Traditionally, the day after a victory in the NFL is set aside for “yes, but” stories and columns.
Tuesday was very much a “yes, but” day for the Eagles, from the moment Doug Pederson all but acknowledged that leading wide receiver Alshon Jeffery’s season is over in the wake of a foot injury suffered in Monday night’s stirring 23-17 overtime victory over the New York Giants, and that right tackle Lane Johnson will be “week to week” with a high ankle sprain.
Yes, the Eagles will make the playoffs if they win their final three games, starting this Sunday at Washington. But they are going to have to do that without Jeffery (43 catches, 490 yards), and most likely they will have to do at least some of it without Johnson. There is no indication when they will get back running back Jordan Howard (shoulder), and Pederson didn’t make any predictions Monday about the availability of wide receiver Nelson Agholor (knee) or defensive end Derek Barnett (ankle).
What Pederson and Carson Wentz did in the fourth quarter and overtime against the Giants was MacGyveresque. But are they really going to win a lot of games leaning on weapons brought up from the practice squad, and a defense that remains susceptible to giving up the kind of big plays the Eagles’ offense can’t easily generate?
If the Eagles somehow lurch into the playoffs, then what? Which playoff teams would you see them beating?
One thing the Eagles can do in the final weeks of the season is silence the group who sees these problems and somehow thinks the solution to them is to run Wentz out of town, or at least, endlessly debate his perceived shortcomings.
Wentz’s first career overtime victory was a big deal. He struggled with his unfamiliar receiving corps well into the third quarter, but down the stretch, Wentz was everything a $128 million quarterback is supposed to be. He threw 23 passes and completed 17 of them, for 195 yards and two touchdowns, in the fourth quarter and overtime.
“I think this would have to be his No. 1 game, quite honestly,” Pederson said. “I just think from the standpoint of putting the team on his back, leading this team down the field, down two scores, to tie the game, and then, of course, to win it in overtime. Some of the plays that he did make, whether it was extending it with his legs or keeping a play alive and finding receivers down the field, and then his toughness to stand in the pocket and take some shots.
“I would say this would be his No. 1 game in the four years [Wentz has been an Eagle]. It's really kind of exciting for him. I think it gives him confidence moving forward.”
Expecting that sort of thing each of the next three weeks is expecting a lot of Wentz, and even more out of Boston Scott, Greg Ward, and Josh Perkins, the trio of practice-squad expatriates who accounted for 199 of the Eagles’ 418 yards Monday night.
It seems likely another receiver will come up from the practice squad when Jeffery goes on injured reserve. Marken Michel, a Canadian Football League vet who had a good training camp with the Eagles, is on that unit, as are Marcus Green and Robert Davis.
Green was a sixth-round pick of the Falcons this year, Davis a sixth-round selection of Washington in 2017, who has played in four games for the Redskins, three this season. Davis has one career catch for 11 yards. He is the cousin of three-time Pro Bowl linebacker Thomas Davis.
Pederson raised the possibility of looking outside the organization, but trying to teach a wide receiver the Eagles’ offense in Week 15 would seem less than optimal. Though there is always Jordan Matthews, Part IV, and Shelton Gibson is on the Browns’ practice squad, for whatever that might be worth.
Pederson indicated Halapoulivaati Vaitai will remain at right tackle until Johnson returns. Vaitai gave up a 9-yard sack on the first play of the Eagles’ tying touchdown drive in the fourth quarter, oversetting and letting Oshane Ximines easily slip inside him. Vaitai made some strong run-game blocks, though, and Pederson said he thought “Big V” played well.
Johnson suffered a high ankle sprain last season and missed only one game, though he clearly struggled for several weeks after returning, and acknowledged at midseason that he couldn’t really practice with the injury.
Jeffery has dealt with calf and ankle injuries this season, and with a public perception that he and Wentz are not close. His cart ride into the Lincoln Financial Field tunnel Monday night might have been the last glimpse of Jeffery in an Eagles uniform that fans will ever get, less than two years after he played a key role in winning Super Bowl LII.
In September, the Eagles guaranteed Jeffery’s $12.75 million base salary in 2020, in a restructuring that lowered his 2019 cap hit. Jeffery, who has refused to speak with reporters in recent weeks, turns 30 in February.
With the Eagles down to one healthy wide receiver on the final drive, 40-year-old backup quarterback Josh McCown was ready to go in and run some pass patterns, if needed. McCown took some snaps at wideout when he was with the Lions in 2006. That was the year Brian Westbrook led the Eagles with 77 catches for 699 yards. No word on whether Westbrook also was available Monday night.
The Giants entered the weekend tied for worst in the NFL at giving up 40-yard-plus receptions, with 14, but the only two such plays in Monday night’s game came at the expense of the Eagles’ equally flammable secondary. They were 42- and 55-yard Darius Slayton catches from Eli Manning, the latter going for a TD in the final seconds of the first half. On that one, Ronald Darby apparently misheard the coverage call and stood flatfooted as Slayton, a fifth-round rookie, ran past him. Slayton’s five catches for 154 yards and two touchdowns all came in the first half.
This week, the Eagles will see another rookie receiver with speed (apparently you actually are allowed to draft those, who knew?) in Terry McLaurin. McLaurin, drafted in the third round, leads Washington with 46 catches for 703 yards (15.3 yards per catch) and six touchdowns.
Vinny Curry isn’t having a memorable season in his return to the Eagles after a year in Tampa Bay, but he sacked Eli Manning twice Monday night, both times fighting through double-teams.
The Eagles did not take a defensive penalty Monday.
That going into a game with three active wide receivers and seven cornerbacks was a bad idea?
“It is difficult to go in with three,” Doug Pederson acknowledged on Tuesday.
The Giants have lost eight of nine Monday Football Games to the Eagles and are on a six-game losing streak against them overall, heading into the regular-season finale on Dec. 29 at MetLife Stadium.
You could argue that the Eagles should have gone for it on fourth-and-3 from their 48 with a minute and 56 seconds remaining in the first half. They desperately needed to get something going.
Yes, they would have risked giving the Giants the ball on a short field, instead of at the New York 16, but the Giants ended up scoring a touchdown anyway, on Darius Slayton’s 55-yard catch on third-and-8 from their 45.
Going for it and getting the 3 yards might have at least killed some time and kept the score at 10-3 going into halftime.