’s m.o., in fact, they may prefer it that way. The real test will come when the team is back to full strength. One thing is for sure, Philadelphia fans are getting tired of being underdogs. To truly be considered a franchise to be reckoned with, the team will have to forgo their dog masks. The question is: can the Eagles learn how to play as the favorites?