The NFC East being what it is this season — the division where hope is eliminated, but teams rarely are — you still can’t stick a fork in the Eagles.
Well, maybe the salad fork, but not the big one. After what it took for them to beat the dreadful New York Giants in overtime on Monday night, the Eagles are still avoiding death by cutlery, and could even wiggle free like a limp piece of escarole to make the playoffs.
They don’t deserve to get there, but the NFL doesn’t award postseason berths on style points. That’s a good thing for the Eagles, who fell behind by 14 points at halftime against the Giants and left the field serenaded by their soggy fan base.
Even by their standards, as they had lost three straight and five of their previous seven, it was an ugly start to the game. In some ways it was the reverse of their loss to Miami. They led by 14 early in the second half of that one before falling apart. This time, it was the Giants who disintegrated, and just in time for the Eagles.
New York has now lost nine straight games. The New York Mets have a more recent win than the Giants. Eli Manning, subbing for injured rookie quarterback Daniel Jones, hadn’t played since Sept. 15. When the game began, however, Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz looked the rustier of the two.
“It obviously didn’t look pretty early in this game,” coach Doug Pederson said. “But the guys hung together.”
That disparity in the offenses lasted nearly into the fourth quarter when the Eagles mounted two touchdown drives to tie the game and force the overtime. Zach Ertz scored the final two touchdowns of the game, the tying score near the end of regulation, and a pass in the back of the end zone on the first drive of the extra period.
After losing to the bottom-feeding Dolphins the week before, coming back against the Giants prevented a total organizational meltdown, but doesn’t change their eventual fate this season. If the Eagles weren’t doomed before beating New York, the way the game went probably doomed them going forward.
They lost wide receiver Alshon Jeffery to a foot injury and offensive tackle Lane Johnson to an ankle injury. Cornerback Jalen Mills left with an elbow injury. If those injuries are significant, the Eagles are in trouble. It’s not like they’ve been playing well with those guys. Add them to a list that, Monday night, included running back Jordan Howard, receiver Nelson Agholor, defensive end Derek Barnett, and linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill. That’s no way to make a playoff push.
“We hadn’t won a game since our bye, so guys are disappointed, mad, frustrated. I’m frustrated,” Pederson said. “We know what’s in front of us. We know what’s at stake.”
If it was a strange Eagles team that finished the night, it was an equally one that began it. Any time an NFL team dresses the same number of quarterbacks as wide receivers, it is an odd night. That was the case, however, for the Eagles. That must mean Mack Hollins was released last week so Nate Sudfeld could be the third quarterback
In any case, only Jeffery, J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, and Greg Ward were active receivers, with hybrid tight ends Zach Ertz and Joshua Perkins available as targets, along with running backs Miles Sanders and Boston Scott. It was a thin group — not that Hollins would have improved it much — and made the Eagles look a quart low on roster preparation.
They won the game with Perkins and Scott making big plays, with Halapoulavaati Vaitai holding down the right tackle position, and with Rasul Douglas and, most unlikely of all, Sidney Jones, filling in for Mills. Scott, Ward, Perkins, and Arcega-Whiteside either tied or set their career highs for receptions.
They also won the game with Wentz dropping back 53 times to pass, being sacked three times, getting hit while throwing another 10 times, and taking punishment that could have knocked him out for the night as well. He survived this time and lifted his team to the giddy heights of 6-7.
New York was gassed by the end, and knew that Manning had nothing left to rally them. When Wentz finished things off by finding Ertz for the game-winning score, the fireworks roared, and the fans that remained through the deluge shook their fists at the sky as if beating the Giants meant something.
It does, of course. It means the Eagles, as always in the NFC East, still have a seat at the table. No forking around.