Now that the Eagles hold the distinction of being the first team in NFL history to have registered their first three victories by two points apiece, we can stop worrying about run/pass ratios, record turnover rates and parsing the head coach’s statements about his quarterback situation. There is only one thing worth focusing on as the 3-1 Eagles bask in yet another come-from-behind victory: This is one tough team.
After enduring a 2011 season that featured coughed-up leads and a general sense that whining on the football field was all right, this Eagles edition has discovered that the ultimate goal is to win games, no matter how that is accomplished. Say what you want about how the Birds should have lost to Cleveland, had the refs on their side versus Baltimore and were fortunate Lawrence Tynes’ right leg didn’t have another yard of power in it, but 3-1 is 3-1. The Eagles are in first place and head to Pittsburgh next Sunday with a growing sense that something special is possible.
Sunday night’s game with the Giants could have turned ugly several different times. New York reached the Eagles 12 in the fourth quarter, but Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie picked off Eli Manning to end the threat. Nnamdi Asomugha, who had been poked in the eye in the first half and struggled some after that, blanketed Ramses Barden with time running out, drawing a key offensive pass interference penalty that pushed Tynes beyond his comfortable range. And it looked like the Giants’ David Wilson could have broken about five kickoff returns for touchdowns, thanks to short kicks by Alex Henery and some really poor coverage work by the Eagles. But he never broke completely loose.
Right now, none of that matters, because the Eagles found a way. Style points are nice, and for an offensive coach like Andy Reid, they are often preferred. But after four games, it appears the Birds have something a lot more important than the esoteric. They have grit. They have toughness.
They have character.
Last year, the “Dream Team” thought it could play some fantasy football and reach the playoffs, perhaps even the Super Bowl. It displayed a cavalier approach, figuring that once it had a lead, rivals would quit. That doesn’t happen in the NFL. Reputations don’t win a lot of games. Successful teams overcome adversity and find ways to score when the offense isn’t moving smoothly. They understand that nothing comes easily–even in Cleveland.
The Eagles could have easily coughed up last night’s game. They didn’t handle the blitz well. They allowed 309 yards through the air and never sacked Manning. They lost the time of possession battle by more than six minutes and committed seven penalties. In the end, the only numbers that matter, though, were 19 and 17.
Everybody loves routs, but Sunday night’s win seems a little sweeter because it required a duct-tape-and-bailing-wire approach. When the Giants were pillaging the pocket in the first half, Reid called for a super-max protection scheme (eight players in) and gave Michael Vick enough time to find DeSean Jackson on a post-corner route for a TD. Concerned about the beating Vick had taken in the first three games and his staggering total of nine turnovers, Reid and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg decided that running the football might be a pretty good idea. So, the Birds kept it on the ground 30 times (Vick scrambled on six other occasions). They fed LeSean McCoy 23 carries. Fullback Stanley Havili even had two chances to run. On their four scoring possessions in the second half, the Eagles compiled 277 yards of total offense, a lot of it by running at an increasingly tired Giants front seven.
The Eagles could have lost the game to New York several different times. Instead, they triumphed because of a rugged personality that is taking shape. Yes, the loss in Arizona was an ugly reminder of what can happen when a team isn’t focused and doesn’t execute. But the Eagles are in first place in the NFC East and head to Pittsburgh with a growing sense that they have the ability to find a way. Of course, the Eagles had better not revert to 2011 Dream Team form and think that no matter how badly they play, they can pull it out in the end. If that becomes the case, someone should arrange for a showing of the Cardinals debacle.
For now, we have to begin trusting that this team has the requisite heart and will to win games with blood and grit, rather than flash and style. It’s a long season, and big challenges remain, but after Sunday night, we may have seen this team’s true personality. It hasn’t been pretty, but it’s effective. In the end, that’s what matters.
- The Phillies are three games away from the most important off-season in recent memory. Now that the Chase Utley Experiment is over at third base, GM Ruben Amaro must find three position players (legitimate starters, not bench performers), at least two relievers and hope that Roy Halladay can work himself back into Ace shape. As if he didn’t work hard last off-season. The Phils have finished progressively worse every season since 2008 and must build some life around an aging core, while operating within the constraints of a fat payroll. The degree of difficulty is high, as are the stakes, since Philadelphia fans won’t continue to pay top dollar for an inferior product.
- Let’s hear it for the best of the U.S. golfing profession, which choked spectacularly against the Euros Sunday at Medinah. None of the Americans had the heart to rally his countrymen against the invaders, and the Ryder Cup stayed across the pond. Guess that’s what happens with a bunch of guys used to playing for the check, rather than competing.
- Here’s a hunch on the NHL lockout: An agreement is reached in late November that allows for a training camp/exhibition season with the real play beginning with the Winter Classic in Ann Arbor Jan. 1. Hey, it worked for the NBA.