Let’s say you were frozen in carbonite, Han Solo-style, for the last six weeks. And let’s say your friends and guardians defrosted you early Sunday evening. And let’s say, after you got over your hibernation sickness and after your eyesight returned, the first thing you did was check the score of Sunday’s Eagles game, and you saw: Eagles 31, Jets 6.
You’d be ecstatic. You’d assume the Eagles were crisp and dominant and damn near flawless. You might notice that their record was 3-2, that they had won their last two games, and you might conclude that they were hitting their stride and rounding into the form that would make them a Super Bowl favorite.
And there would be your mistake – not in thinking that the Eagles can’t or won’t be a championship contender this season, but in drawing any conclusions about them based on Sunday’s final score or their performance in that game. It wouldn’t be your fault. Hanging there on Jabba the Hut’s wall, you wouldn’t have known any better. But you’d still be wrong.
Were the Eagles dominant Sunday? They certainly were on defense: 10 quarterback sacks, three interceptions, two touchdowns. But they were playing the Jets.
Imagine an NFL team having a bye week and still being awarded a victory, and you begin to understand what it’s like to play the Jets this season. The Jets are 0-4. Their young franchise quarterback, Sam Darnold, has missed three games because of mononucleosis, and their touchdown against the Eagles was just the second they’ve scored on offense this entire season.
They are shorthanded, poorly coached, and recognize already that, unless Darnold returns from his illness and plays better than any quarterback ever has, their season is heading nowhere. Good teams beat bad teams. All teams beat the Jets.
In doing so, the Eagles didn’t look crisp, and they were light years from flawless. They committed nine penalties, punted five times, muffed a Jets punt, and mustered just 265 yards of total offense. The Jets are bad, but the Eagles were sloppy, and their head coach knew it and couldn’t hide his displeasure.
Throughout his postgame Q&A, Doug Pederson kept his hands shoved into the pockets of the black track pants he was wearing, as if, if he didn’t keep them there, he wasn’t sure what sorts of gestures he might make with them. When asked if his team had played well, Pederson was nothing if not direct.
“No, no, no,” he said. “One, the penalties. You saw on offense how average we played. For instance, a first-down run for 9 [yards], and then holding. The penalties just put us in too many long situations today: second-and-long, third-and-long. … We can’t make those mistakes and expect to win each week.”
Especially the next five weeks. All of the Eagles’ opponents over that span – the Minnesota Vikings, the Dallas Cowboys, the Buffalo Bills, the Chicago Bears, the New England Patriots – have winning records. The first three of those games are on the road, and in any of them, an effort similar to the one the Eagles offered against the Jets will result in a loss at best and embarrassment at worst.
They were fortunate Sunday to face a quarterback, Luke Falk, who probably ought not to be starting games in the NFL, and he handed them two touchdowns: one on an interception return by linebacker Nate Gerry, one on a strip-sack by cornerback Orlando Scandrick. There are no Luke Falks left on the Eagles’ schedule.
“Obviously, there were spells where we weren’t on the field for a long period of time,” tight end Zach Ertz said. “It is a little tough to find rhythm, but it is not an excuse for the overall performance. I’m not going to take away from the win, because it really was a good team win. But little things, I think, we can be better at as a whole, as an offense, and we will be.”
They can be and have been. Their previous victory, in Green Bay over a Packers team that had been unbeaten, indicated that they can rise to meet the measure of an important moment, and this upcoming stretch gives them the opportunity to confirm it.
Win all three of these road games, and … well, let’s keep that thought at a safe distance for now. Win two of those three, especially that intradivisional matchup against the Cowboys, and they’ll be in solid shape. Win one of those three, and there will still be questions aplenty. Lose all three, and … well, Lincoln Financial Field might no longer be standing by the time the Eagles are scheduled to play there again.