What are we to make of this Eagles team? Damned if I know. They have a quarterback who volleys between recklessness and brilliance. They have a coach who at his best is daring and at his worst is daft. They have a defense that can do one thing very well — pressure the opposing quarterback — and nothing else particularly well at all. They are just 2-4-1 after scoring two touchdowns in the final five minutes of regulation Thursday night to beat the Giants, 22-21. They are, by just about any reasonable measure, a pretty bad football team. And they’re in first place in their division.
This might turn out to be the weirdest season in Eagles history. And I’m not even including the pandemic’s effects in that assertion. Carson Wentz looks magnificent in one instant — his game-winning touchdown pass to Boston Scott, for instance, was as gorgeous as a quarterback’s throw gets — and shows not a scintilla of good sense the next, throwing across his body and back across the field, refusing to chuck the ball into the stands for the sake of avoiding a sack or an interception. Doug Pederson still is as aggressive as a play-caller as he’s ever been, yet sometimes his decisions are … what’s the word? Surprising? Strange? It’s one thing to go for it on fourth-and-goal from the opponent’s 3-yard line, as Pederson did in the third quarter Thursday. It’s another thing to have the fourth-down play be a goal-line fade to Hakeem Butler, a backup-backup tight end. That’s not what an astute football observer would call “playing to your strengths.”
The defense allowed what was, from all perspectives and angles, one of the most embarrassing plays the league has seen in some time. In the third quarter, Giants quarterback Daniel Jones, on a zone-read keeper, rolled right and kept rolling right down the field for 80 yards. Yes, there will be jokes and cheap jokes galore at Jones' expense for his tripping and falling to the ground at the Eagles' 8-yard line, for failing to score an easy touchdown. But what’s worse: Jones' stumble, or the cluelessness by the Eagles' defense to allow such a play to happen? Had Jones parachuted out of a plane and landed in an empty Lincoln Financial Field, he couldn’t have been more alone than he was for 70 of those 80 yards.
This is a winning effort? In this NFC East, in this year, it is. Again, weird.
“Every week is heightened — the sense of urgency each week to win a football game, right?” Pederson had said Tuesday. “We understand where we are, the sort of the hole we dug ourselves into, and it’s all about just one-game-at-a-time mentality. You don’t want to look past the Giants. This is a good football team coming in here Thursday night, and we have to be prepared.”
They weren’t. They really weren’t. Wentz threw an inexcusable interception. Jake Elliott missed a 29-yard field goal. Jason Kelce committed a face-mask penalty with the Eagles' offense in a prime position to take the lead in the final minute: first-and-goal at the Giants' 3. The defense missed tackle after tackle after tackle. The Eagles could have been up by double digits at halftime, should have been up by at least six points at halftime, and trailed by 11 with six minutes to go to a team that won its first game of the season only last week.
And then they won, and maybe that’s the one thing that can be said about them this season. Despite the injuries. Despite the wild swings between their poor and decent play. Despite the oft-odd coaching decisions and the understanding that, even if they do manage to win their division, the title of NFC East champs will carry the same prestige as being the tallest Lollipop Guild delegate in Oz. Despite all those frustrating aspects to this nutty season, the Eagles don’t give up. They’re going to drive you crazy for the next two-and-a-half months, but they don’t give up, and that’ll be enough to get everybody through those two-and-a-half months. “We don’t worry about the past,” said Brandon Graham, whose strip-sack of Jones in the closing seconds clinched the win. “We try to stay futuristic.” It was a perfect line for this night, for this season, and for this particular team.