Playing, watching, hoping: The Eagles are playoff-worthy now, but it took them way too long
The Eagles will be powerless to affect what Chicago does against Minnesota, which will determine their playoff fate if they defeat Washington.
The Eagles will be trying to win two games Sunday.
Only one of them, the one they play against Washington, in Landover, Md., is under their control. They can demolish the Redskins, but they also need the Chicago Bears to defeat the host Minnesota Vikings in their regular-season finale. Lose to Washington and the Eagles' season is over. Both games have been scheduled to start at 4:25 Sunday.
“We can’t control what Washington puts on their scoreboard,” Eagles coach Doug Pederson said Monday. Pederson said he won’t be looking to see how the Bears are doing – though when asked if he planned to talk to Bears coach Matt Nagy, his friend from Eagles and Chiefs coaching staffs, Pederson said: “I might. Maybe I've done that, we'll have to see. Maybe I've already done that this morning.”
The Bears are in the playoffs, but can clinch a first-round bye by beating the Vikings – if the 12-3 Rams lose to the 4-11 49ers. The Eagles felt the bye was crucial to their Super Bowl effort last season. They have to hope Chicago feels the same way, and that if the Bears are watching the scoreboard in Minnesota as they play, that they aren’t seeing the Rams take an early, insurmountable lead.
“Obviously, you can't control the other game, but I would play to win,” Pederson said, when asked what he would do, in Nagy’s shoes. “If I could improve my position, you play. You play. And then you see what happens at the end of the day.”
Pederson said he didn’t think his team’s play will be affected by how the Bears-Vikings game is going.
“I don't think it matters, because quite frankly, our guys are still playing for a lot of reasons,” he said. “There’s a lot of pride in the locker room. Both games are at the same time, and we just have to focus on Washington and get through that game.”
The shame of the defending Super Bowl champions needing help to make the playoffs is that, as Pederson noted Monday, they are playing their best football of the season right now. They have won four of five, beaten the Rams and the Texans back-to-back and have lost only to Dallas, in overtime, since the blowout debacle at New Orleans back on Nov. 18 left them 4-6.
Who, the next few days after that game, would have bet on four wins in the next five games, on beating the Rams and Texans?
The Eagles aren’t dominant – Pederson acknowledged the three turnovers against Houston that very nearly cost them the game, the 11 penalties for 105 yards, the stalling of the run game after a decent start, and the way the defense fell apart on the final two Texans drives – but they are beating playoff-bound teams, with their backup quarterback, Nick Foles. They are playing with heart and resilience.
“These are all playoff games. These are all playoff-type games for us,” Pederson said. “I think what you're seeing is everybody's sort of heightened awareness, and just kind of sense of urgency has picked up a little bit here in the last couple of weeks, knowing that we have to win out to give ourselves a chance. It's definitely a credit to the team for being in this position.”
*Funny how Carson Wentz was criticized for targeting Zach Ertz so much, then Nick Foles targeted Ertz 16 times Sunday. Ertz caught 12 passes for 110 yards and two touchdowns as he broke Jason Witten’s record for tight end receptions in a season. He tied his season-high for targets, set Nov. 11 against Dallas, when he caught 14 passes for 145 yards and two TDs. Ertz has 31 catches in the four games Foles has started this season, 82 in the 11 games started by Wentz. That’s 7.75 catches a game with Foles, 7.45 with Wentz.
*The Texans definitely made their only sack Sunday of Nick Foles count – Foles fumbled the ball away at the Eagles’ 5, leading to a Deshaun Watson touchdown on the next snap. The sack, by Jadeveon Clowney, was the fault of rookie tight end Dallas Goedert. Most of the game, Clowney terrorized left tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai, who did not play well after Jason Peters had to leave with a quadriceps injury five snaps into the game. Getting Vaitai ready for Washington this week will be a major task for offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland.
*Houston’s DeAndre Carter caught six passes for 61 yards against his former team, and managed a 30-yard kickoff return. The release of Carter back on Nov. 6 because the Eagles thought Darren Sproles was ready to return (he wasn’t, yet) remains among the strangest personnel moves of 2018.
*I was puzzled over why Nelson Agholor had an exchange with wide receivers coach Gunter Brewer, then heated words with offensive coordinator Mike Groh, after Zach Ertz’s catch on the final play of the first half, on which Ertz couldn’t get out of bounds at Houston’s 38 and time expired.
“We just was talkin’. Heat of the moment, competitive game. All love,” Agholor said after the game.
I thought maybe he was open and didn’t get the ball, but watching the replay, turns out Agholor tried to block Texans linebacker Zach Cunningham, who illegally rocked him in the chin/facemask area and spun away to tackle Ertz. The coaches might have held Agholor accountable for Ertz not getting out of bounds. Given what Cunningham did, that would have been harsh. Understandable reaction from Agholor, whose 83-yard touchdown catch later in the game might have made everyone involved much happier.
Assuming no mishap befalls him between now and the season finale, Zach Ertz will play all 16 games this year for the first time in four seasons.
That former Penn State running back Austin Scott played for the Eagles Sunday?
CBS play-by-play announcer Ian Eagle delivered this news during Sunday’s broadcast. It might have come as news to Austin Scott, who never played in the NFL after getting in trouble at Penn State and going to jail. He is 33 now, somewhere.
Eagle was referring to Boston Scott, the 23-year-old Eagles rookie running back and returner who made his NFL debut Sunday. This Scott, a sixth-round Saints pick from Louisiana Tech, came to the Eagles from the New Orleans practice squad Dec. 11.
Home-field advantage seems to get debated whenever the Eagles are perceived to be less than perfect at the Linc. The truth is, they have a home-field advantage every home game – their crowd is loud, the opposition often has to use a silent count, and can’t get off the ball as quickly as it would like against an aggressive Eagles pass rush.
Some visiting teams overcome that disadvantage, which doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist; it might mean they had better talent and/or coaching that day.
If you want to quantify the home-field advantage in Sunday’s home finale, look no further than the false start Houston’s Martinas Rankin took, on third and 2 from the Eagles’ 7. It led to a third-and-7 incomplete pass, and a 30-yard field goal, instead of a Texans touchdown. This still would have been the case, even if Jake Elliott had missed the final-play field goal that won the game for the Eagles.
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