The Pro Bowl quarterback, two pedigreed defensive linemen, and a Pro Bowl right guard didn’t take a preseason snap, and the stud right tackle sat out the last three weeks. Super Bowl champion Doug Pederson watched a fourth-down call and a late-first-half timeout blow up in his face. Before the season was an hour old, the Eagles trailed by 17 points and heard the first boos of the season.
Even that hole wasn’t nearly big enough to bury this resourceful, resilient team. They won, 32-27. It didn’t feel that close. The lines played well. The weapons produced. The quarterback was brilliant.
The margin of error for this team is massive. Vince Young dubbed the 2011 edition the “Dream Team,” but if these Birds get much better, the rest of the NFC will be facing a nightmare.
“We’ve got weapons. Any given night could be your night,” said Nelson Agholor, who had two catches but decoyed on one of DeSean Jackson’s two long TDs. “I’d rather be a team that can finish than a team that just starts fast."
He paused, cocked his head and flashed a crooked smile:
“But we’d love to put it all together.”
Jackson, a Chip Kelly casualty in 2014, celebrated his Philadelphia homecoming with touchdown catches of 51 and 53 yards. Carson Wentz, healthy and smarter and no longer toiling in the shadow of “Big Game” Nick Foles, dropped those dimes to Jackson, and he found Alshon Jeffery for another TD in between. Wentz went 28-for-39 for 313 yards, plus three successful quarterback sneaks.
“I knew it was only a matter of time before we got things rolling,” said Jeffery, who caught a lateral for a second touchdown.
Those scoring passes erased deficits of 17-0 and 20-7, and, by the time the Eagles began the knockout drive at the end of the third quarter, the Redskins’ secondary was so gun-shy that Jackson might as well have been radioactive. They didn’t come near him.
He did it all with a broken left ring finger. The fractured digit was just one of a handful of concerns worrying the Eagles the past few weeks:
Would the underprepared Eagles offensive line — without guard Brandon Brooks all preseason as he came back from a ruptured Achilles tendon, and without Lane Johnson the last 3 weeks as he battled a sprained knee — control the fearsome pass-rush combination of Ryan Kerrigan, Jonathan Allen, and Matt Ioannidis, who combined for 28 1/2 sacks last season? Yes. Wentz was sacked once, but the line was not compromised.
Would the Eagles’ accomplished defensive line control the other line of scrimmage, despite Fletcher Cox and Derek Barnett having missed the preseason recovering from injuries? Yes, after a while — and after speed-deficient cornerback Rasul Douglas was benched in the second half in favor of Sidney Jones.
Would Jackson — who has torched the Eagles and the Redskins — continue his tradition of burning his former teams? Absolutely. He averaged almost five catches and 106 yards and was 5-1 against his former teams (mostly out of spite). D-Jax had eight catches for 154 yards and those two TDs Sunday.
And, of course, the biggest question of all:
Would the people who took Week 1 in their office’s Carson Wentz Injury Pool get paid? No. As the game went on Wentz progressed from shaky, to proficient, to very good, to outstanding. In the final TD drive, he twice escaped the pocket, rolled left and found tight end Zach Ertz, who finished with five catches and 54 yards.
“I thought he played within himself,” Pederson understated.
(Sadly, if you had Foles going down on Opening Day in Jacksonville, you cashed.)
By the fourth quarter, the Eagles had soundly established their superiority. But they played an inferior brand of ball early.
Jackson sabotaged the Eagles’ first drive with a 15-yard dead-ball penalty when he grabbed the face mask of former teammate Quinton Dunbar. Pederson, who has gone for it on fourth down more than any head coach since he got the job in 2016, went for it on fourth-and-2 from the Redskins’ 29, declining a 46-yard field-goal attempt. He trailed by 10, and more than 40 minutes remained. Wentz’s pass was batted down.
With 48 seconds left in the first half and Washington facing third-and-4 from its 47 and no timeouts left, Pederson called a timeout. A failed third-down conversion likely would have meant a punt that would pin the Eagles inside their 20 with less than 40 seconds to play. Also, the Eagles were to receive the second-half kickoff. Anyway, Keenum hit McLaurin for 22 yards, which set up a 48-yard field goal; so, Pederson helped serve the Redskins three more points for a 20-3 halftime lead.
That wasn’t nearly enough for this poor assemblage from the nation’s capital.
This was a Redskins team handicapped by the absence of Pro Bowl left tackle Trent Williams, who is holding out; former Pro Bowl tight end Jordan Reed, who was nursing his seventh concussion; and running back Adrian Peterson, who, after leading the team in rushing last season, was inactive in favor of Eagles castoff Wendell Smallwood.
They also were handicapped by the presence of Case Keenum, who, after a 2017 mirage season in Minnesota that ended in disaster against the Eagles in the NFC championship game, returned to mediocrity in Denver last season; as well, of course, by the presence of head coach Jay Gruden, Arena League legend; and punchline owner Daniel Snyder.
Can the Eagles survive early missteps like these all season? Probably not; not in Atlanta next weekend, nor in Green Bay on Sept. 26.
But they don’t need to play perfectly, ever, anywhere. They’re just that good of a team.