Losing Jason Peters can sack the Eagles' season
Left tackle tore MCL and ACL, will face a difficult road to return in 2018.
Certainly, there are worse things for an NFL player than leaving the field for the last time with everyone in the stadium chanting his name.
"[It] was breathtaking to experience that," Eagles coach Doug Pederson said Tuesday, after announcing that Jason Peters will miss the rest of the season, "for a guy that means a lot to this organization, this community, this city. His blood, sweat and tears have been on that practice field, that game field, for a lot of time, a lot of Pro Bowls."
But Monday night's rousing sendoff as Peters rode a cart down a Lincoln Financial Field tunnel is likely to be of little solace to the Eagles' nine-time Pro Bowl left tackle, if he can't make it back from right knee MCL and ACL tears that will require surgery and extensive rehabilitation, stretching well beyond Peters' 36th birthday in January.
One thing that kept Peters going in his 14th season was his desire to win a Super Bowl, or even win a playoff game, something he has never experienced with Buffalo or the Eagles. Now it's unclear that he ever will.
Will Peters even get the feeling of watching a playoff victory from the sideline? When Washington Redskins defensive lineman Ziggy Hood was bulldozed by Stefen Wisniewski and Jason Kelce while Hood was trying to rush Carson Wentz, causing Hood to fall across the back of Peters' right leg, 49 seconds into the third quarter of the Eagles' 34-24 victory, the Eagles' season changed.
Yes, they went on to win and to claim the NFL's best record at 6-1, 3-0 in the NFC East. But they face the final nine games of their schedule without what might be their best, most important player after Carson Wentz. Losing middle linebacker Jordan Hicks earlier in the game to an Achilles' tear took another of the top performers on the roster out of the picture the rest of the way.
It's hard not to think that at some point, this will matter, regardless of how much magic Wentz commands.
"It can make an impact," Pederson acknowledged, to lose so many leaders. Jordan Matthews was traded in the preseason, Darren Sproles and Chris Maragos went down for the year in recent weeks, now Hicks and Peters are gone.
Pederson said his players "rally around the guys that are hurt," and around their replacements – in Peters' case, second-year swing tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai. Pederson said he still needed to sit down with offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland and offensive coordinator Frank Reich to discuss whether Vaitai will remain at left tackle, or move to his more natural right tackle position, with Lane Johnson switching to the left side.
Johnson has been Peters' presumed successor since he was drafted fourth overall in 2013, but trying to make that switch in the middle of a season might weaken the team at two spots.
"Lane is playing extremely well on the right side, and 'Big V' has been a swing tackle. We'll take all of that into consideration this week before we step out on the field," Pederson said.
Johnson wasn't pushing to move when he spoke after Monday night's game. He noted that the guy playing right tackle still must weather Dallas's Demarcus Lawrence twice this season, plus Denver's Von Miller and the Raiders' Khalil Mack, among others.
Johnson said Vaitai played well – a contention seconded by Pederson Tuesday – but Johnson didn't pretend that the o-line won't miss a beat.
"To lose a guy of that caliber, who means so much to this team, is not good for us," Johnson said.
Pederson said Vaitai just has to "trust his ability, trust his fundamentals, trust his coaching … whatever the decision is going forward, he's been able to play both sides."
Behind Vaitai, the Eagles don't have much, and it's easy to second-guess now those preseason decisions to send Allen Barbre to Denver for a conditional seventh-round pick in 2017, and Matt Tobin to Seattle, along with a seventh-round pick next spring, for a fifth-rounder. Barbre and Tobin have been reserves on their new teams, but they have stepped in for injured starters. Both have played a lot more tackle in the NFL than Eagles second-year guard Isaac Seumalo, the guy Pederson said would now take tackle reps.
Pederson also mentioned Dillon Gordon, the former LSU tight end who is on the practice squad, nearly midway through the second season of an offensive line conversion project that so far hasn't evoked many favorable comparisons with Peters, who started out as an undrafted tight end with Buffalo.
"We start in-house, No. 1," Pederson said. "Our personnel department is on it right now, and we'll fill it when the time comes."
*After watching a bunch of times that Carson Wentz third-down escape from under a pile of players for a 17-yard gain and a first down, I have determined that Wentz actually emerged from underneath Jason Kelce's jersey, somewhere around the left armpit. The NFL should look into this.
*So much happened, so late Monday night, some important stuff slipped through the cracks. The Eagles' defense made two huge third-and-1 stops. First, Malcolm Jenkins slammed down Jordan Reed behind the line before he could turn upfield with a pass, then Kirk Cousins missed Jamison Crowder, the play set up when Jalen Mills stopped a second-and-3 run a yard short of the sticks.
*The Redskins have allowed 12 sacks, eight of them in two games against the Eagles.
*Took me a while to realize that Cousins interception was a Graham-to-Graham play; Brandon hit the QB's arm, ball went straight to Corey.
*Wentz ended up with just 25 passing attempts, first time he has been under 30 this season.
That "purple 65" and "red beer" (or possibly "beard"?) were not items available from a legal marijuana dispensary, but how Carson Wentz communicated he was changing the play at the line to throw that TD pass to Nelson Agholor?
The Eagles finished the first quarter with 29 net yards, but added another 342 over the final three quarters Monday night.
Defensive end Derek Barnett is the first Eagles rookie to get two sacks in a game since Trent Cole in 2005.
"It was a fun night," said Barnett, the team's first-round selection, who felt the need to reassure reporters that "I'm happy," after teammate Beau Allen suggested he smile while being interviewed about the victory.
Barnett is a serious sort who was not pleased to have no NFL sacks going into the Carolina game. He shared a sack that night, then really broke through against the Redskins.
"Everybody's been telling me, 'just keep grinding, and they're going to come,' " Barnett said. "I think we left some plays out there, but for the most part, I think we capitalized pretty good."
Barnett said the Eagles' success stopping the run is easily explained.
"We play physical and fast, and everyone swarms to the ball," he said.
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