Potentially great Eagles teams of the past always seemed to be undercut by an undercurrent of selfishness. The 2004 NFC champion Eagles splintered under the me-attitude of Terrell Owens. It was a team that appeared destined to win multiple NFC titles and possible Super Bowls. Owens’ attitude derailed that.
In 2017, the Eagles’ “we attitude” prevailed to win Super Bowl LII, though there was an undercurrent of selfishness with that team, when quarterback Carson Wentz went down with a torn ACL in Week 14 in the Eagles’ 43–35 over the Los Angeles Rams and pouted behind closed curtains the rest of the way as the Eagles went on to win the Super Bowl without him on the field—though it was Wentz who got them home field advantage throughout the playoffs and placed the 2017 Eagles in a position to win.
Wentz’s play soon deteriorated. The Eagles imploded. Wentz wanted out. The Eagles obliged.
The 2022 Eagles appear destined to achieve great things. It’s a predominantly young group, with young, dynamic leaders like Jalen Hurts and a core of Super Bowl-winning veterans at its foundation in Jason Kelce, Lane Johnson, Fletcher Cox, and Brandon Graham.
A fissure in what appeared to be a concrete veneer went cackling down the wall after the Eagles’ botched 40-34 Christmas Eve loss to the Dallas Cowboys.
One play was emblematic: Third-and-30 at the Cowboys’ 29 after two successive nine-yard sacks in the fourth quarter by the Eagles. A communication breakdown led to a 52-yard life preserving rope from Dak Prescott to ancient T.Y. Hilton, a subsequent trying touchdown and an eventual Dallas victory, which the Cowboys did not merit as much as the Eagles handing it to them on four turnovers.
What didn’t help came afterward, when Pro Bowl cornerback Darius “In Denial” Slay told assembled media in the locker room after the game, “Man, that was wild there. Coach made a call, people gotta do their jobs. Dudes just got to do their jobs, really, man. Good throw by Dak, good catch by [Hilton], but if everybody just does their job, that play would have been stopped easily. That s—t there was mind-blowing.”
Slay was basically pointing a finger at back-up nickel corner Josiah Scott, playing out of position and in place of the injured Avonte Maddox, who had left in the second quarter due to a toe injury.
Defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon called a Cover 2, which in layman’s parlance is a zone defense that requires each defender to be responsible to cover an area of the field, not a specific player. The field is divided into five underneath zones, usually manned by the two corners and three linebackers, and two deep zones, which the safeties are responsible for. After Hilton blew by Slay, he was supposed to be handed off to the deep man, in that case Scott. Fooled by the Cowboys’ quick snap, Scott was late getting over to cover Hilton.
There is a reason why Slay is not in Detroit anymore, though the veteran corner has been exemplary in his short time with the Eagles on and off the field. But he sometimes fails to take accountability, which he should have for getting nailed for illegal contact on Hilton on a fourth-and-eight at the Eagles’ 45 on the Cowboys’ first drive of the second quarter. It led to the Cowboys’ 14-10 lead.
That came a week after Slay showed little resistance in getting off a Byron Pringle’s block on David Montgomery’s nine-yard touchdown run in the Eagles’ 25-20 Week 15 victory at Chicago, and completely losing track of Pringle on Justin Fields’ 35-yard fourth-quarter touchdown pass that pulled the Bears to within 25-20 with 2:43 left to play.
No one pointed a finger at Slay.
Yet, Slay said after the Dallas game, “I don’t want to point fingers or stuff like that, but yeah, it was an over Cover 2 call. We just have to do our jobs. That’s how that play works. That’s where we want them at. Me being a leader in the secondary, that can’t happen. That’s a play that changed the game, changed the momentum. We just had back-to-back sacks, one strip sack. We have to execute that better on the back end. That play got me hot, real hot.”
What could ignite this team is a tinge of selfishness that the burgeoning 2022 Eagles do not need right now.
Joseph Santoliquito is an award-winning sportswriter based in the Philadelphia area who has written features for SI.com, ESPN.com, NFL.com, MLB.com, Deadspin and The Philadelphia Daily News. In 2006, he was nominated for an Emmy Award for a special project piece for ESPN.com called “Love at First Beep.” He is most noted for his award-winning ESPN.com feature on high school wrestler A.J. Detwiler in February 2006, and his breaking story on Carson Wentz for PhillyVoice on January 21, 2019. In 2015, he was elected president of the Boxing Writers Association of America.