Nelson Agholor watched from the sideline on Monday night with a green puffy jacket and winter hat. He watched the Eagles wide receivers. He watched the Green Bay Packers wide receivers. But mostly, he just watched an opportunity missed.
"Some of the things that really stuck out to me was realizing a game that I love, I didn't get a chance to play," Agholor said Wednesday. "The fact that I didn't get to play that day was an eye opener. You have to make sure you always have fun every opportunity you do have to play."
Agholor said he wanted to play, but he respected coach Doug Pederson's decision to sit him after finding out on Sunday night. He did not know whether he would play this weekend against the Cincinnati Bengals. Pederson said he has not yet made that decision. It would seem playing would be the only way for Agholor to regain his confidence, but he didn't want to indulge in that possibility.
"I'm not a therapist, and I'm not a coach," Agholor said. "My job is to prepare to play football."
Pederson said the objective for Agholor was to see the game differently without the pressure to perform – pressure both from him and the team.
Agholor has not had problems catching the ball in practice, but that doesn't count in the standings or on the stat sheet. In practice, the Eagles work off cards that indicate the plays for the offense and defense. The only audience is team personnel and the video cameras overhead.
"Sometimes they make great plays, and you're scratching your head going, 'Wow, that was a nice play, a great route, a great play, and a great catch,' " Pederson said. "So the connection there is, play . . . where you're not thinking. You're just going and reacting to what the defense or the offense presents. It's easier said than done, obviously. But that's how Nelson right now needs to attack this."
That message has come through to Agholor. His emphasis during his first public comments since his benching was about having "fun," as if this was Pop Warner and not the NFL. But for Agholor, that appears to be imperative. He needs to deemphasize the situation, the expectations, even the result of the play.
"That's what I'm going to put an emphasis on," Agholor said. "Having fun is the most important thing. Because when you have fun, you don't even think. You react. You just play hard. God gave me great abilities, and right now I'm in position to take advantage of them."
Agholor even suggested he was "grateful for what happened last week," because it realigned his perspective. He repeated that he's doing what he's always wanted to do, what he worked for as a child who emigrated from Nigeria, as a five-star recruit in Tampa, as a college standout at Southern California.
"I wanted to . . . play against the Green Bay Packers as a kid," Agholor said. "Seeing that I wasn't in that game reminded me that it was an opportunity that was given to me by hard work and preparation. I have to enjoy those moments every time I'm on the field."
Agholor's approval rating in Philadelphia has descended in recent weeks but apparently not among all fans. He said he received hand-written notes from fans offering support, and he expressed appreciation from those who did.
"People care," Agholor said.
It's probably best that Agholor doesn't hear what the others think. But the only way those opinions will change is if Agholor plays again and can become more productive.
Jordan Matthews sprained his ankle on Monday, but he will play against the Bengals. Dorial Green-Beckham had the best game of his season without Agholor on the field. But he was already playing even before Agholor's exile to the bench. Rookie wide receivers Bryce Treggs and Paul Turner were the main beneficiaries, and they combined for one catch in 67 snaps against one of the NFL's worst pass defenses.
So the Eagles might not necessarily be better without Agholor. It's going to be up to Pederson to determine if one week away for Agholor was enough to accomplish what Pederson wanted.
"My team needs me," Agholor said, "and I want to be there for my team."