On Sunday night, the Eagles squared off against the rival Cowboys with the fate of the division hanging in the balance. While this is far from the first time the two storied franchises did battle over the NFC East crown, Sunday’s bout seemed extra special considering everything the Eagles endured so far this season.
Having officially been stripped of their reign as Super Bowl champs earlier this year, the Eagles were hungry to regain their glory. Frankly, after a slew of offseason moves by the ever-savvy Eagles GM Howie Roseman, it seemed like the Birds were well on their way to doing just that.
Former Pro Bowlers Malik Jackson, Zach Brown, and DeSean Jackson were all brought in to the City of Brotherly Love- D-Jax making his triumphant return to Philly for a second stint- to bolster an already strong Eagles unit. Furthermore, homegrown talents Brandon Graham and Jason Kelce were signed to extensions- increasing the Super Bowl legends’ odds of finishing their careers in Philly.
The talented additions to the team, coupled with a strong pre-existing roster and a version of Carson Wentz that would be another year removed from his devastating knee injury seemed to spell trouble for rival clubs. Strangely enough, even the national media held the Eagles in high-regard entering this season, ranking them close to or atop virtually every preseason Power Ranking- a complete anomaly for the oft-criticized Philly franchise.
For once, the tea leaves signaled smooth sailing for the Birds.
Not dissimilar to most lofty aspirations, however, dreams of a stainless Eagles campaign quickly evaporated. Beginning in the season opener, the Eagles suffered through a bout with injuries.
Acquired to be the lightning to Fletcher Cox’s thunder on the d-line, former Pro Bowler and DT Malik Jackson was lost for the year following a severe foot injury in the season opener. In the very next game, starting wideouts DeSean Jackson and Alshon Jeffery were bitten by the injury bug as well- initiating the nagging injuries that ultimately landed each of them on IR.
Understandably so after losing so much premier talent so early on in the season, the Eagles struggled to find their footing and found themselves at 4-4 halfway through their season. A Week 9 victory over the Bears propelled the Eagles over .500 for the first time in over a month, but even that was short-lived, as the Eagles went on to lose their next three contests- including a mind-boggling loss to the hapless Dolphins – dropping them to a lowly 5-7 record.
Around that time, the vibes around the team were completely flipped on its head. The national media that briefly spoke glowingly of Philly reverted to their usual habits of bashing the Birds. Doug Pederson and the
Eagles were no longer viewed in the same class as their contending NFC competitors, and even former players were going on live television to mock their shortcomings.
Still, with four straight division games on tap, the Eagles were down, but not out- a place they have grown accustomed to in the Doug Pederson era. And, in true Eagles fashion, the team turned it on when it was needed most.
“This team’s resilient,” said Carson Wentz of the heart of his Eagles team. “We realized we have our backs to the wall, just like last week. You know, it’s do-or-die right now. It’s make or break and guys stepped up and kept making plays. And, you know, through the good, the bad, and the ugly, guys just kept believing.”
Despite lauding his teammates for their play in the must-win affair, it was Wentz who shone brightest in the victory. The former second overall pick was masterful against Washington, dissecting their defense to the tune of 266 yards, 3 TDS, and 0 INT on the day- including a 79-yard game-winning drive late in the fourth quarter.
Though some would credit the Eagles offensive explosion to a lifeless Washington defense that allows the eighth-most yards per game this season, Eagles HC Doug Pederson attributes his unit’s spectacular play on intense training throughout the week:
“I think sometimes you [the media] don’t realize how much these guys put into a week of practice and preparation,” Pederson stated when asked about the lack of explosiveness from his unit in the first half.
“We played until about 11:30 pm on Monday night. Over 90 plays on offense..defense was close 60 plays, 50-something plays. And that’s a tough thing. Physically, that’s a tough thing.”
As it’s been every campaign since he was hired as head coach in 2016, work ethic continues to be a staple in the Pederson-led locker room. Through a tireless work ethic, both on and off the field, Pederson has quickly established a winning culture capable of regularly overcoming severe circumstances.
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Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports