Eagles hope London getaway perfect timing as they struggle to save their season
London trip offers a chance to bond, and breaks the intense focus on what went wrong last Sunday against Carolina.
SUNBURY-ON-THAMES, England –- In the immediate wake of last Sunday's crushing foldup against the Carolina Panthers, in which the Eagles turned a 17-0 fourth-quarter lead into a loss, this trip loomed as a needless distraction.
The Eagles needed to buckle down and try to save their season, not sightsee, or worry about the pounds-to-dollars conversion rate.
But by the time the bleary-eyed players and coaches stumbled out of a trio of buses onto their practice field at the London Irish Rugby Football Club's Hazelwood training grounds Friday, the feeling had changed.
Maybe this jaunt to London for Sunday's game against the Jacksonville Jaguars comes at a good time. Maybe having to deal with everything involved in crossing the Atlantic on Thursday night, adjusting to a five-hour time difference, and practicing on a rugby field kept players from dwelling on how embarrassed and inept they were. Maybe spending some forced time together, away from the NovaCare practice fields and meeting rooms, can help them reclaim their lost mojo.
Hey, it's a desperate time for the 3-4 defending Super Bowl champions.
"I think this trip right here is a great time for us to be away as a football team. That's obviously something that we need, to be together like this for a couple of days," Eagles coach Doug Pederson said Friday.
"And really, I think, too, the guys understand kind of where they are, what they've done, what they've not done, and they're saying and doing the right things. The way they attack the practice, the little walk-through we do on Tuesday, to the practices on Wednesday and Thursday. There's no pointing of the finger. They've embraced everything. They know that they've let some games slip. They're just excited to get back out on the field."
Pederson and players likened this to last year's West Coast trip, when the Eagles spent a week practicing in Southern California between games at Seattle and at the Los Angeles Rams.
"In L.A. we were all together. Here we're all together, and it's just us," Pederson said. "So that kind of brings you together just a little bit, and guys get to hang out, if they decide to do something later today or tomorrow. I think it's important that they bond that way."
"We're not really looking at it as a vacation," said running back Corey Clement. He recalled the week in California last year as being very beneficial to him as a rookie, spending some time with veterans.
"Last year, I mostly hung out with [offensive] linemen," Clement said. He said he got insight into how they thought, who they were, and added: "It translates on the field. They look at you different. Not to say they didn't trust you before, but they know what type of guy you are."
Tight end Zach Ertz said a city tour is planned for the team Saturday, though some players have media obligations that might make it hard for them to attend.
Ertz said after Friday's practice, which featured a harder surface and longer grass than the team is accustomed to, that there was "probably more energy than I initially thought there would be," given the teamwide lack of sleep. He added that the state of the NFC East means "we've got the whole season in front of us, still."
Quarterback Carson Wentz had a similar feeling about practice.
"I thought the energy was great. Getting off the bus, getting off the plane today, definitely everyone looked tired," Wentz said. "But once we got out here, it just looked like everyone was kind of energized, revitalized, ready to go."
Wentz touted the fast turnaround from Sunday's debacle, forced by circumstances.
"Practice has been great all week, energy has been great. Guys are hungry to turn it around. They know – everyone on that field today knows that's not how we finish. That's not how we do, so everyone is hungry to get back after it."
Wentz was asked if this was like last year's trip, by a questioner who might have forgotten how that week turned out for the quarterback — with a knee injury against the Rams that ended Wentz's season.
"I hope not," Wentz said, drawing a laugh from the assembled intercontinental media. He agreed that "it's a unique week," as the Eagles become the 29th of 32 NFL teams to play in London.
Like many fans, Wentz was frustrated in his inability to pull the team out of its nosedive on the final series, when the Eagles pushed the ball inside the 20-yard line but couldn't score the game-winning points.
"I'm confident in my ability, and really, the guys around me. … We do it in practice, we've done it in games before. We just have to finish better," Wentz said. "Some of that's just communication. … Some of that's just taking what's there, not trying to force anything."
Right after saying that, Wentz defended his third-down decision, when he tried to force a pass to Alshon Jeffery in the end zone, instead of taking a check-down to Wendell Smallwood that would have given the team a fresh set of downs.
Wentz said he thought the upside was high enough to risk going to Jeffery, and that if he didn't get the completion, he "felt confident in fourth-and-2."
As it turned out, his pocket collapsed and the ball was stripped out of his hands as he raised it to pass, ending the offense's day with a fourth-down fumble.
"It's easy to look back in hindsight and say I should have just taken Smallwood in the flat," Wentz said.
It sounds as if Sunday's game at Wembley Stadium might offer some similar choices, with Jeffery probably lined up against one of the game's top corners, Jacksonville's Jalen Ramsey.
"Staying patient is big against defenses like this," Wentz said. "Sometimes they play a lot of soft zone and make you just earn it all the way down the field."
Sproles situation remains mysterious
Pederson was asked about the mysterious hamstring strain of 35-year-old running back and returner Darren Sproles, who hasn't played since the Sept. 6 opener.
"He's definitely a day-by-day case," Pederson said. "I'm not going to get into the specifics of the injury and all. He continues to work. … You want to make sure that thing's 100 percent."
Pederson denied there was anything wrong beyond the hamstring.
"I believe so," he said, when asked if he is confident Sproles will play this season at some point.
The Eagles listed defensive tackle Haloti Ngata as questionable, although he was a full practice participant Friday. Ngata has missed the last three games with a calf injury.
"He's been doing well, trending up," said Pederson, who said Ngata would probably be a game-time decision, for a defensive line whose ranks have thinned. The Eagles ruled out safety Corey Graham (hamstring) on Friday.