The Eagles got to work and got the job done, but still aren’t satisfied | Marcus Hayes
"This is who we are," says Carson Wentz. "Desperation," says Zach Ertz. "Take ownership," says Doug Pederson.
The party's over. At last.
The Eagles enjoyed their three-day weekend and will be eager to get back to work Monday; but, really, they got back to work Thursday night — finally — when they beat the Giants. Afterward, Carson Wentz shook a few hands, submitted to a TV interview, prayed, then jogged off the field. Jordan Hicks chatted with a couple of Giants, knelt next to Wentz, then ran off, too. Zach Ertz gave several interviews before he left. Jalen Mills, usually ebullient in victory, didn't linger at all.
The common denominator: Nobody smiled.
"You don't see a lot of happy, happy, joy, joy? That's because we're not satisfied," Mills said a few minutes after the game. "We know that we're a better team. I'm not satisfied. Nobody has to tell anybody not to smile."
MetLife Stadium was so utterly without Eagles in celebration, you wouldn't have known they'd blown out their hosts by three touchdowns if you didn't look at the scoreboard. If not for the uniforms, they might have been mistaken for plumbers, or farmers, or sanitation engineers, heading for home after a good day's work. They'd fixed the toilet. They'd fed the cows. They'd taken out the trash.
They'd gone to work, and they'd done their job. They were grim. Thin-lipped. Matter-of-fact.
"We weren't in desperation mode," said Ertz, "but we were close."
Maybe it was desperation that chased the Eagles' Super Bowl hangover. Maybe the thought of a ruined season ended the longest victory lap since Buster Douglas.
They were 2-3, with a plenty of reasons to lose: The top two running backs were out; both offensive tackles played hurt; the secondary was as flammable as chicken grease. These were the sorts of issues that somehow made them better last season. Maybe those issues made them better Thursday, too.
Two first-quarter touchdowns after one in the previous five first quarters. Four total penalties, less than half of their average in the first five games. Carson Wentz with his best game since his Game 3 return: 26-for-36, 278 yards, three touchdowns and, crucially, no turnovers.
"This," Wentz said, "is who we are."
Is it? Then what were they for the first five games? When they blew it in Tampa? When they choked in Tennessee? When the Vikings pillaged Lincoln Financial Field?
They were living in February, basking in the afterglow of franchise's first Super Bowl title in the 52-year history of the game. Doug Pederson, their coach, knows it was true, because he won't say it wasn't. He's been asked several times whether his team is suffering from a Super Bowl hangover. You know what he's never said? "No."
He said this last Monday: "I don't know. You probably ask them because I'm over it. … "It's a challenge, quite honestly, it is a challenge."
Pederson then referenced what he saw as a backup quarterback for the 1997 Packers, who were defending Super Bowl champs who never quite regrouped. On Friday, he seemed convinced that the hangover was gone. He seemed sure that the rock-solid accountability and resilience from 2017 had finally surfaced in 2018.
"At some point — when I talk about ownership — the guys have to take it upon themselves to make the necessary changes, to fix," Pederson said. "We can't go down — our behavior has to change, right? Our standards have to change just a little bit. They have to elevate just a little bit. And I can stand up here and talk to the team until I'm blue in the face, but until they realize it, until they take ownership of it, until they sort of embrace it, it probably won't change."
It took a Nashville meltdown and a revenge visit from their NFC Championship opponent to elicit change. Pederson noticed.
"They're not complaining about a short week," Pederson said. "They're not making excuses for injury. And that's what our culture has established. That's what a veteran sort of led team can establish, and they've embraced that, and they've risen to the challenge. I think they'd had enough, and quite honestly, they rose to the occasion [Thursday] night."
So: No smiling.
Linebacker Nigel Bradham reported that the players were almost as subdued in the locker room as they were on the field.
"We know where our focus is," said Bradham, who was invisible in the first five games. 'We're happy with this one, but we're ready to get to the next one."
The Next One is Sunday, when Cam Newton and the Panthers visit. A win in Game 6 at Carolina last season stamped the Eagles as the NFC's best team. A win over Carolina in Game 7 this season should convince any doubters of the Eagles' viability as Super Bowl contenders. A win over the hapless Giants won't convince anyone of anything except that the Eagles aren't completely hapless, too.
"This is the first complete game we played," said defensive tackle Fletcher Cox. "Now, you see what happens when we don't shoot ourselves in the foot."
"Everyone was very focused," Ertz explained. "In the first five weeks, the production wasn't there. We'd been stringing things along. There would be lapses."
"We've got so much ball ahead of us," Cox said. "It was great to get a win, but the guys in this locker room know we have a lot of ball ahead of us."
They're only 3-3. They have toilets to fix. Cattle to feed. And lots more trash to remove.