The Eagles lost Sunday. Good.
Good, because it ended their involvement in the charade of chasing the regular-season championship of what might be the worst division in NFL history.
Good, because the Cowboys’ 37-17 victory, despite a decent performance by Jalen Hurts, should bury the notion, once and for all, that trading Carson Wentz, replacing Carson Wentz, or exiling Carson Wentz to the Mediterranean for crimes against decent football will cure all or most or even some of what ails the Eagles. “It’s never about one guy,” coach Doug Pederson said, and he was right. The Eagles have an overall talent deficit. They have salary-cap issues. They suffer an ungodly number of injuries each season, no matter what changes they make to their medical and training staff. “Not using that as an excuse,” defensive back Jalen Mills said, “but having a lot of your top guys get injured, of course it’s always ‘next man up’ and guys have to step up and play, but those guys are our top guys for a reason.”
Good, because really, do we need to see more of Matt Pryor at right tackle? Or Michael Jacquet at cornerback? Or Dave Fipp’s special teams?
Good, because really, do we want to keep asking, What happened to Zach Ertz, and where did DeSean Jackson go? Ertz’s production and play have fallen off badly, and after hauling in an 81-yard touchdown pass from Hurts, Jackson didn’t see another pass thrown his way and didn’t see the field much thereafter, his tender ankle too much for him to bear. “His injury got sore and sorer,” Pederson said, hardly a surprising development, given that Sunday’s game was Jackson’s first since late October, his fifth this season, and just his eighth in the last two years.
Good, because the Eagles played to win. The players themselves didn’t quit. They never have under Pederson, and they didn’t this season, either. And the team’s decision-makers saw value in winning the NFC East and qualifying for the playoffs. Jackson returned to the lineup for his first time in two months. Alshon Jeffery had been suiting up for weeks. The Eagles went back to their veterans; an NFL team doesn’t do that unless it wants to win right now. Was that the smartest strategy in what has felt, for months, like a lost season? No, but it told you what the Eagles were thinking, and Sunday’s loss told them everything they needed to know about what kind of team they were and how much that playoff berth would have meant. The answers: pretty poor, not much.
Good, because the Eagles committed 12 penalties Sunday, and you can chalk that incompetence up to coaching, sure. But you also have to consider the lack of sharp, savvy players on the roster, the kind of players who aren’t often guilty of such maddening mistakes.
Good, because as handicapped as the Eagles’ defense and its coordinator, Jim Schwartz, were by injuries along the defensive line -- especially to Fletcher Cox, who left Sunday’s game with a stinger -- and within the secondary, the unit’s performance over these last two games has been embarrassing. It allowed more than 500 yards to the Cardinals last week and to the Cowboys on Sunday, and those results spoke to two problems: 1) Schwartz’s inflexibility in his scheme and approach, his unwillingness or inability to adjust to the personnel available to him; and 2) the failure of the front office and coaching staff to cultivate enough depth to mitigate at least some of those injuries.
Good, because the Eagles lost their opener to the Washington Football Team, who had Dwayne Haskins at quarterback, and in light of Haskins’ behavior and performance since, that loss should stand as the most revealing result of the Eagles’ entire season. It was a harbinger. Things never got any better.
Good, because wins over teams led by Nick Mullens, Daniel Jones, Ben DiNucci, and Taysom Hill can cover up a lot of sins, a lot of errors, and a lot of shortcomings.
Good, because the Eagles haven’t had a true cleansing, an honest-to-goodness makeover from top to bottom, in a long time. That might be what’s required here. The firing of Chip Kelly didn’t bring one. Jeffrey Lurie merely handed power back to Howie Roseman, to the man who had wielded it before Kelly. But it will have been three years since that enchanted 2017-18 season and that victory in Super Bowl LII, and the afterglow has been dimming ever since, and an empty win Sunday that might have led to an empty playoff berth would have only obscured the rehabilitation that this franchise needs.
Good, because these next few months will define the Eagles’ future for a long time. In a horrible division, with their Super Bowl-winning coach and their presumptive franchise quarterback returning, they are 4-10-1 and were the first NFC East team to be eliminated from playoff contention. They had better enter this offseason with a clear view of who they are, where they are, and what they need to do.
Because you know what they aren’t?
They aren’t good.