It goes too far, of course, to say that winning the Super Bowl was the worst thing to happen to the Eagles. But now that we’re nearly three years removed from the last of the confetti being swept up from Broad Street, it’s not outlandish to suggest that the franchise hasn’t handled its greatest success with the proper proportion of confidence and humility.
What has happened since that marvelous night in Minneapolis has been a steady decline, from a championship in 2017-18 to a playoff berth and a playoff victory in 2018-19 to a playoff berth in 2019-20 to … whatever degree of oblivion awaits this year’s team after its unsightly 22-17 loss Sunday to the Browns in Cleveland. What stands out most about that regression is how eager the Eagles have been, time and again, to assure everyone and try to demonstrate to everyone that they were incapable of such regression. In ways big and small, they set themselves up for this heaping helping of comeuppance.
Ask any coach or manager who’s ever won a championship at a sport’s highest level, and he or she will tell you: It’s more difficult to maintain that measure of excellence over time than it is to first achieve it. It’s one thing to be Michael Cimino, make The Deer Hunter, follow it up with Heaven’s Gate, and see your film career flame out. It’s another thing to be Martin Scorsese, make Goodfellas, and follow it up with Cape Fear, The Age of Innocence, and Casino. But the Eagles seemed to take for granted that they were just beginning a run of critically acclaimed blockbusters.
Doug Pederson declared during his parade speech that Super Bowls “were the new norm” for the franchise, then wrote a book explaining how he outcoached Bill Belichick and why he was just getting started. Lane Johnson taunted the Patriots as a “fear-based organization.” Details of complaints and grudges and clashing personalities and egos leaked out of the locker room. Howie Roseman was so sanguine about the talent that he believed he’d already accumulated on the roster that he used a second-round pick in this year’s draft on a quarterback, Jalen Hurts, who in a perfect world would be no better than a backup to Carson Wentz. It is difficult to conceive of a more arrogant player-personnel decision.
So here we are, and at 3-6-1, the Eagles generate the same reaction that the first sight of Cimino’s roller-skating Wyoming settlers did: What inna name a God are they doin’? They insist on playing Jason Peters at left tackle, even though Peters left the field twice with injuries Sunday and was lousy when he was on the field and should be contemplating retirement if he isn’t already. Defensive backs who apparently can’t play here for coordinator Jim Schwartz are solid performers elsewhere. The most pleasant surprises on the Eagles’ offense this season have been two players whom the team had cut and then brought back: Travis Fulgham and Richard Rodgers.
Worst of all, Wentz seems lost. He is playing the worst football of his career. Yet Pederson admitted that, if he benched Wentz for Hurts, he would be telling the team that he was giving up on the season. So, because of the Hurts pick, not only does Pederson not have another skill-position player or offensive lineman at his disposal to help Wentz, he apparently believes the offense would be worse with Hurts at quarterback – hardly a ringing endorsement of the front office’s drafting strategy. And in the primary area where he could lend Wentz a hand, Pederson refuses to adjust his play-calling to accent the obvious strength of the offense – the run game – over a full 60 minutes.
Has first place ever felt so much like dead last?
“Every year is different,” defensive end Brandon Graham said. “I know what it feels like at our worst, and I don’t feel this is the worst-worst. Obviously, with our record as bad as it is, we’re still a half-game up. It’s on us. This is the most on-us that I’ve been a part of, that we’ve got to go out and fix it. We’ve got six games to do it.
“I do know that we’ve got some fighters in here. We want to get this thing right. We talk about how winners win and losers figure out how to lose. We ain’t doing that. We’re winners here. We always held that high standard.”
Well, not always, BG. Consider the last decade of Eagles history. When you do, that Super Bowl season seems so much an anomaly. Assuming they finish with a sub-.500 record – no, no one likes to assume anything, but this guess seems pretty safe – the Eagles will have had as many non-winning seasons over the last 10 years as they have had winning seasons, five of each. That enchanted 2017-18 campaign was sandwiched between two 7-9 seasons and two 9-7 seasons, meaning that the Eagles were perfectly mediocre before Super Bowl LII and after it. Now, they’re less than that.
“I’m sure everybody’s going crazy because we keep losing,” Graham said. “But I do know that we’re figuring this thing out, man. We’re going to hit this thing, and we’re going to hit it running once we get it.”
Look, Graham is a good guy whose voice and heart, whenever he speaks publicly, are in the right place. But these kinds of assurances from the Eagles are nothing but empty anymore. The party’s over. The confetti’s gone. Last one out, tell Josina Anderson that Wentz turned off the lights.