If hungry dogs run faster, as the 2017 Eagles claimed, it’s because they’re not busy smelling themselves.
The underdog Eagles tasted victory after the 2017 season. They’ve been smelling themselves ever since.
Tampa Bay. Tennessee. Carolina. Atlanta. Detroit. The Miami Dolphins, for Pete’s sake.
All games that good teams win. All games the Eagles lost since the day they strutted down Broad Street on Feb. 8, 2018.
Remember that afternoon, when Doug Pederson, a second-year head coach, inexplicably vainglorious, promised that Super Bowl appearances would be the Eagles’ “new norm”?
The “new norm” turned out to be inexplicable losses and sullen excuses. The Eagles are 14-14 since they won Super Bowl LII.
This has less to do with a lack of talent than with a dearth of professionalism, which has steadily diminished since the Eagles smothered Gronk at the other end of Brady’s Hail Mary.
They won with little grace and with less humility. They assumed, with alarming arrogance, that February football was suddenly an entitlement.
Orlando Scandrick told us this in October, as a guest on FS1, but it sounded like sour grapes from a player at the end of his career who’d just been cut by a team that had been the chief rival of the Cowboys, where Scandrick spent his first nine seasons.
"I think they’re having a tough time dealing with success. … I still feel like they’re living on that Super Bowl high. It’s over. You’re living in the past.”
Those words sure ring true today.
With rings on their fingers, the Birds haven’t been on their toes. It’s happened again and again, but it was the worst Sunday afternoon in South Florida. Somehow, coming off consecutive one-score losses at home, with the Cowboys choking them back into the playoff hunt, the Eagles hit cruise control, and crashed, 37-31.
Free safety Rodney McLeod admitted Monday night: “We were up two touchdowns and kind of let our guard slip down a little bit.”
Pederson admitted it on his Monday morning radio show: “They played harder than we did. … They wanted it more than we did.”
Brandon Graham alluded to it Monday night on his radio show.
The team that once had a collective chip on its collective shoulder has had its collective head in the clouds for almost two years. When expectations are high, it cannot meet them. It can’t execute without denigration, as if the players need to be offended to succeed. It’s a sickness. Underdog Syndrome.
They cannot handle success, or the payoffs that accompany it.
The Eagles committed about $350 million in contract guarantees, extensions or restructures to players who helped reach or win the Super Bowl: Lane Johnson, Brandon Brooks, Nigel Bradham, Jason Kelce, Alshon Jeffery, Ronald Darby, and, of course $128 million quarterback Carson Wentz.
Everybody got richer. But not better.
That includes the coaching staff. Pederson and the rest still miss the knowledge and maturity of offensive coordinator Frank Reich, now the head coach in Indianapolis. He acted as Doug Pederson’s big brother and Carson Wentz’s Yoda. Mike Groh, the promoted receivers coach, can be neither.
More than anything, Reich embodied humility. So did Nick Foles. Both are gone. Bravado remains.
There is, simply, an epidemic of self-satisfaction among the Eagles that impedes their own success. If it isn’t Wentz pressing against Tom Brady and Russell Wilson in Games 10 and 11, it’s the defense relaxing in South Beach against Ryan Fitzpatrick in Game 12.
Again, this is not unique to 2019. Last year, sitting at 3-4, Kelce admitted that the team was making “gross errors” in practice. Johnson said in October that players have been late to meetings and practices this season. The Eagles committed a season-high 13 penalties in Miami, 10 of which were accepted. Gross errors remain.
The Eagles feature some very fine men: among them, Johnson, Brooks, Kelce, Malcolm Jenkins, and Fletcher Cox, the team’s best player. Lurie is a benevolent owner; Pederson, a prince among coaches.
But there’s no sense in sugarcoating what’s happened at 1 NovaCare Way. From owner Lurie to general manager Howie Roseman to Pederson and his players, they believe they unlocked the formula for winning now and later. And here’s the thing: They did.
Here’s another thing: They can use it still.
Just do their job, completely, with unwavering focus. This falls at the feet of the players — on every player, on every play. Every practice repetition. Every minute of every meeting.
This is how the Patriots won their six championships and, with a mediocre team, how they’ve won 10 games this year. This is how the Eagles navigated 2017 to and through the Super Bowl.
It is a hard thing to do when you’re older and you’re richer and you have yourself a ring, but it is their only path to January football.
Accountability. Honesty. Focus. Grace.
These are the elements that brought them a Lombardi Trophy.
There have been moments.
It’s how they won in Green Bay on Sept. 26, and how they won at Buffalo on Oct. 27. A month later, this team is no less talented; in fact, with improved health, it’s even more talented.
So, can they do it? Perhaps.
But first, they need to take their noses out of each other’s, er, business, and put those noses to the grindstone.
It worked last season, when they turned 6-7 into 9-7 and earned a playoff trip to Chicago, where goalpost karma set up heartbreak in New Orleans.
It took a miracle for the Eagles to reach the playoffs last season. Now 5-7, it’ll take another miracle to make it this season.