LANDOVER, Md. — OK, the Eagles can stop pretending now. For three weeks, they had to stand with straight faces and talk about their respect for the upcoming opponent.
“We know there are no easy wins in the National Football League, and (insert name of donkey here) has good football players (wait, let me think of one) and are well-coached (by a guy who will probably be fired) and we know they’ll show up to play (otherwise they would get fined). So, we’re not taking anyone lightly (on the record) and we’ll give it our best (at least part of the game).”
Just for good measure, just to prove their point, they allowed themselves to be thrown by the first donkey, needed overtime to beat the second one, and were about to be embarrassed by the third on Sunday until their final drive yielded a go-ahead touchdown with 26 seconds to play.
The results didn’t make them right. The games against the Dolphins, Giants, and Redskins were all close not because those are good football teams, but because the Eagles aren’t. Maybe that’s not fair given the roster turmoil they have endured, but they certainly aren’t good enough to win any game without being 100% dialed in.
Since beginning this three-game stretch against the Burro Brigade, a lack of focus and urgency has been a good part of their problem. Coach Doug Pederson recognizes that human nature is a tough opponent, and he put the offense into no-huddle gear on the opening drive against Washington, looking to inject some current into the electrical failure.
“That was my concern coming into this game,” Pederson said. “That’s why I went a little up-tempo early, try to jump-start us, try to counteract that.”
Nevertheless, the Eagles couldn’t subdue the 3-10 Redskins, and trailed 14-10 at halftime. In those previous 13 games, Washington held a halftime lead just three times (including the opener against the Eagles), so it’s not like fighting hard and well from the start has been a hallmark of the Redskins. Letting teams hang around, however, has been a serious problem for the Eagles.
“I don’t think [complacency] has been the issue, to be honest with you,” center Jason Kelce said. “Guys have been coming out with effort. It’s just not executing. For whatever reason, it just hasn’t worked out. It’s been a seasonal thing, especially the last two weeks.”
Well, fellas, getting it to work out this coming Sunday would be an excellent idea. If it doesn’t work out, a lot of you will be out of work. The same is true for some coaches, maybe some scouts, front-office types, and — this goes without saying — there will also be the annual purging of the medical staff, of course.
Fortunately, their preparation won’t be interrupted by the need to invent motivation against the Dallas Cowboys. That portion of the season is over. Without a win against the Cowboys, in fact, the entire season is over.
Pederson wouldn’t cop to it, but it must be refreshing that on his long list of worries this week, getting the team to comprehend the situation won’t be one of them.
“I think where we were a couple of weeks ago [after Miami]. We understood as a team we kind of dug ourselves a hole,” Pederson said. “We dealt ourselves this situation. I don’t think this is going to take much motivation this week. Our guys are excited to get through this game [against Washington] and this win.”
That’s been the issue. They have played the last three games just to get through them. It worked twice, but only barely.
“Against the good teams, you’ve got to stop digging those holes,” defensive end Brandon Graham said. “But we do love a fight.”
That’s terrific, and it is true that only two of their seven losses have been by more than one score (giving them the benefit of the definition in losing by 8 to Seattle).
“The bottom line in this league is that great teams find ways to win close games,” Kelce said. “There’s no such thing as an easy schedule in the NFL.”
The Eagles have made it look that way in the last three weeks. Now, that stretch against the bottom-feeders is over and they have more or less survived. If they win their final two games — against Dallas and at the Giants — they are the champions of the fabulous NFC East. It is right there for them, whatever it is.
“In the NFL nowadays, you don’t see a lot of cakewalk games,” Kelce said. “For us to win on the road here, and head into Dallas with a two-game winning streak, this was all we could do.”