Doug Pederson sent his players off for a weeklong break on Monday warning them of another tough opponent they'll encounter: success.
The Eagles have rallied around the idea that few believed in them during the first three weeks of the season. Now that they have converted many skeptics after opening the season 3-0 and dominating the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday, the Eagles coach wants his players to resist the congratulatory pats on their backs in the two weeks before they play again, Oct. 9 in Detroit.
"The biggest thing is complacency," Pederson said. "You think you've arrived. You think you are all that. When that creeps in, that's when you get beat. It's my job not to let that creep in. I've got to keep the guys focused and grounded. I told them this week they're going to travel and go home and people are going to pat them on the back and say how great they are. But next Monday, I'm going to tell them, 'Hey, we're back to work. We're zero and zero. This is game one and let's go.' "
The Eagles are one of five unbeaten teams remaining in the NFL, including the New England Patriots, Baltimore Ravens, Denver Broncos, and Minnesota Vikings. They are plus-65 in point differential, which is the best mark in the NFL. The defense has held opponents to a league-low 27 points.
The accolades can extend to just about any position, but none more than quarterback. Carson Wentz is the first quarterback in NFL history with 100-plus pass attempts, 60-plus completions, 5-plus touchdowns, and no interceptions in his first three games. He is ranked in the top 10 in the NFL in quarterback rating, and Pederson is running out of ways to compliment him. The quarterback comparisons from the coaching staff in recent weeks include Alex Smith, Andrew Luck, Jim Kelly, and Peyton Manning.
Pederson said Wentz's challenge is similar to the team's: With more success, how does he respond?
"I think he gets it, personally, by just being around him," Pederson said. "We'll definitely have those conversations, not only this week, but just as we go. It's my job to shelter him from all the outside noise [and] from people pulling on his time. The bottom line is we've got to keep the main thing the main thing, and that's football. He's done a great job so far and I expect the same going forward."
The players understand what is about to come their way. Some said they never paid attention to outside expectations, but even they likely could not have not envisioned a 31-point victory over the Steelers or this type of start to the season. Many players experienced Philadelphia when fan interest has similarly peaked - remember when the Eagles were 9-3 in 2014, or after the third preseason game last year? - and they know the fickle nature of success in the NFL.
"We kind of enjoy flying under the radar, but I think obviously a win like this against a team like the Steelers will open some eyes around the league," safety Malcolm Jenkins said. "For us, nothing is different. We'll keep our preparation the same, stick our heads down and focus on the work day to day, and understand what has gotten us to 3-0."
Even though the team has momentum, Jenkins was not disappointed in the early bye week. He said it comes at a "good spot" because Pederson put the team through a tough training camp. They had a quick turnaround last week after Monday Night Football, and they'll be able to rest to prepare for a three-month stretch. Wide receiver Jordan Matthews said he ordinarily wouldn't like the bye week so early, but he's happy this year because they're expected to get tight end Zach Ertz back after the break.
Pederson gave the players the whole week off. He brought them in on Monday and plans to practice again next Monday, but he's not having any team activities until then.
"The message is just get away," Pederson said. "Get away from football and kind of free your mind a little bit. It's been a long, hard training camp . . . right into the regular season. They've had three physical football games already. Get healthy, rejuvenate, rest and come back ready to go. Because we've got 13 straight weeks and it's one at a time."
Pederson said he learned the challenge of remaining humble amid success. He knows that teams alive in January arrive there different ways. In the last 10 seasons, 48 teams have started 3-0. Thirty-six of those teams have made the playoffs, but 12 finished their seasons in Week 17. For some of the players in the locker room, they only need to remember 2014, when they started 3-0 but collapsed in December.
"Twenty-two years in the National Football League, you've seen a lot of ball," Pederson said. "You have been on teams that have started fast; you have been on teams that started slow. It's just how you stay the course. You can't substitute preparation, hard work, for anything."