December 11, 2017
Despite their 11-2 record, the Philadelphia Eagles have lost quite a bit this season.
But the question on everyone's mind right now centers around whether or not this team can overcome their biggest loss of the season, quarterback Carson Wentz, who tore his ACL in Sunday's 43-35 win over the Los Angeles Rams, just a few plays before setting a new franchise record for touchdown passes in a season.
Wentz, who was an MVP candidate prior to his injury, led the league in touchdown passes (33) and, in just his second NFL season, had vaulted the Eagles from a good team to one with Super Bowl aspirations. Back when the season started, simply making the playoffs was an acceptable improvement over Year 1 of the Doug Pederson/Carson Wentz era, but after a nine-game winning streak, fans couldn't help but start dreaming of the Super Bowl.
Those dreams quickly turned to expectations. And expectations can be a difficult thing to lower, especially for fans who have seen their team deal with several losses already this season, whether it was their kicker or an All-Pro left tackle.
But if this one feels different, that's probably because it is.
Still, Pederson believes his team can overcome this, because it was built to do so.
"It sure can, heck yeah," Pederson said confidently on Monday, just a few minutes removed from confirming that Wentz's season is indeed over. "We overcame a Pro Bowl left tackle. We overcame our middle linebacker. We've overcome our running back. We've overcome a core special teams player this year. [We’ve overcome] our kicker this year. This is no different.
"Yeah, he is the quarterback of our football team. Each one of these guys that I mentioned is tough to replace. But you know what, the reason we went out and got Nick Foles was for reasons like this and situations like this. I'm excited for Nick. I hate it for Carson Wentz. I hate it for the career, the season, I guess, that he's been having. But at the same time, it's been the next-man-up mentality, and that's how we approach it this week."
Sure, the Eagles have been successful already this season with their "next man up" philosophy when it comes to replacing potential Hall-of-Famers Jason Peters and Darren Sproles (as well as Jordan Hicks, Caleb Sturgis, and Chris Maragos). However, none was a potential MVP candidate and the unquestioned leader of the team. And none played a position as important as Wentz because there isn't another one like it in all of sports.
Furthermore, the reason the Eagles were able to overcome so many of those injuries (specifically Peters and Sproles) is because of Wentz. His ability to step up in the pocket and avoid sacks with his legs masked Peters' absence on the left side and Sproles' absence in blitz pickup.
This has been a resilient football team all season long. If there's ever an opportunity for me as a head football coach to rally the troops, now might be the time.
And for however good you think Nick Foles is – he's arguably the best backup quarterback in the league and his familiarity with Pederson's system makes him an even better fit – he's no Carson Wentz. No one is.
That's why the mood around the Delaware Valley on Monday was appropriately somber. It was as if fans weren't just mourning the loss of their quarterback, but mourning the loss of their season as well. And while that feeling is likely to linger throughout the remainder of 2017, Pederson, much like his injured quarterback did on Monday evening, offered up a message to Eagles fans.
"To the fans out there, you can't lose faith," he said. "This has been a resilient football team all season long. If there's ever an opportunity for me as a head football coach to rally the troops, now might be the time.
"We just came off a tremendous victory to win the NFC East. Guys are riding extremely high. It's a little bittersweet. But we got the Giants this week. We got an opportunity that if you win Sunday, you get a first-round bye. So there is still a lot to play for. That's what's exciting about the rest of this season. We're still playing for that opportunity to hopefully be in that game.
"Nick has played a ton of football. I was here when we drafted him, and we drafted him for a reason. Then we went out and got him again this off-season for a reason. You never want it to be under these circumstances, but at the same time same time, my confidence is extremely high in Nick. You saw what he did in that game last night. The big 3rd and 8 to Nelson [Agholor]. These are things, people ask me, ‘Why did you throw the ball?’ Because I've got confidence in Nick. I've got confidence in the guys.
"That's what I'm going to continue to do. I'm going to continue to stay aggressive. I'm going to lead this football team. It falls more on my shoulders than it does these players. That's why they need to stay encouraged. That's why they need to stay excited about this opportunity we have in front of us."
That opportunity also presents a challenge. So how does Pederson plan to "rally the troops" and make sure all his players are on the same page with the sudden and unexpected change at quarterback?
Well, for starters, it doesn't hurt to have your backup immediately enter the game and lead the team to a comeback win in the fourth quarter, especially you're of the belief that maintaining a steady hand at the wheel is your top priority.
"I think even the guys felt it after the game yesterday, that we just rally. We support the next guy," Pederson said. "From my standpoint, you don't waver, man. You don't let people see you sweat. You just put your head down and you just go to work. You get everybody ready to play. It was evident yesterday when Carson was out of the game, you saw Nick come in and come back and lead us to victory in that game. So that right there is a great step in the right direction."
The next step in the right direction – securing a first-round bye and home-field advantage throughout the postseason – became considerably easier on Sunday with their win over the Rams (coupled with Minnesota's loss to Carolina). With one win in their final three games, the Eagles will earn a bye. With two wins, they'll be the NFC's top seed and will guarantee themselves home-field throughout the playoffs.
That could go a long way toward keeping Eagles fans' already-elevated expectations realistic. And, more importantly, their Super Bowl dreams alive.
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