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December 09, 2019

Final observations: Eagles 23, Giants 17

The Eagles were minutes away from their season falling apart on national television, but just when they looked to be dead, Carson Wentz reached back and pulled out a clutch victory, 23-17 over the Giants.

Here's what I saw on Monday night, or at least what I could coherently put together during that circus.

The Good

• As I always said, the Eagles' gameplan from the beginning of the season should have just been to give the ball to Boston Scott. He's pretty much unstoppable, and Philadelphia finally took advantage of that fact on Monday night.

Jokes aside, that was at least one feel-good story from a miserable game. Scott came in and owned Philadelphia's first touchdown drive, and he showed real bounce with the ball in his hands in the second half. He was everything the Eagles wanted Darren Sproles to be in the early part of this season, hiding behind Philadelphia's blockers and making the Giants miss in the open field.

I can't say I think there's a lot of long-term upside here, but for one night, it was Scott's world and we were all just living in it. Maybe the lesson here is that if you get more speed on the field, it's beneficial to your football team.

• The defense was absolutely pathetic on the touchdowns they allowed in the first half, but they held onto the rope in the second half. They took care of business against a bad offense and just kept hanging on and hanging on as the offense tried desperately to find its footing. You would have been right to say they looked like a group ready to give up when they ran into the halftime tunnel, but they rectified that in the second half, for whatever it's worth. I'm not sure if it took a rousing halftime speech from a coach, a leader, or just a collective, silent understanding of what was at stake, but they found what they needed to win.

You can say that same thing about Philadelphia's offense, even considering how terrible of an opponent they were up against. Just when everyone was writing their obituary, Carson Wentz rallied the troops and marched down the field when they absolutely needed it most, overcoming penalties and a long field to come up with a touchdown in the game's final minutes.

They got there with some help from guys who have underperformed all season long. J.J. Arcega-Whiteside came down with his best catch of the season and shrugged off pass interference to do so:

They talked a lot of mess about being mad and knowing they still had everything to play for, and when they had to dig down deep and try to save their season. Zach Ertz would eventually punch it in, and then everyone had to hold onto their butts for the final two minutes of regulation.

• One of the primary points of criticism regarding Wentz has been his inability to come up with crunch-time wins in the past, the "clutch" question that tends to dog a lot of young players. That sure looked like a big-time performance in the fourth quarter and overtime to me, with the team's season hanging on by the thinnest of threads.

Is it a confidence thing? Is it a matter of just needing to see a couple of plays in a row go their way? Hard to put your finger on. But Wentz owned this game when it mattered, throwing darts all over the field and dragging a depleted group of skill position players across the finish line. He got assistance from Scott and Miles Sanders, but Wentz did the heavy lifting in the huddle, and the errant throws that plagued the early part of the game disappeared 

Had this team wilted in the second half, it also would have been fair to ask questions about how badly they were willing to fight for their head coach, who has been able to rally the troops down the stretch in the past, and their quarterback, who has watched from the sideline as Nick Foles has led late-season charges in the past. Instead, the offense showed they aren't dead quite yet, even if they made it feel like they are for about three quarters and change.

This is a maddening team, and in the grand scheme of things, I am not sure that win matters very much to the Philadelphia Eagles. Even if they make the playoffs, they would be a heavy underdog against, say, one of the teams from the NFC West. But the franchise quarterback shrugging off adversity and keeping the season alive? That definitely matters.

• I'm sorry, did someone accidentally slip me hallucinogens at some point during the game, or did Sidney Jones come up with a huge defensive play in the closing minutes of the fourth quarter? If that happened for everyone else too, please let me know.

The Bad

• I know we left this behind in first-half observations, but I really have to circle back on this play one more time. Ertz went backward on this play.

There have been times when the public has underrated Ertz and his impact on the Eagles, but man, I completely understand why people get hopping mad at his work after the catch.

• Even when the offense has stretches where it gets rolling, the thing that strikes you about this team is that every play is reliant on winning the same battles, the same matchups, the same spots on the field over and over again. No one has to fear the deep ball, and teams can sit on the same intermediate routes and screens over and over again, just waiting for the Eagles to make a slight misstep.

The Eagles have tried to rectify this throughout the year, often with hilarious results. Nelson Agholor trying to track a deep ball in the lights definitely qualifies. And admittedly, a rainy Monday night is not the time to turn into a deep-ball team. But they're not even bothering to take shots down the field, even if it's just to draw an occasional pass interference penalty. You're not going to win many football games playing dink-and-dunk football. 

• The Eagles have minimal weapons, a banged-up and old offensive line, a rookie runner the team won't lean on too heavily, and an offensive coordinator who was once fired by his dad. Wentz struggling to find a consistent zone is understandable. But Wentz has needed to stand tall and be a beacon of hope for this group during tough times, and he was down in the muck with the rest of them for a lot of that game, prone to the same wild swings to either end of the spectrum.

The clutch performance is great, but the Eagles probably shouldn't need to pull a rabbit out of their hat in the game's final minutes to have a chance to win. The miscues from Wentz add up just like all of the drops add up.

• Then again, when Wentz is delivering good throws, he is consistently being let down by a sorry ass group of skill position players. This week's culprit was Greg Ward, who has undergone the full transformation from unsung, underdog hero to maddening scapegoat in the span of weeks. On a critical third-down play in the fourth quarter, Wentz unleashed a beautiful deep throw that should have ended in a touchdown.

You all know what happens from there — god forbid an Eagles player ever come down with a catch that is even remotely contested. This team's wide receiver situation is goddamn embarrassing. Guys on bad teams all across the league make circus catches every week, and these dudes routinely look catching a football look like the most difficult task in the known universe.

This team badly needs a No. 1 wide receiver with speed next season. It's a loaded class at receiver in the draft, or so they tell me, so cross your fingers the Eagles get one of the good ones.

• The Eagles came into Sunday's game with three healthy wide receivers, which seems like an insane thing to do given that the guy who went down with an injury has been banged up most of the year. Even retired players understand how dire the situation is:

Good teams turn into bad teams when they mismanage resources and don't successfully turn talent over through the draft. Good teams turn into bad teams when they prove unable to adjust on the fly and plug in pieces to account for injuries and aging and an assortment of other factors. Wideout is the most glaring example this season, but there have been few (if any) nice surprises this year, and some of the Eagles castoffs have gone on to success with other teams. Just check in on L.J. Fort in Baltimore.

This is a big offseason coming up for Howie Roseman. They have changed a lot since the Super Bowl year, and they need to begin building a sustainable future around Wentz. 

• Did not like the challenge from Doug Pederson on the potential pass interference call early in the fourth quarter. They were not under much of a time crunch considering they were the ones in possession of the ball, and they should have had enough time to figure out whether that was a worthwhile challenge or not. Bad job.

The Ugly

• The Eagles' in-game injury situation, week after week:

• I mean this 100 percent sincerely: I admire the hell out of the passion from people who stuck it through the end of this game, who read these articles about a pretty miserable football team, who vent to me on Twitter, who will wake up tomorrow jacked up about this confusing football team. Writing about sports in Philadelphia is fun in part because it comes with a built-in group of people who live and die with these teams, for better and for worse.

But you absolutely do not have to see things through with this team if they do not make you happy and if you are not having fun watching them every week. This team made an overtime win against a division rival feel absolutely terrible for most of three hours, so it's up to you if you want to ride this thing out.

Just know I will be here to commiserate, rain or shine.

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