Only in Philadelphia would a brilliant, come-from-behind, playoff-clinching win be met with utter despondency and despair.
Alas, here we are, with Nick Foles leading the Eagles into the playoffs as NFC East champions, because the superstar starting quarterback (reportedly) tore his ACL on the same drive in which he also set the franchise record for most passing touchdowns in a single season.
I regret using the term “Pyrrhic” in my Week 1 story and should have saved it for this game instead, because the term really can’t be defined any better. The cost of the win makes it feel like a wash. It seems pointless to talk about nine other takeaways when Carson Wentz suffers a serious injury, but we’re just gonna have to suck it up and move on with our lives.
So where’s your head this morning? Are you a believer? Can a backup quarterback take this team to the Super Bowl?
Or is the season lost? Do the Birds fold and flame out down the stretch? Do you become a grumpy loser who can’t be arsed to change your underwear or take a shower?
Listen, this team can take care of these other NFC donkeys at home in January. Nobody should be scared about hosting the Saints, Vikings, or Rams in Philly. Tom Brady in the Super Bowl is another story, but stranger things have happened. If Brad Johnson and Trent Dilfer can lift the Lombardi Trophy, then anybody can. It’s time to roll out of bed and seize the day. Carpe Diem.
1) The injury
It happened on a scramble at the tail-end of a 15-play, 75-yard touchdown drive.
Wentz was running to his right when he dove for the end zone:
— NYSportsCast (@NYSportCast) December 11, 2017
The play was negated because of a holding call on Lane Johnson. Wentz, showing discomfort, stayed in the game and handed the ball off twice before throwing incomplete to Alshon Jeffery. On a 4th and goal, he remained on the field and Doug Pederson decided to go for it:
— Philadelphia Eagles (@Eagles) December 10, 2017
And that was his last action, throwing a touchdown pass on one leg while remaining stationary in the pocket.
Some people blamed Pederson for the injury, saying that the Eagles should have run the ball at the goal line. I get that, and I don’t disagree with the idea for strategical purposes. They should have run the ball more overall, not just in the red zone. They didn’t show enough offensive balance in general.
But I’m always wary of trying to pin everything on someone specific. Injuries can happen anywhere, anytime. The kicker got concussed trying to make a tackle a few weeks back, remember that? Here, your franchise quarterback is just trying to make a play in an important game. He also has to try to protect himself as well. It’s a two-way street. This game was as big as they get and Wentz was trying to put the team on his back.
2) Receiver by committee
Consoling Carson in the tunnel was Zach Ertz, inactive for the game after failing to recover from a concussion suffered last Sunday.
Brent Celek and Trey Burton had big games in his absence, scoring three of the Eagles’ four offensive touchdowns.
Burton was particularly solid, catching five balls for 71 yards and 2 scores. He only had 15 catches coming into this game and hadn’t gone above 60 yards receiving more than once in his entire career. He’s a free agent at the season’s end and will want to put this on his resume:
Celek caught the opening touchdown and garnered a key pass interference call in the red zone that kept the Birds’ first scoring drive alive.
And I’d be remiss if I failed to mention Torrey Smith, who had his first 100-yard game in more than two years. He caught a season-high six passes yesterday.
3) Left guard rotation, but not by choice
One of the more important parts of the game that fell by the wayside was the departure of left guard Stefen Wisniewski, who left in the second quarter with an ankle injury.
That put Chance Warmack on the line alongside fellow backup Halipoulivaati Vaitai. Warmack was later pulled for Isaac Seumalo.
Warmack is a backup for a reason, yeah? He’s had some moments this season, but it was obvious that Wisniewski was the better player when the Eagles finally gave up on the LG rotation a while back.
On a play like this, I think Wisniewski does a better job:
I wrote about the quality of the Eagles’ tackling two weeks ago and now I feel like an asshole, because they did a really poor job yesterday, especially the secondary.
It was 21-7 and the Eagles were cruising when Malcolm Jenkins and a few others whiffed on Cooper Kupp, allowing a huge gain up the sideline that eventually led to a touchdown:
— 6'7-Eleven Inches (@LeBandz_James) December 10, 2017
It seemed like the defense was out of sorts all day long, and I swear Jalen Mills didn’t want any part of this play:
Eagles have had no answer for Todd Gurley, 100 yards and 2 TDs on 11 carries. Rams go ahead 35-31 pic.twitter.com/MoGuYVFfdh
— The Bitter Birds (@AdrianFedkiw) December 11, 2017
Unwilling to tackle?
I can think of one guy who might be able to help in this department:
Eagles need me on Defense to bring that gangsta shit back
— Asante Samuel (@pick_six22) December 10, 2017
In all seriousness, the defense really came around in the fourth quarter, forcing a fumble and then holding on after the Eagles retook the lead. When it seemed like the Rams had adjusted and figured it out in the second half, Jim Schwartz’s unit stepped up the energy and intensity and made some key plays down the stretch to help a banged up offense get the job done.
5) Don’t roll that Blount
I have nothing against LeGarrette Blount. He’s been solid when called upon this year.
That said, Jay Ajayi had the hot hand and should have had more carries in the first three quarters yesterday.
He finished with 15 rushes for 78 yards while Blount had 7 for 12, but five of Ajayi’s runs took place on the final clock-killing drive of the game. He didn’t have enough looks in the second and third quarter after opening with runs of 7, 9, and 19 on the Birds’ first three touchdown drives.
I don’t know how much is on Pederson and how much is on Duce Staley, who controls the running back rotation, but you gotta feed the beast when he’s hungry. If you see glimpses in the ground game, build on that, lighten the load for Carson Wentz, and chew up the clock while keeping your defense off the field. Seems simple enough.
6) Hey ref, you’re blowing the game
The Eagles benefited twice last night from brutal calls against the Rams.
The first was unsportsmanlike conduct on Trumaine Johnson for mouthing off to Alshon Jeffery after breaking up a 3rd and 9 pass attempt. That was on the third quarter drive where the Eagles ultimately scored to retake the lead.
Later, the Rams were called for “leverage” on a Jake Elliott field goal attempt, a call that had everybody on the broadcast utterly confused. Joe Buck and Troy Aikman thought the refs had identified the wrong player. Mike Pereira or whoever they asked in New York City also had no clue what the call was about.
The Eagles ended up blowing their fresh set of downs and had to kick the field goal again (the first was good), so, luckily for the Rams, that bogus call ended up being a non-factor.
But just write this down and save it somewhere if anyone ever tells you that the refs are in the tank for the other team, because they definitely weren’t in this game. Eagles fans would be flipping shit if both of those calls went against their squad.
7) A big blocker
Just a wrinkle here, something we’ve haven’t seen before, which is Isaac Seumalo playing as a fullback.
They lined him up in an offset I-formation and ran play-action on this one:
Kind of a busted play from the beginning because Brent Celek flinches and tips off the defense. Wentz makes a great play with his feet to convert the 3rd and 1.
The Eagles don’t carry a fullback on the roster, so a lineman will be in there on rare occasions when decide to use one. Beau Allen has played the role in the past.
8) Doug’s worst call?
Let’s start with the gadget screen on the first play of the game. It was way too slow to develop, but then Doug got the Rams with a similar play on the next drive, which tells me he saw something on tape about throwing that delayed screen and using Los Angeles’ aggression against them.
Doug’s biggest issue was obviously not giving Ajayi enough snaps when it mattered last night. He was gashing LA early and looked up for it, so you stick with him. Instead, we got another 60/40 split that was skewed by the final series.
I also disagreed with the decision to go for it on 4th and goal at the end of the third quarter, even with a presumably healthy Wentz on the field (I had no clue how badly he was injured at the time.) If Jeffery drops that ball, it’s a crushing loss of momentum and you’re down by four points instead of one. It was incredibly risky, and while it worked, a failure there might have cooked the Birds for good.
9) Doug’s best call?
Of course it was the decision to go on 4th and 1 during the third drive.
Also, it was clear as day that he should challenge right before halftime on this horrendous spot:
You sure he got that first down? pic.twitter.com/rJ7IatpTcx
— Sporting News (@sportingnews) December 10, 2017
10) Los Angeles
Can we talk about how Los Angeles is a soulless, plastic town?
Yeah, it’s always 83 degrees and sunny and Malibu probably has a slight edge on Wildwood, but I’ve been out there four times and something just feels “off” about LA. The people are generally cool and relaxed and not as high strung and frazzled as East Coast types, but maybe it’s the lack of character? Philly has history and meaning and things you can walk to and from, while Los Angeles is just a sprawling metropolis of highways and Starbucks and wannabe actors. For the second time this year, there were more Eagle fans in an LA stadium than home fans. I also need somebody to explain the obsession with In N’ Out Burger.
Finally, shout out to Jeffrey Lurie for having Bradley Cooper in his suite. Would you rather be in a box with Cooper or Chris Christie?