ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. – To chronicle, with thoroughness and accuracy, the tumult that has characterized the Eagles’ previous three weeks, you’d need much more time and many more words than the typical postgame column generally allows. Before they wobbled and staggered for much of their 31-13 victory here Sunday over the Bills – and the 40-mph wind gusts swirling around New Era Field were only partially responsible for all that wobbling and staggering – they had brought so much turmoil and attention upon themselves that it seemed every member of the organization, not just a two-faced and since-released cornerback, was auditioning for a sports studio show.
Beginning with Kirk Cousins’ four-touchdown riposte to former linebacker Zach Brown, the Eagles had pinballed from one controversy to another for the better part of a month. Brown ripped Cousins. Cousins tore the Eagles apart. The Vikings blew them out. The Eagles cut Brown in the aftermath. Coach Doug Pederson went on a radio show, made like he was 10 feet tall and bulletproof, and – without using the word – guaranteed the Eagles would beat the Cowboys. The Cowboys blew them out. Lane Johnson said that players were showing up late to meetings. Other players disputed Johnson’s assertion. Behind-the-scenes backbiting, much of it centered around quarterback Carson Wentz, was leaking out of the locker room, with an ESPN reporter functioning as the basin that collected the drops and drips.
The Eagles held a players-only meeting – their first, safety Malcolm Jenkins said, in his six-year tenure with the team. The front office cut Orlando Scandrick, who promptly appeared on a Fox Sports 1 program to lambaste his former team, particularly Jenkins, who responded by using a 13-letter plural obscenity in reference to Scandrick and former teammates like him everywhere. Then, in defense of Jenkins, the Eagles’ media-relations staff posted on Twitter a video of Scandrick praising his work ethic and leadership during that recent loss to the Vikings – the social-media equivalent of an attorney catching a duplicitous witness in a lie during cross-examination.
As Jerry Seinfeld would say, it was a scene, man. But on Sunday, at least, the Eagles put enough of those problems (both contrived and actual) behind them to win a game that, to maintain any real hope for a playoff berth, they had to win.
“Nothing outside out this locker room matters,” Jenkins said. “At the end of the day, what we do on the field, how we prepare to go play on that field – that’s all that wins us games. You win or lose based on that. Things that people say, other things that are outside of our building, outside of our locker room, have no impact.”
This was the party line after Sunday’s game: that none of the public questions and chatter and doubts had any effect on the Eagles, and if they did, it was only to galvanize the players. “We reiterated what Jenk always says: We all we got, we all we need,” guard Brandon Brooks said. “When we’re in that locker room, that’s our sanctuary. When we talk about brotherhood in this locker room, we sincerely mean it.”
Of course, this narrative ignores the inconvenient fact that the locker room, the so-called sanctuary, was the source for all of the noise: Brown’s trash-talking of a capable quarterback, the anonymous quotes about Wentz, Scandrick’s potshots. If the Eagles’ locker room really is a big, close family, you have to wonder why it took them three weeks to come together. Perhaps, by releasing both Brown and Scandrick, they have snuffed out most, if not all, of that discontent and distraction. It would be nice to think that.
“We just have to learn from what we’ve gone through,” Pederson said. “We just have to focus on football and come to work every day and keep doing what they did this week in practice and their preparation.”
That renewed focus did not immediately lead to a crisp performance. The Eagles, Jenkins among them, committed some untimely and foolish penalties. After they had taken a 10-point lead, they let the Bills zip downfield for a touchdown. After they had taken an 11-point lead and stopped the Bills’ offense, they watched Boston Scott fumble a punt and give Buffalo another chance to score. There were plenty of tenuous moments.
Still, their good outweighed their bad. Wentz, amid the difficult weather conditions, completed more than 70% of his passes and didn’t commit a turnover. Brandon Graham forced a Josh Allen fumble late in the first half; it led to the Wentz-to-Dallas Goedert touchdown pass that gave the Eagles a lead they never relinquished. Their running backs combined for 176 rushing yards, 65 on a Miles Sanders bolt into the end zone on the second play of the second half.
They’re 4-4 now. It doesn’t sound like much. It might turn out not to be, if they can’t negotiate their grueling next three games – against the Bears, the Patriots, and the Seahawks. But they didn’t fall apart, after three weeks that suggested they might. That’s not everything, but it’s not nothing, either. After the game, Johnson donned a tight-fitting T-shirt with the words “PHILADELPHIA STONE COLD” and a skull emblazoned on the front. His explanation for how the Eagles put aside the chaos of this last month was similarly stripped of sentiment.
“----, go to the house, put on some Netflix,” he said. “Obviously, there was a lot of stuff going on. But all we can control is the work: going to meetings, going to practice, getting on the plane, flying here, going and playing. That’s all we did.”