No one wants to tell Jason Peters that he’s not the player he used to be. Inside the Eagles’ locker room, there’s too much respect for him. When Peters tore the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in his right knee on Oct. 23, 2017, two weeks later offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland said: “I about want to cry right now.” Two weeks. For years, Peters’ teammates have spoken about him with a kind of awe and reverence reserved only for the elite of the sport’s elite. “Never wavered since I’ve been here,” center Jason Kelce once said. “He doesn’t like getting beat in practices or games. He takes it very personally. That level of competitiveness and drive has helped a guy with his level of talent play that way for so long.”
Outside the Eagles’ locker room, there’s the matter of having to ask Peters the big questions: What’s happening with those false-start penalties? How much longer will you keep playing? He is 6-feet-4 and 328 pounds, and his defiance and pride can make him intimidating. A group of reporters approached him after the Eagles’ 17-9 win Sunday over the Cowboys — a game in which Peters committed a false-start penalty and a block-in-the-back penalty and allowed a strip-sack by Dallas defensive end Robert Quinn — and one of them asked Peters whether he’d considered the possibility that this Sunday’s game, against the Giants, might be the last of his 16-year career.
“You tell me somebody that’s better than me, and I’ll walk away from the game,” he said. “You got somebody?”
No one comes to mind, the reporter replied.
“OK, then. I’m going to keep rolling.”
It sounds great. JP keeps rolling, and the Eagles keep rolling, and on and on they go into the playoffs. The reality isn’t so tidy. Peters leads the team in penalties this season, with nine. Peters has lost a step. As much as he might refuse to admit it, he has. But Peters is also right. The Eagles don’t have a better option at left tackle. They’re not going to yank Peters out of the lineup and replace him with rookie Andre Dillard. Dillard would be too green, too rusty, and the Eagles don’t have the depth or the time to start shifting players into unfamiliar spots.
But the truth is the truth, and it’s stark: Both tackle spots are potential soft targets as long as that high-ankle sprain keeps Lane Johnson on the sideline. Peters on the left, Halapoulivaati Vaitai on the right: Some weaknesses, you can’t fix. Some, you have to live with. Some, you just have to try to survive. This is one.
“I thought Jason played well,” coach Doug Pederson said Monday. “I thought the offensive line played well as a whole.”
There were some concerning moments, though — plays that, against an opponent with a more competent coaching staff than the Cowboys’, might have flipped the game’s outcome. On third-and-1 early in the second quarter, Carson Wentz had Greg Ward open on a quick throw for a first down, but Vaitai “got edged,” Pederson said, by Demarcus Lawrence, who batted down Wentz’s pass.
That block-in-the-back penalty against Peters was borderline, sure, but nevertheless: It negated a 19-yard gain on a screen pass to Dallas Goedert and slowed a drive that ended with Jake Elliott’s second missed field goal. And the Eagles were fortunate that, once Quinn hair-pinned around Peters and slapped the football out of Wentz’s hand, Wentz immediately fell on the ball.
It doesn’t take much to envision linebacker Markus Golden, who leads the Giants this season with 9.5 sacks, pulling off the same sort of move, zooming past Peters and causing chaos for Wentz this Sunday. Again, no one wants to see that happen to Peters. He will be a Hall of Famer someday. He’s maybe the most respected player in the locker room. No one wants to see that happen. But no one can deny that it might.
“There’s obviously some things,” Pederson said. “There was a couple of times he overset, got beat inside on a couple of things. But I thought overall he played well, did some really good things for us. It was unfortunate, the one penalty, the screen. That’s going to happen. The defender turned his back and got blocked in the back on that particular play. But JP is a veteran. He’s a warrior. And it’s good to see him in the lineup this late in the season, too.”
This is Jason Peters we’re talking about, after all. With the NFC East championship and the playoffs at stake, who would the Eagles rather have out there? He turns 38 in January, and the questions keep coming, and no one comes to mind. Which might just be the reason to worry.