Phil Sheridan: Eagles make statement, for now
In most NFL seasons, the Eagles' laugh-riot 40-17 dismantling of the New York Giants would count as a statement game. This year? Not so much.
In most NFL seasons, the Eagles' laugh-riot 40-17 dismantling of the New York Giants would count as a statement game. First day of November, weather turning cold, first big NFC East matchup - you would come away from such a game believing something definitive had been established.
This year? Not so much. The Eagles' statement turns out to be merely that they are the class of the division for a period beginning at about 2 p.m. yesterday and ending with kickoff against the Dallas Cowboys next Sunday night.
There are a handful of really good teams in the NFL this year. Everyone else is capable of looking as inept as the Eagles did in Oakland two weeks ago or as dominant as they looked against the Giants.
It's the Any Given Sunday concept carried to its illogical extreme.
"When I can explain those things," Andy Reid said, "I'll be undefeated. Sometimes those are hard to explain."
The Eagles are 5-2 now and in first place in the division. That guarantees them nothing except the opportunity to build themselves into a legitimate player in the postseason. Until someone turns the kaleidoscope again, the picture that is forming of these Eagles is a cause for cautious optimism.
We've learned they were not in the same class as the New Orleans Saints, but that September blowout came with the Eagles reeling from the loss of Donovan McNabb and an unsettled offensive line. Besides, a couple turnovers can make a game lopsided in a hurry. Ask the Giants.
McNabb missed two games because of the rib he fractured in the season opener in Carolina. He had played three games since then and clearly he was struggling - whether with pain or the fear of reinjury or both - in those games. The state of the offensive line made both issues more unsettling.
Yesterday, McNabb looked sharp for the first time. This was not a coincidence.
"I'm getting there [physically]," McNabb said. "The two weeks [off] and the bye week helped out in many ways. Any time bone bruises or breaks happen, you know for it to fully heal is going to take a lot of time. I just continue to drink milk and take my magnesium and iron to get the bone to fully heal before I get back to 100 percent."
Said Reid, "You forget he's coming off a rib injury where most guys are out four to six weeks. He's a pretty tough guy."
McNabb reached back to 2001 for a couple of scrambles to get out of trouble. And he was right on target with most of his throws. The long touchdown pass to DeSean Jackson was a beauty and the bullet to Jeremy Maclin was perfectly placed for the rookie receiver to make an excellent catch in tight coverage.
As for the issue that will help define Reid's tenure, the Eagles ran the kind of balanced offense that everyone besides the head coach and his offensive coordinator consider necessary for consistent success. LeSean McCoy and Leonard Weaver combined for 157 rushing yards. As always after such a game, the players raved about the importance of running the ball.
"It keeps the defensive front off balance," tackle Winston Justice said. "It feels good when we run the ball. God willing, we get to keep it up."
The man upstairs in this case is Reid. He and Marty Mornhinweg would concede only that it was a priority to run the ball against the Giants. There is no reason to believe they won't go pass-happy again if their game plan calls for it. Worse, there's no reason they won't keep throwing even when that strategy is getting them destroyed, as in Oakland.
The other big lesson from this game is that the Eagles' transition from one era to the next continues in real time. The absence of Brian Westbrook didn't hurt the offense. In some ways, it may have helped.
Jackson, McCoy, Maclin and Brent Celek are the present and the future of this offense. They represent the most complete array of weapons McNabb has ever had to work with at one time. Westbrook can still be a factor, to be sure. No one is knocking him. But when he's not on the field, Reid and Mornhinweg are compelled to get the ball to the youngsters.
If this group can stay healthy and continue to develop, and if the line can cohere long enough to keep McNabb functioning at a high level, then very good things are possible.
"We've just touched the surface," McNabb said.
The only real question in the NFL is whether a team is capable of reaching the postseason. For the Eagles, the answer is yes. That's the statement they made against the Giants, and it is a certainty - at least until they play the Cowboys.