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October 15, 2018

Angelo Cataldi: The champion Eagles are back, for now at least... What took so long?

As smoke from the pregame pyrotechnics slowly lifted, there appeared in the Meadowlands last Thursday night a welcome sight: the 2017 world champion Philadelphia Eagles.

Yes, that was definitely them. They are back, at least for now.

During a stress-free 34-13 win over the Giants, everything that was so admirable about our only Super-Bowl winner reappeared. Carson Wentz looked exactly like the MVP quarterback who built the insurmountable early record, the defensive line was back in the face of the enemy quarterback, the start of the game was brisk and focused; the end was anti-climactic.

It was all there. Of course, it was impossible finally to enjoy an Eagles game without also wondering why it took so long for these talented players to find their purpose. Seven months after the parade wasn’t enough time? A languid training camp provided no urgency? Losses in Tampa and Nashville didn’t sound an alarm?

When I asked coach Doug Pederson on the morning after the big victory where the champs had been hiding since February, he rattled off a list of excuses, but he provided no clarity. For some reason, losing to the Vikings at home on Oct. 7 snapped the Eagles out of their self-induced coma. Go figure.

The conventional wisdom of the skeptics is that this reawakening was more a product of the team the Eagles were playing, but even a negative thinker like me isn’t buying that theory. Those same Giants came within a 63-yard field goal of beating Carolina, in Charlotte, four days earlier.

Don’t get me wrong. The Giants are a hilarious mess right now, best symbolized by Odell Beckham Jr. slamming his empty head against the frame of a huge cooling fan on the sideline. Meanwhile, the new coach, Pat Shurmur, learned everything he knows about play-calling from Chip Kelly. The offensive line is awful. Eli Manning is toast.

But still, those were the 2017 Eagles on that wet field last week, without question. There was no better sign of their return than Wentz’s magical throw – on the run, across his body – to Alshon Jeffrey near the back of the end zone for the first touchdown. Pederson told me the next day that there are very few quarterbacks who can make that play. No argument there. The kid is awesome.

Even more important than Wentz’s performance was the work of the coach himself, whose creativity seemed to vanish after the parade. Pederson went from “Philly-Philly” to willy-nilly in the blink of one of his eyes – which were adorned, for the first time, with glasses as he stood on the sideline. In fact, he joked that the new glasses made him see his play-sheet better, hence the better calls.

The truth is, the Eagles were struggling through a near-fatal Super-Bowl hangover. When they weren’t writing books themselves, they were busy reading their own clippings. An inevitable post-parade epidemic of injuries didn’t help, nor did the unusually hot weather or the flag-happy officials.

But the biggest reason that it took six games for the champs to return was attitude. Michael Bennett said before the Giants win that the players had to go to a “dark place.” Jalen Mills said they had to play like “savages.” Even Wentz said they were acting like rookies during the 2-3 start.

Well, now the Eagles are back where they belong, favorites to win the NFC East, rising in the power rankings, and finally playing up to their still-formidable potential.

If they just keep thinking like champions, who knows? Maybe it’s not too late for them to actually be champions again.