It’s easy to think that, when your team has gone 8-1 and you hold the top spot in the NFC with more than half the season in the books, everything has gone right. And, to be fair, a lot has gone right for the Eagles this season.
Carson Wentz has emerged as the league’s leading MVP candidate. The running back situation has worked itself out, and the addition of Jai Ajayi gives the team a true home run threat. Nelson Agholor has emerged from the catacombs of ineffectiveness to become an excellent slot receiver. The offensive line has performed well. The secondary has been better than anyone could have expected. The defensive line has been as good as promised. And Doug Pederson has been both a creative Xs and Os guy as well as a coach who has fostered a locker room in which everyone is pulling in the same direction.
Look, the Eagles have been fortunate. Dallas is without Ezekiel Elliot, who is suspended for at least the next three games, and the Cowboys will likely play the Eagles on Sunday night without one of their best defensive players, linebacker Sean Lee, who might miss several games with a hamstring injury.
But there is no reason to feel bad about this. The Cowboys aren’t the only team in the league dealing with injuries. In the NFC East alone, the Giants have lost their best player, Odell Beckham Jr., for the season, and Washington has lost a slew of players from both their offensive and defensive lines, including defensive star Jonathan Allen.
People like to point fingers at a team’s record and try to diminish an 8-1 start by noting (falsely, mind you) that the Eagles haven’t played anyone good. That many teams in the division are dealing with injuries, or suspended players. That they’ve been lucky to get where they are.
Let’s also not forget the Eagles have suffered a series of coulda-been crippling injuries, too.
Ronald Darby was injured in the second quarter of the season opener. In the Giants game, the Eagles were down to their fourth-string safety (special teams captain Chris Maragos, who also landed on IR). They lost their most electrifying offensive player, Darren Sproles, for the season. They lost their best offensive lineman, Jason Peters, for the season. They lost their best linebacker and the captain of their defense, Jordan Hicks, for the season. They even lost their kicker (Caleb Sturgis) for the season, and played multiple games without their amazing tight end, Zach Ertz.
Through it all, the Eagles have not only survived, they signed a kicker off the Cincinnati Bengals practice squad who won a game on a walk-off 61-yarder.
A little lucky? Sure. But that’s not exactly something the Eagles have had much of over the last five decades.
When you lose an All-Pro quarterback like Aaron Rodgers, there’s almost no way to recover from that. But the Packers have had a decade of elite Aaron Rodgers, and no one cried for the Eagles back in 1991 when Randall Cunningham had his knee blown up, essentially ending their season in Week 1. No one got misty for the Birds when Donovan McNabb broke his leg and Koy Detmer separated his shoulder in subsequent weeks in 2002, forcing the team to finish the season with A.J. Feely. No one shed any tears when McNabb was knocked out of the 2006 season and Jeff Garcia had to resurrect their playoff hopes.
Julian Edelman. DeShaun Watson. David Johnson. Dalvin Cook. Spencer Ware. Joe Thomas. J.J. Watt. Richard Sherman. The list of injuries to NFL mega stars goes on and on. The NFL is all about “next man up,” and aside from Wentz’ emergence as one of the best young quarterbacks in the game, the Birds’ ability to do that, despite a number of crippling injuries, is the main reason they’re 8-1.
EVP of football operations Howie Roseman has done a remarkable job providing the team with solid depth at most positions, even with a lackluster draft this year, and the coaching staff deserves credit for coaxing as much out of the talent they have at positions that were presumed weaknesses.
So don’t let anyone tell you the victories are cheaper because they came against a Cowboys team without Elliot and Lee. The Cowboys certainly wouldn’t feel bad about beating an Eagles team without Sproles, Peters and Hicks. All NFL teams have to figure out a way to win amidst bad fortune.
The Lombardi Trophy wasn’t any bigger when Kurt Warner or Tom Brady surprisingly led their teams to their first Super Bowl victories, nor was it any smaller when Brady beat the Eagles in 2004 for their third title in four seasons. The trophy remains the same size no matter how you get it.
So, ignore the noise about the quality of the opponents. Ignore the noise about taking on teams when they’re at their worst. Enjoy the good fortune, and recognize the Eagles have done what many other teams have had a hard time doing.
Next man up.
[Editor’s note: This is a guest post from our friend John Stolnis from The Good Phight.]