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December 23, 2019

What they're saying about the Eagles: Wentz changes the narrative, Pederson makes Garrett look bad

Plus, a look at Miles Sanders' impressive numbers and Zach Ertz' impactful pregame speech...

The Philadelphia Eagles pulled a big upset win over the Cowboys on Sunday to take control of the NFC East with one game left to play. But there's still work to be done with another division matchup against the New York Giants on the horizon. A win at MetLife Stadium this week, and the Eagles will be headed to the postseason.

But for now, let's stay focused on their victory over Dallas, and what that taught us about an Eagles team that many left for dead a few weeks ago when their third straight loss came at the hands of the then two-win Dolphins. Now, on the cusp of a playoff berth that's only possible due to the play of their quarterback and a bunch of guys who weren't expected to contribute this much, if at all, in 2019, the Eagles just won't die.

Sunday's win over the Cowboys, which was aided greatly by a defense that kept Dallas out of the end zone for the entire game, was by far their biggest and most important of their current three-game win streak. It was so impressive, given their obvious limitations at several positions, that former Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman, who was in the broadcast booth at the Linc, called it the most impressive team win he's seen in his time on television.

That's high praise, especially considering the source, but there was a lot of praise to go around following the Eagles' big win — unless of course your name is Jason Garrett. 

Before fully turning our attention to the team's upcoming matchup against the Giants, let's take a look at what the local and national media has to say about the first-place Birds and their win over the Cowboys... 

Silencing the critics

Mike Sielski |

Let's start today's WTS with Carson Wentz, who has been spectacular over the last few weeks. First, he led the Birds to back-to-back come-from-behind wins over the Giants and Redskins. Then, he went out and beat the Cowboys in a must-win game. And he did this without nearly all of his top weapons, with the exception of Zach Ertz* and a still developing Miles Sanders, but even he wasn't expected to be this involved in the offense.

*And even then, Ertz was extremely limited against Dallas after suffering a fractured rib early in the game. So there's a chance Wentz has to win next week without his most reliable pass catcher. 

How good has Wentz been during this stretch? Historically good.

In the process of winning these three games, Wentz has silenced his doubters, including the ones inside his own locker room. And right guard Brandon Brooks spoke up on Sunday following the win just in case there was anyone else out there still questioning the fourth-year quarterback's leadership... 

Understand what Wentz has accomplished this month: He has taken the prevailing narrative about his four seasons with the Eagles — that he’s not quite clutch enough, at least compared to Nick Foles — and wadded it up into a ball and chucked it into the trash can. If you want to argue that the NFC East is awful, that the Giants and Redskins are terrible, that Jason Garrett can’t coach and Dak Prescott was playing through a bum shoulder Sunday, go ahead. Just ask yourself: What would you be saying about Wentz if he didn’t lead the Eagles to these three straight victories? He has done this with a motley group of skill-position players, rookies and castoffs and John Does and guys who hadn’t quite blossomed yet: Dallas Goedert, Miles Sanders, Ward, J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, Rob Davis. Go ahead. Find an NFL quarterback doing more with less. ...

[Brandon] Brooks grew so frustrated by the catty gossip and backbiting and anonymous shot-taking at Wentz coming from the Eagles’ locker room this year, he said, that he felt an obligation to stand up publicly for him: “We’re supposed to be a family, man, a brotherhood, and we got ---- like this coming out? It didn’t just come out of nowhere. Somebody said something. But at the same time, you don’t know who said it. It could be speculation. But you know you’re in the room with somebody who probably said something. And then it’s just like, you’re going to come to work every day and just smile and laugh and, at the same time, trash us.”

None of Wentz’s teammates has been as forceful in supporting him or condemning that unattributed criticism, and maybe there’s something to the fact that Wentz elevated his play as soon as each of those young players, hungry for a shot to prove himself, got one. They’re like Wentz in one significant way: They have no memory of playing in Super Bowl LII, either. They’re all blank slates, eager to make their own history here, the quarterback most of all. “The last couple of years, where I was, on the sideline,” Wentz said, “that’s not where I wanted to be.”  []

'Burn the ships'

Zach Berman | The Athletic

Prior to the Eagles taking on the Cowboys, Zach Ertz delivered a power speech to his teammates in which he told them to 'burn the ships,' a reference to Hernán Cortés' decision after landing off the coast of Mexico. They would win, or they would die.

Sure, life or death wasn't at stake on Sunday at the Linc, but when it comes to the fate of the 2019 Eagles season, it was win-or-go-home for the Birds. And Ertz' words seemed to do the trick.

Ertz spoke to the team hours before the Eagles’ 17-9 win over the Dallas Cowboys that kept their postseason hopes alive. Had they lost on Sunday, they would have been eliminated from playoff contention. This was his do-or-die moment.

“He told the guys to ‘burn the ships,’” offensive lineman Brandon Brooks said of the phrase that’s now a common expression. (Read more on Cortés here.) “And it was just saying, ‘when we go out there, man, there is no Plan B.’ This is the only plan. The only plan is to win. There is no second-guessing. There’s no doubting we’re going to make plays. It’s just pure confidence that, at the end of the game, we’ll come out on top.”

That’s why if you glanced at the social media pages of Ertz, Carson Wentz and Greg Ward before the game, there were references to “burn the ships.” It became a rallying cry for a team facing the biggest game of its season.  []

But if that wasn't enough, Ertz backed up his words with his play, fighting through the pain of a cracked rib to remain on the field for much of the game following his injury. When your best, most-talented remaining skill player is willing to put his own body on the line like that, it has to make an impact on the other players watching. 

Running for Miles

Sheil Kapadia | The Athletic

Rookie running back Miles Sanders has been a revelation for the Eagles this season, and the second-round pick is a big part of the reason the Eagles were able to overtake first place in the division on Sunday. Despite starting the season in a committee with Jordan Howard, Sanders still has some eye-popping numbers in 2019, especially for a rookie. 

On Sunday, Sanders ran the ball 20 times for 79 yards and a score — he would've added several more yards and another TD had he not been in "church mode" and taken a knee late in the game when he had a clear path to the end zone — and added five receptions for 77 yards.

Not only are the numbers turning some heads, but the way in which he's collecting those yards has his teammates just as impressed.

“He’s really very disciplined now with his eyes," [said Jason Kelce.] "To watch his progression throughout this season has been a lot of fun. And I think that he’s running as good as just about anybody right now.”

Kelce’s comment might seem like hyperbole, but it’s not a stretch to say Sanders is emerging as one of the top all-purpose backs in the NFL. Since Howard went down (Week 9), Sanders is seventh in the league with 635 yards from scrimmage, according to Sportradar. His 1,276 yards from scrimmage on the season rank 11th among running backs. And his 10.9 yards per reception (YPR) are second to only Austin Ekeler.

If you compare what Sanders is doing with what other rookie running backs have accomplished in recent years, it’s easy to see why his teammates are so excited. His 510 receiving yards are the sixth most by a rookie in the past 10 seasons, and his 10.9 yards per reception are higher than the averages players like Alvin Kamara, Christian McCaffrey and Saquon Barkley posted as rookies. Among this year’s rookies, only Josh Jacobs has more yards from scrimmage than Sanders (1,316 to 1,276), and that could change after Week 17.  []

Pederson out-coaches Garrett

Robert Mays | The Ringer

Jason Garrett had a bad game on Sunday. And it came at the worst possible time for not only his team, but his future in Dallas as well. Meanwhile, Pederson had one of his best games of the season. Is that the only reason the Eagles beat Dallas? Hardly. But it certainly played a key role in what will likely be the deciding game in the NFC East this season. 

Blaming Philly’s season-long struggles on injuries alone would ignore the other issues that have plagued this team since their Super Bowl run two years ago. But for this game, at least, it would have been understandable if the Eagles had thrown up their hands and admitted this wasn’t their year. Instead, with an NFC East title on the line, the players gutted their way to a 17-9 win that felt even more lopsided than that. And as head coach Doug Pederson’s staff reminded us all how important coaching can be in the NFL, Jason Garrett once again let down the Cowboys. ...

Pederson hasn’t done a flawless job since the Eagles’ incredible Super Bowl run, but Sunday’s game makes you wonder what a coach like him could do with Dallas’s roster. When the Cowboys inevitably move on from Garrett (whether it’s later this week or after the season), they may not find the next great NFL coach. But they should at least be searching for the next good one. There’s no conceivable way this team should be 7-8 and essentially done in the NFC East race—not with the talent lining this roster. But as Dallas’s latest loss reminds us, talent is only part of the equation in the NFL. Teams ultimately need coaches who understand the best possible ways to use their players, even when their original approach goes awry. The Eagles have one. The Cowboys do not. And that’s why, in a season when everything went wrong for the Eagles, they’ll likely be hosting a playoff game while the Cowboys will be sitting at home and wondering what could have been.  []

Win or lose, Garrett needs to go

Conor Orr | Sports Illustrated

Speaking of Jason Garrett, the Cowboys head coach might be on his way out of Dallas. And I can think of nothing Eagles fans would like more than to say that the Birds played a key part in his firing — except for maybe another decade of his ineptitude on the Cowboys sideline. But that last part doesn't look likely at this point...

It is a set of optics that even the closest owner-coach bond in the league can’t survive. Even if Dallas stumbles backwards into the playoffs with the hideous NFC East parlay of a win over Washington and an Eagles loss to the Giants, Dallas should be preparing their exit papers for head coach Jason Garrett. ...

This was supposed to be a gift season for Garrett, like a Porsche competing in the box car derby. Garrett was essentially handed a limitless credit card for the better part of three seasons to assemble a roster that simply had to paw away the perpetually doltish Washington football team, the regressing Giants and an Eagles team that cycles through the anonymous bottom-roster churn like an Arena Football League team just searching for healthy bodies.

And yet, here the Cowboys are, staving off a full-blown meltdown with their last bit of strength. Here is a team that is running out of excuses. Here is a team that will top the list of ‘what-ifs’ over the last decade. Here is a team desperately in need of some new energy, something to prevent this painful staleness from creeping in again.  []

MORE: WATCH: Eagles fan crashes Doug Pederson's press conference, asks dumb question | Eagles 'unknown' offense has fueled rebirth as team reaches for unlikely playoff berth | Final observations: Eagles 17, Cowboys 9

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