Tim Jernigan's Santa-hatted head and his solid-gold smile made for a memorable game program Christmas night, but he wasn't smiling after the game.
"I think people are looking at us like we're playing horrible or something," Jernigan said. "We're still winning. When the game is over, there's no 'L.' All that other stuff, I really don't give a damn about."
Jernigan and the Eagles defense had just helped lead the way to a win over a hopeless Raiders team with a last-minute field goal and fumble return, on a night when Nick Foles' poor play made Carson Wentz's absence seem insurmountable. They were a week removed from beating the Giants, in which Foles threw four touchdown passes, but the defense looked poor. They were two weeks from a comeback win in Los Angeles that pushed the Rams toward the wild-card weekend pool; Foles replaced Wentz in the fourth quarter of that game and led the two field-goal drives that won it.
Wentz was an MVP candidate when he tore his left ACL, true, but the Birds believe they've always been more than just the North Dakota Kid.
"Honestly, I think we're the most complete team in the NFL," Jernigan said.
Then he delivered a message to anyone considering abandoning ship: "If you're in our corner, I think it's a smart choice to stay in our corner and ride with us. If you're having doubts right now, if you don't think you made the right decision in backing us, I encourage you to jump off the bandwagon."
Jernigan wasn't alone. His words echoed through the locker room Monday night; a consistent message, and, frankly, a valid one.
The Eagles might not have Wentz, but they believe they can beat anyone, anytime. They're 13-2, they have a playoff bye and home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. They believe they are in this position because they are a complete team.
Wentz might have made the most plays over the first 13 games, but the team has other playmakers, too. Those playmakers beat the Rams after Wentz left, beat the Giants at the end of a three-game road run, and beat a determined Raiders team that was well-equipped to give the Eagles problems.
Those Raiders had even steadied their poor pass defense. The last four opposing quarterbacks combined for a passer rating of just 80.4. The last two were at 66.6. So, Foles' 59.4 doesn't look quite as bad; not for a backup, on a cold and windy night.
Other factors contribute to the Eagles' recent vulnerability over the last four games (don't forget, Wentz looked lousy losing in Seattle). Three of those four opponents were solid teams.
The Giants are the outlier, but they're an NFC East team whose interim head coach, Steve Spagnuolo, coached under Andy Reid, just as Eagles coach Doug Pederson did; so the Giants know the Eagles better than any other team.
Finally, these were Games 12, 13, 14 and 15. Teams have a wealth of scouting information on the Eagles offense and defense. There aren't many surprises left in December. Playmakers have to make plays. That's what the Eagles have done.
When he replaced Wentz in LA, trailing by four, Foles accounted for 42 of the 52 yards on that field-goal drive.
No. 1 receiver Alshon Jeffery made the No. 1 TD catch against the Giants, off his shoe tops in the back of the end zone.
The Eagles traded for Ronald Darby so he could save the secondary. He has an interception in each of the last two weeks. His Christmas pick set up the go-ahead field goal.
Chris Long came aboard to provide support for Pro Bowl left defensive end Brandon Graham. Long's strip sack in LA set up the winning field goal. His strip sack to start the fourth quarter Monday night swung the momentum to the Eagles.
Big-money end Vinny Curry stripped Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch of the ball in the third quarter and set up the tying field goal.
Pro Bowl safety Malcolm Jenkins stripped Jalen Richard in the fourth quarter to deny the Raiders at least a field goal.
"Look, not everyone is perfect," said Fletcher Cox, the tackle who plays on Jernigan's hip. "Not every defensive player. But look at our team. Look at the depth that we have at each position. Guys can step in and make plays."
That declaration seemed a lot more plausible when the Wentz Wagon was rolling smoothly along. Sure, the regular ol' bandwagon might give you a bumpier ride, but the Birds think it'll get you where you want to go.
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