This, so far, has all the makings of one of those seasons for the Eagles. You know the kind of season: one with high or even reasonable hopes that the Eagles, for whatever reason, fail to meet. They used to have them pretty regularly, but they haven’t had one, not really, since 2015, when Jeffrey Lurie tested Chip Kelly’s ability to build a roster, Kelly went buck-wild Byron Maxwell style, the Eagles lost their first two games on their way to a 7-9 record, and Lurie grew so tired of and exasperated with Kelly that he fired him before the final game.
After Super Bowl LII, a lot of people had license to forget 2015 and the frequent heartache that came before it, and they probably did. But 2015 was real, and it was not spectacular, and it led Lurie and Howie Roseman to find a coach who was a more amiable fellow than Kelly and who was a closer fit philosophically to what they wanted, and it compelled them to chase down a franchise quarterback in the subsequent draft. So they got Doug Pederson and Carson Wentz, and once those two had a full season under their belts, there came expectations, and there have been results: a league championship, two division championships, three playoff appearances, a reputation that you count the Eagles out of any game or any season at the risk of your credibility.
But here the Eagles are now, 0-2 after their 37-19 loss Sunday to the Los Angeles Rams, and it is an ugly 0-2. It’s an 0-2 that can’t be rationalized away. Oh, we’re a play away here or there. We’ll get this right before long. Pederson and his players sang from that hymnal after this loss, and they’ll keep belting it out. They lost Wentz in 2017 and won the Super Bowl. They were 5-7 in 2018 and reached the postseason. They were 5-7 in 2019 and won the NFC East. And he will raise them up on eagle’s wings ...
“Whatever it is we see, we try to address it,” defensive end Brandon Graham said. “That’s what I love with this team. Right now, through adversity, people start to point the finger, but that’s not us. Guys owned up to what they did today. The sky is not falling. … We didn’t work this hard all offseason to turn our back on each other.”
But it was easier for Graham to make the case for the Eagles' resiliency when they were, up and down, a more experienced, sounder team – when Malcolm Jenkins was around to sort out any confusion in the defensive backfield, when Brandon Brooks was making sure an Eagles running back wasn’t getting touched for at least 3 yards, when Wentz trusted that Alshon Jeffery or Torrey Smith would be exactly where he was supposed to be on a 12-yard dig route. That reassurance isn’t there anymore. The Eagles are too green at some positions and not talented enough at others, and the troubling aspect to each of their losses, to going from squandering a 17-point lead against Washington to spotting the Rams an 18-point lead Sunday, was how uncompetitive they were for as long as they were.
At Lincoln Financial Field, empty of fans, the Eagles' defense spent most of the first half Sunday implementing an additional measure of social distancing. Rams quarterback Jared Goff completed his first 13 passes. Receivers were running wide-open all over the field. What made those breakdowns infuriating is this: According to safety Rodney McLeod, nothing that Los Angeles and its wunderkind coach, Sean McVay, drew up surprised the Eagles.
“We started to chase plays rather than be in the moment,” McLeod said. “We were the undisciplined team.”
The offense wasn’t much better. The telltale sign of a team bound to disappoint is its inability to meet the measure of a moment, the lousy timing of its worst mistakes. Miles Sanders touched the ball on each of the Eagles' first three plays from scrimmage. He fumbled on the third. The Rams recovered and scored the game’s first touchdown. The Eagles had an opportunity to take the lead in the third quarter, and Wentz locked in on JJ Arcega-Whiteside, tried to thread a pass between two defenders, and was intercepted in the end zone. It was the second straight week you could identify a Wentz interception as a game’s turning point. The Eagles cut the Rams' lead to five early in the fourth quarter, and their defense immediately allowed Los Angeles to drive 75 yards in just three plays, allowed tailback Darrell Henderson to rip off a 40-yard run, allowed Goff to find tight end Tyler Higbee for an easy 28-yard touchdown. Ugly, all of it.
“I try not to look at it big-picture,” center Jason Kelce said. “Obviously, very frustrating to be 0-2. On to next week. It’s only going to stop when we start winning games. I don’t think it behooves you to look too far past our next opponent.”
That opponent is the Cincinnati Bengals, who were the NFL’s worst team last year. In another season, you could guarantee they’d be the perfect elixir for any ailing football team. You can’t guarantee anything for the Eagles this season. But in the main, you should bet on the letdown.