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January 15, 2019

Al Morganti: The era of defending Super Bowl champs has ended, and it's less bitter than expected

Opinion Eagles
0115_Alshon_Jeffery_Eagles_USAT John David Mercer/USA Today Sports

Alshon Jeffery's worst ever mistake came at the worst possible time.

It took a very long time, but late Sunday afternoon in New Orleans the final curtain dropped on the Philadelphia Eagles Super Bowl celebration.

It was nearly a year-long glow that lasted through this just completed season, and the confetti from that Super Bowl swirled around them from the parade through the final play in the Superdome.

At its end, the Philadelphia Eagles 2018 season was one of the most bizarre in the long and drama-filled history of Philadelphia sports. It was the rarest campaign in which a team did not reach some expected goals, but there was little of the negativity that usually comes attached to a disappointing season in Philadelphia.

In fact, for the most part, it was almost exactly the opposite.

When a pass from Nick Foles sailed through the hands of Alshon Jeffery there was little of the disgust that generally surrounds such a huge mistake. When the Eagles took over possession of the football as the clock wound down toward the final minutes, there was every reason to believe the Eagles were headed to another miracle finish and head toward the NFC championship game.

Instead, the ball sailed through the hands of Jeffery and the season was essentially over. At the end of the play, Jeffery was sprawled on the turf and Foles hustled up the field to support the receiver.

Meanwhile, the scene played out on virtually every TV and media screen in Philadelphia there was a rare feeling of empathy for a player who might have just cost another chance at a championship. There was a feeling that many fans wanted to reach through the screen and tell Jeffrey that it was not all his fault.

Many fans wanted to climb through the screen and help pick up the receiver, and embrace the entire team for a terrific effort to keep the season alive, and keep the title of champions through most of the season.

At its end, the 2018 Philadelphia Eagles became among the most rare sports teams in the history of the city. These Eagles became the same sort of team as the 1993 Phillies, the 1987 Flyers and the 2001 Sixers.

Those are the teams that did not win it all, but they were truly successful teams that left on their shields. Those teams were celebrated for their effort and desire to reach the final goal.

The Eagles might not have successfully defended their championship this season, but there was no lack of drama throughout the season. The concoction of injuries, early losses and the temptation to look backward and into the future called for a terrific coaching effort – and Doug Pederson more than up to that task.

Pederson had to manage a locker room that was coming off a Super Bowl victory with Foles, and then take a team into a season during which Carson Wentz was scheduled to resume his job as the team’s franchise quarterback.

It was a tricky situation, and there were potholes when Wentz came back and had struggles coming back from major knee surgery. By the time the schedule reached its final third it appeared the hopes of even making the playoffs slipped away as Wentz got inured again, and Foles was called upon for Miracle 2.

There was just so much working against the Eagles – a couple of losses to Dallas, a horrendous lopsided loss in New Orleans, injury after injury, and a late-season schedule that called for playoff bound opponents.

Despite all those odds stacked against his team, Pederson never let his team surrender the season. He managed to keep his team engaged and confident that they could still make things break their way.

Luck?

Surely, there was a bit of good fortune when Chicago defeated Minnesota on the final day of the season, and then the Double Doink victory against those same Bears at Soldier Field in the playoffs. Then again, good teams tend to get breaks because the get themselves in position to take advantage of any break that go their way.

Pederson had been preaching that the Eagles had a “new normal” after winning the Super Bowl, and that new normal included taking advantage of those breaks. The new normal also included having a tight locker room that carried their bonds on to any field in the NFL.

Despite the loss, the season ended with a general feeling of pride in a team that took it as far as it could against all sorts of injury and odds stacked against them. It was fitting that a team molded as an underdog though the entire previous playoff season would have that ride ended as an underdog against a Saints team that was a huge favorite at home in New Orleans.

The future will begin to unfold very quickly, and the exit ramp is open for the departure of Foles. At the same time, the entrance ramp for Wentz’s return is also open for business, and the era of defending Super Bowl champions has ended.

It was one heck of a run for more than a year, and the appreciation continued right through the loss in New Orleans.

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