This is a good time for Eagles to catch their breath, and adjust to great expectations
If they were flying under anyone's radar, they aren't anymore.
This is a good time for the Eagles to have a bye, not just so that injuries can heal, but so everyone can get ready for what's coming.
When the players return to NovaCare next week, in advance of their Nov. 19 visit to Dallas, the eyes of the NFL will be upon them. There was some of that Sunday, national media filtering in, but now, the league's only 8-1 team has hung 51 points on a Denver defense that was ranked first in the league, metaphorically attaching a beacon to the top of the practice facility.
"In a year without an overwhelming favorite, the Eagles are as close to dominance as the NFL has right now," Judy Battista wrote for NFL.com. "They are averaging 31.4 points per game, and they have not scored fewer than 26 points during their seven-game winning streak."
In the last six weeks or so, Eagles have gone from a nice story – "Hey, look at that, they're a little ahead of schedule" — to "Is this the best team in the league?"
That question hasn't been asked in seriousness around these parts in more than a decade. So it's good that the players and coaches get a week here to take it all in, savor what they've done, and then come back for the hard part, which will be carrying those greater expectations into places like Dallas, Los Angeles and Seattle.
You could find all of that reflected in Doug Pederson's postgame address to his team, filmed and tweeted by the Eagles.
This was a more visceral Pederson than we see behind a lectern, noting that the Broncos had the No. 2 rushing defense in the NFL, and "you put [nearly] 200 yards on their ass."
"If you realize where you're sitting right now, you don't want to jeopardize that, right?" Pederson asks his players. "We've got a lot of unfinished business to do, right? You've started something special. Let's finish something special the remainder of this season.
"You take this time, yes, you reflect on the first half of the season, these first nine weeks. But then, you know what? We make even a stronger push when we come back."
At this point, Pederson has the room in thrall, partly because he has not yet said whether he wants them to practice during the bye, which would interrupt travel plans. Under the collective bargaining agreement, players must have four successive days off, but other than that, you're allowed to make them practice. Most teams don't. But they can.
As Pederson pauses, smiling, a chant breaks out: "Whole week! Whole week!"
"Hey – we'll see you guys in a week," Pederson says, to loud cheers.
Monday, a much more reserved Pederson told a news conference that "my job is to make sure that we stay focused and stay grounded," take each game as it comes, avoid getting caught up in playoff scenarios.
Pederson was asked what he learned from his mentor, the wizard of the bye week, Andy Reid. Reid, too, eschewed bye-week practice.
"He was always great with the players, as far as giving them time away from the building. … But the thing, too, is when they come back in, it was all about the refocus and putting them back on track," Pederson said.
Later in his news conference, Pederson said: "We've got to come back ready to go next week. If you don't take care of business from here on out, it's all for nothing."
*Big game for Vinny Curry, who punished Denver tackle Garett Bolles. Curry ripped inside Bolles to slam down C.J. Anderson for a loss, then just ran him over on a second-quarter sack of Brock Osweiler.
*Everybody on the Eagles' offensive line played well (except for when Isaac Seumalo had to come in for Lane Johnson; that didn't go well at all, even though, yes, Von Miller was offside on that touchdown-producing strip-sack of Nick Foles.) We probably haven't talked enough about Brandon Brooks this season, he is having a dominant year. Rampaging ahead of Corey Clement on the 15-yard middle screen for a TD, Brooks looked a little like Jason Peters.
*Speaking of Peters, this was a really encouraging outing for his replacement, Halapoulivaati Vaitai. "Big V" was matched mostly against Shane Ray, here and there against Derek Wolfe. Didn't seem to make a difference. It also helped that Carson Wentz was much more cognizant of getting the ball out quickly this week; Wentz might have had half-a-dozen throwaways under pressure.
*It's not taking much away from the Eagles' effort to acknowledge that Denver often was its own worst enemy. A hold by Aqib Talib on a third-and-1 Eagles throwaway kept the opening touchdown drive alive; in fact, it came the play before Wentz suckered Talib on the 32-yard TD pass to Alshon Jeffery. The Broncos took their sixth penalty of the day on the first snap of the second quarter. They didn't maintain that pace, but they had nine for 70 yards by halftime, and finished with 14 for 105.
*Jake Elliott, great job on the field goals, but what is up with the missing of extra points? Two last week, another this week, not much notice taken because the Eagles didn't need those points. But someday they might, ya know?
That on a day when Carson Wentz threw for four touchdowns, the longest pass completion of the day would come from Nick Foles – 35 yards to Nelson Agholor on fourth-and-1?
It was Foles' only pass of the season thus far, and an amazing catch by Agholor, with Chris Harris's arm stuck between Agholor's arms, something Harris tried to use as proof he had intercepted the ball when he wrestled it away on the ground. (Alas, it doesn't work that way.) Interesting day for Agholor, whose only other catch was a 1-yard grab in the third quarter, also on fourth-and-1, setting up that Carson Wentz option pitch to Corey Clement for the TD that put the Eagles up 38-9.
It seems a tad subjective, but the NFL's "Next Generation" stats tabulate something called "aggressiveness percentage," which purports to chart how often a QB throws into tight windows. Among quarterbacks with more than one start this season, the league leader is Carson Wentz, at 24.1 percent.
When the Eagles return from their bye-week break, they should have a bit of a boost as they get ready to play Dallas: Corner Ronald Darby is expected to finally practice fully and to be in uniform against the Cowboys, a source close to the situation said, and Doug Pederson more or less confirmed during Pederson's Monday news conference.
Darby, acquired from Buffalo in August to be the Birds' No. 1 corner, dislocated an ankle in the season opener. He has been a partial practice participant the past three weeks, listed as "questionable" each Friday, but never really being that close to playing before now.
"Last week, he really got more reps in practice. Even though it was 'limited,' it was almost 'full,' " Pederson said. "He's another one that will be around [this week], work on his treatment and his rehab, and we'll see where we're at when we get back, we'll evaluate it some more, but he's in a really good spot to possibly come back and help us here in the next week or so."
Darby, who hasn't spoken with reporters since the injury, tweeted Sunday: "Great team win. Excited to officially be back with my brothers. Been a wild year, but it's blessings around every corner."
Tight end Zach Ertz, who missed Sunday's game with a hamstring pull, said he will stay around this week, get treatment, and hope to be OK next week. Pederson said defensive tackle Tim Jernigan, who played just 20 snaps against the Broncos, suffered an ankle injury but should be OK for Dallas.
"Tim's fine – he just got an ankle. He could have come back and played in that game … We've got this time off now, so he'll be fine next week," Pederson said.
There still is no official timetable for second-round rookie corner Sidney Jones, recovering from Achilles tendon surgery last March. Once he starts practicing, the Eagles have three weeks to activate him or place him on IR. For a team with postseason aspirations, this is not an outlandish scenario.