Good morning. I’m writing this on a red-eye flight back from Los Angeles, and I’ll admit, I thought I’d be close to writing an obituary on the season. Instead, the Eagles’ 30-23 upset of the Los Angeles Rams keeps them in contention for the NFC wild card and brings back memories of last year’s team.
Doug Pederson will have his noon news conference and the players will be off today, recovering from a big win and resting and recovering after an overnight flight home.
This is a Monday edition of the Early Birds newsletter. I want to know what you think, what we should add, and what you want to read, so send me feedback by email or on Twitter @ZBerm. Thank you for reading.
— Zach Berman
Eagles ‘make a stand’ against the Rams
Who saw this coming?
Even the most optimistic Eagles fans would have had a hard time persuading objective observers that the team would go into Los Angeles, where the Rams were undefeated this season, and pull off the upset as a double-digit underdog. But these are the Eagles, and this is Nick Foles, and they tend to thrive when there’s little reason to believe in them.
Get your hopes up for the Dallas game? A backbreaking loss. Count them out against the Rams? A stunning victory.
With this win, the Eagles stay alive. It’s not an odds-on scenario for them to make the playoffs, but it’s plausible that they could win their final two games and Carolina and Minnesota could each lose a game. There will be scoreboard watching. Of course, the Eagles need to fulfill their end. But if they play as they did Sunday, they will.
The offense had a good mix of run and pass with 31 passes and 30 runs. Foles had good protection — the Rams did not sack him — and was willing to take deep shots, and the Eagles remembered to give Alshon Jeffery a chance to make catches. The defense forced turnovers, played aggressively, and made the critical stop at the end of the game. Even the special teams made key plays, such as D.J. Alexander recovering the fourth-quarter fumble on the punt and good punting by Cameron Johnston.
But more than any of that, they played inspired. It was apparent on the field. This was not a team counting down until the season ended to go on vacation. This was similar to last season, when they had a joy and spirit and fight that were apparent for all to see. Frankly, that has been missing at times this season.
“At the end of the day, it starts with the leadership of the team putting our foot in the ground and saying, ‘We want to make a stand,’ ” safety Malcolm Jenkins said. “We want to continue to play, and if we want our dreams to continue, we’ve got to go take it. ... We’ve got the mentality that we’ve got to go steal whatever it is that we want. It’s not going to be easy, and nobody asked it to be. We’re fine with doing something special and extraordinary.”
Jenkins set the tone in the locker room after the win over the Rams one year ago, when Wentz went down. Jenkins spoke again after the game Sunday, and he tried to set the tone again for this last stand.
“As you get wins like this, it creates energy in that belief,” Jenkins said. “Not that it wasn’t there, but you prove it to yourself. We have examples that when we put it together, this is what it looks like. So now, the challenge to the leaders on this team is how do you keep that energy going? …This is what it looks like when we put it together as a team. And the biggest thing, we had fun doing it, and this is what we’ve been trying to get to all year. It’s obviously hard to have fun when you’re not winning.”
There are going to be questions about what the Eagles will do at quarterback. Those questions won’t go away until Doug Pederson makes an announcement. He wouldn’t say after the game whether he’s sticking with Foles. But will Carson Wentz be fully healthy by Sunday? That’s hard to believe. And at this point, it would make sense to make sure Wentz is right and continue to ride with Foles. That’s why he’s here.
I don’t think anything can happen that will change the way the Eagles view their long-term quarterback situation — nor should it, because Wentz is the franchise quarterback for a reason and the Eagles are fortunate to have him — but Foles has shown time and time again that he can win games. Right now, that’s all the Eagles need.
They have two games remaining, and they need to win both and get help elsewhere. It might not be enough, but they’ll at least make it interesting. Because as Sunday revealed, the Eagles still believe.
What you need to know about the Eagles
There’s something about these Eagles — or maybe it’s something about Nick Foles — that whenever they’re counted out, they make you reconsider.
Alshon Jeffery and the deep passing game came alive, Jeff McLane writes.
The Eagles defense made big plays when it mattered, Les Bowen writes.
You’ve seen this before: Nick Foles was at his best when the Eagles needed him the most, Mike Sielski writes.
The Eagles have long-term questions to answer, but before then, they’re very much alive, David Murphy writes.
Fletcher Cox left briefly, but he returned for a big sack.
Paul Domowitch offers his Eagles-Rams grades.
From the mailbag ...
I would never say never, and I’m a firm believer that once you’re in, you have a shot. The records go out the window; the way you played earlier this year doesn’t matter. Of course, seeding matters for home-field advantage and a bye week, and the Eagles would have neither, but if they beat the Rams, they can play with anybody.
That said, I wouldn’t pick them to win three games on the road. You’d probably be looking at something like Chicago, New Orleans/Los Angeles, New Orleans/Los Angeles. That’s a hard trifecta. As well as the Eagles played Sunday, they haven’t done it consistently. Maybe they’ll find their stride now, but they must sustain this play and avoid the inconsistencies that plagued them this year to believe they can be legitimate contenders.
I’ll preface this by saying whenever Carson Wentz can play, he should play. But my guess is they go with Nick Foles and let Wentz get healthy. I don’t think Doug Pederson last week said three months arbitrarily. Then again, they didn’t put Wentz on injured reserve for a reason. And knowing Wentz, he’ll do everything he can to play.
I’d have no reservations about Wentz’s being the quarterback of the future — that hasn’t changed and it shouldn’t change. But with Foles on the roster and given the nature of Wentz’s back injury, I’d make sure Wentz gets right. Of course, there are a lot of dynamics at play, and that’s up to Pederson to manage.
No, Josh Adams seemed fine by the end of the game. He played on the last drive. He continued playing after passing a concussion test and being examined for a back injury. I spoke to him after the game, and he didn’t sound concerned.
Adams didn’t have his best game (15 carries, 28 yards, one touchdown), but the Eagles need him these final two weeks. They’ll continue using Adams, Darren Sproles, and Wendell Smallwood to try to keep a balanced attack.