December 11, 2016
Exactly one week ago, Philadelphia Eagles head coach Doug Pederson tried convincing everyone that his team's 18-point loss to the Bengals had little to do with a lack of effort.
It took him less than 24 hours to change his mind and say that "not everybody" played hard in that game. Sometimes, watching the film will do that.
Despite this week's result – and the fact that the Eagles took a 22-21 lead with five minutes to play and had a chance to win it at the end – don't expect to hear Pederson change course as drastically following Sunday's 27-22 home loss to the Washington Redskins.
That's because this one didn't look, feel or sting nearly as bad as last week's embarrassing loss to the Bengals. And considering that this one was at the Linc – against a hated division opponent – that's saying something.
Funny what a little effort buys you.
"Max effort. This team responded. This team did an outstanding job today. We fought all the way until the end. And at one point, I thought we were actually going to fight," Pederson said, referencing the on-field scuffle following Deshazor Everett's clearly illegal hit that knocked Darren Sproles out of the game. "This is a resilient group and I'm just honored to be leading those guys."
No, what ultimately doomed the Eagles in this one was the little things – or, rather, the combination of a whole bunch of little things. That's kind of been their season in a nutshell.
"You can say that maybe a little bit," quarterback Carson Wentz said after the game. "Obviously, we've had a handful of mistakes, little things here and there. And a lot of these losses, we're just one play away, two plays away, whatever it is ... it's frustrating, but we have to learn from it."
Jordan Matthews not dragging his foot on what should've been a touchdown catch. Zach Ertz getting flagged for a block in the back on what should've been a 72-yard punt return touchdown for Sproles. Jon Dorenbos leaving the game with an injury, forcing Brent Celek to take on the role of emergency long-snapper. Celek leaving the game with an injury of his of own – but only after he botched a field goal snap on his first try, one that cost the Eagles three points and quite a bit of field position – forcing Trey Burton to take on the role of emergency, emergency long-snapper
That doesn't include things like Wentz's red zone interception, his first of the season. Or the strip-sack on the Birds' final offensive play of the game, which came with them just 14 yards from winning the game.
"It's tough," Wentz said, adding that it's even more frustrating when you're the team with a chance to win the game at the end. "In games like this, you just think of those couple plays. Had they gone differently, the outcome could be different. We have had a lot of games like that this season. And it's frustrating. But at the same time, we just have to keep learning from it and keep growing as a team."
Despite the effort, it's still a loss. And it still hurts.
"We fought all the way to the end. Any loss in this league is tough," Pederson said. "The way the guys hung together and battled right to the end, yeah, it makes it tough."
According to veteran safety Malcolm Jenkins, however, maybe this one doesn't hurt quite as much.
"This one, out of any loss, is probably the least disappointing," he said. I think we all showed up and guys were into it and we fought in all areas."
Because effort isn't a tangible thing, it can often be subjective and results-based in terms of analysis, making it a tricky thing to quantify. But unlike last week's loss, there weren't really any plays against the Redskins that caused you to question the Eagles' effort.
Sure, that should be a minimum requirement for anyone getting paid this much to play football for a living, but after the week leading up to their game against the Redskins, it was "effort" – or a lack thereof – that was dominating the conversation around a team that's suddenly in free-fall.
So when you see a team respond by giving what appears to be "max effort" only to lose to a division rival at home, you have to begin to question talent.
"We're going to coach the guys that we have," Pederson concluded. "We're excited to do that obviously. They work extremely hard. We'll worry about those things in the offseason when we evaluate and get ready for next year."
With just three games left in what has become a lost season, some players are running out of time to prove they deserve to stick around.
"At this point, everybody is being evaluated," Jenkins said. "We still have names on the back of our jerseys and we still have a story that we want to tell about this team for this season. We're prideful men, and nobody goes out there with the intention of losing. We have plenty of motivation to go and work and correct things and get ready for another game."
Follow Matt on Twitter: @matt_mullin