The Eagles’ path to the NFL postseason, that magic land where football wishes are sometimes granted, was rocky and rutted just two weeks ago. It was a beaten and beaten-up team that exited AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, after absorbing a humiliating defeat to the Dallas Cowboys.
Two weeks and two wins later, however, the Eagles are still relevant in the postseason conversation. As they reached the bye week following a 22-14 win on Sunday over the Chicago Bears, their playoff path hasn’t exactly become a paved superhighway, but at least some of the potholes have been fixed.
“Obviously, we didn’t like how we played in the Cowboys game,” head coach Doug Pederson said on Sunday. “But, hey, we thought if we can weather that, have (some) games at home, get guys healthy, let’s see what we can do.”
What they can do from here is still a huge question mark, particularly facing home games against strong New England and Seattle teams immediately after the bye. The schedule turns in their favor after that and the entire season might be pointing to a Dec. 22 rematch at Lincoln Financial Field against the Cowboys.
If the playoff chase comes down to that game, it is a bargain Eagles’ fans would probably accept, particularly if their team continues to recover from the injuries and insults that had it on the brink of virtual elimination.
“I challenged the team with this time off to really soul search, dig deep, and come back in a frame of mind ready to continue what we started here in this last couple weeks,” Pederson said. “What I see with this football team, what we’ve done and what we’ve gone through, some of the adversity we’ve been faced with, with injury and all the nit-picking on the outside…is that this team finds a way to stick together and to battle.”
It was a difficult time before wins over Buffalo and Chicago pushed the Eagles above .500 again, to a 5-4 record with seven games remaining. Injuries lingered and substitutes were struggling to replace the missing players. There was anonymous criticism, attributed to a player or players, regarding the front office’s unwillingness to swing big in the trade market, and, more troubling, of the play of quarterback Carson Wentz. The organization was shaken and that 27-point loss to Dallas didn’t help.
Wentz, like Pederson, spoke Sunday about “weathering the storm” of mid-October and holding things together despite “everything that was going on” as the team sagged and the locker room began to fissure.
“I think we all feel good about about where we’re at,” Wentz said. “The last two weeks we left some things out there, for sure, but to come away with wins against good football teams gives us a lot of confidence going into the bye week. I’ve liked what I’ve seen from everybody going forward.”
Wins are wins, but it is difficult to know how much confidence should really be taken from beating the Bills and Bears, teams that have one combined victory over opponents with winning records this season. It might have to be enough to say the Eagles played better against them, and returned several of their sidelined starters to the field while doing so.
In the first half on Sunday, the Bears were just awful. The positive spin might be that the Eagles had something to do with that, but no defense can hold a capable NFL offense to nine yards in a half. Chicago didn’t get its initial first down until there was less than a minute remaining in the half.
But despite a 202-9 edge in net yards and despite possessing the ball for a few ticks under 21 minutes, the Eagles led just 12-0 at halftime. They settled for close-in field goals on their first two drives and that nearly came back to haunt them when their offense went to sleep for much of the second half and the Bears revived themselves with a pair of touchdown drives.
When it was needed most, however, the offense mounted a massive, 16-play drive that chewed up most of the fourth quarter, included four third-down conversions, and was capped with a game-sealing field goal.
“It’s not easy to win in this league. I think sometimes people [think] it is. You [can’t] just line up and go play,” Pederson said. “It’s not. It’s not easy.”
Well, easy or not, the Eagles have pulled themselves from the gutter and are back on the pavement where the traction is better. Even if they lose to New England and Seattle, the schedule then turns their way. Four of their last five games are against teams at or near the bottom of their divisions.
The other game is that Dec. 22 grudge match with Dallas. Everything leading up to that is just a matter of making sure it still means something.