October 19, 2003. Week 7 of the NFL Season.
The Philadelphia Eagles came into their game against the New York Giants with a 2-3 record and looking to rebound from a rough start to their season. They were blown out by both the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New England Patriots before going on an early Week 3 bye.
They returned with a crucial win against the Buffalo Bills in which 2nd year running back Brian Westbrook sealed the victory on a 62-yard touchdown run. The following week they defeated their division rival the Washington Redskins, but then lost to the Cowboys to drop to 2-3. A 2nd loss in a row to a division rival dropping them to 2-4 would be a devastating blow to their season, but that was the situation they were facing with 1:34 left in the game and trailing the Giants 7-10.
The Eagles needed someone to come up with a clutch season-saving play. Luckily, that’s exactly what they got. Brian Westbrook fielded the Jeff Feagles punt off one bounce deep in his Eagles territory and sprinted up the -left sideline 84 yards for the eventual game-winning touchdown return. That victory was the first of 9 straight for the Eagles as they finished the regular season with a 12-4 record and another NFC East division title.
Fast forward 15 years later, and the Eagles find themselves in a similar scenario. The defending Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles are 2-3 and will be facing off against their rival the New York Giants at the Meadowlands on Thursday night.
The Eagles so far haven’t looked nearly as good of a team as they had last season. They’ve played sloppy and have committed way too many mistakes. Players aren’t playing as well as they once were. Jalen Mills has been an absolute liability in pass coverage and is constantly being targeted by opposing offenses. Jim Schwartz and Doug Pederson have been under a lot of scrutiny for their schemes, play calling, and overall decision making. The whole offensive line as a unit hasn’t been able to protect Carson Wentz, letting up way too many pressures leading to unwanted hits and game-altering turnovers.
There have also been the flurry of injuries to begin the season. Franchise quarterback Carson Wentz returned from a torn ACL in Week 3 and is just recently starting to regain his old form. The team’s lead back Jay Ajayi was just put on Injured Reserve due to a torn ACL, and he was also dealing with a broken back he suffered in Week 2 which caused him to miss Week 3. Darren Sproles hasn’t played since Week 1 because of a hamstring issue. Corey Clement hasn’t played a snap since Week 3. Alshon Jeffery just made his season debut in Week 4 against the Titans. Mike Wallace suffered a leg injury early in Week 2 and is on Injured Reserve. So is Mack Hollins. Brandon Graham just returned from injury right before the season started and has only recently started to look like himself again. Timmy Jernigan might not play at all this year. Derek Barnett missed the Vikings game. Rodney McLeod suffered a torn MCL against the Colts and is done for the year.
Am I missing anyone?
All that being said, the Eagles have managed to stay competitive in every game so far, but unlike last season they haven’t done the little things that have resulted in wins in those tight games. A handful of mistakes here and there have been the difference between walking away with a victory and coming away with a frustrating defeat. That’s how the NFL is, and the Eagles are learning the hard way that things don’t get easier when you’re the defending Super Bowl Champions, they get harder.
These issues are fixable though. It’s not as though the team has significantly less talent this year than last. We’ve seen our offensive line be the best pass protecting line in the league. The remaining running backs we have aren’t horrible players; they’re all solid, and we’re all hoping for / expecting a trade for a running back soon (preferably not LeSean McCoy). Zach Ertz, Alshon Jeffery, and Nelson Agholor are still great receiving weapons for Wentz. The pass rush is still great, the defense just has to figure out a way to take away the quick passes and first reads of the quarterback so they have that split second more to get to him, because it’s impossible for any pass rush to consistently get sacks when the ball is coming out in 2 seconds or less. Jordan Hicks and Nigel Bradham are a good linebacker duo and among the best in pass coverage. We’ve seen Ronald Darby flash the ability to be very good cover corner. And Malcolm Jenkins is still mister “Do-It-All” and the leader of the defense.
So then what’s missing? Where does the team start to fix all these problems?
There are many possible answers that could be correct. Maybe it doesn’t start with just one area but all of them collectively; or maybe it does. But if you ask me, the one thing that can help this team the most is another “Miracle”, just like the one Westbrook provided 15 years ago, and just like the one Jake Elliott gave the team in Week 3 last year when he hit the 61-yard game-winning field goal. A good argument can be made that that play was the spark that gave the Eagles the confidence to go on the run that they did.
This 2018 team right now needs that spark. They need a player to come up with a critical play in a critical moment. Something that will make the team believe that the impossible is possible once again. After losing the way they have the past 2 games, I’m not so sure the players have that mindset anymore. That belief is what helped carry them last season when Wentz went down. That belief is what helped carry them as an underdog in each one of their playoff games. That belief is what helped carry them to a historic victory against the New England Patriots led by the greatest coach in NFL history Bill Belichick and the greatest quarterback in NFL history Tom Brady.
The way this team is playing right now, talent alone isn’t going to get them back into the playoffs, let alone the Super Bowl again. But they obviously can’t afford to look ahead like that. The focus is to go into the Meadowlands and get their 3rd win of the season, and in order to do so they just might need someone to pull off another Miracle.
Maybe it’s Wentz throwing a last second touchdown pass to one of his receivers. Maybe it’s Malcolm Jenkins intercepting an Eli Manning pass and taking it to the house for a game-clinching pick-6. Or maybe it’s a relative unknown like DeAndre Carter scoring on an unlikely punt return. The Eagles do have a well-documented history of pulling off Miracles against their New York rival, so to say it’s unlikely is just not true. I’m sure if you ask any Giants fan, they’ll agree.
If it happens once again, whomever it is and whatever it is, make sure you remember what it could mean for the Eagles and the rest of their season.
But if it doesn’t happen and the Eagles come away winless for the 3rd week in a row, then it might take more than a miracle to save them this year.