Most fans and observers knew the Eagles could struggle this year after putting together one of the great runs in NFL history, ignoring injury after injury, pushing themselves to the limit to win Super Bowl LII.
At the start of the 2018 season, the Eagles were still missing key players, and of those who did return, most were not up to their pre-injury performance level.
The Eagles have quarterback Carson Wentz back now, but the Birds have struggled all year.
The New Orleans Saints (9-1) posted a 48-7 blowout of the Eagles on Sunday down in the Big Easy, pushing Philadelphia’s record to 4-6, leaving them barely treading water for a return to the playoffs to defend their title.
Going into the game against the Saints, the Eagles were still missing or had lost players to injury that included wide receivers Mack Hollins and Mike Wallace, defensive linemen Tim Jernigan and Derek Barnett, running backs Jay Ajayi and Darren Sproles, defensive backs Rodney McLeod, Jalen Mills and Ronald Darby, plus special teams player Chris Maragos.
In addition to the players who missed this game or have been out all year, Eagles Pro Bowl center Jason Kelce left the game during the first half with a reported elbow injury. Rookie safety Avonte Maddox twisted his leg defending a play in the end zone in the second quarter. Neither player returned.
Cornerback Sidney Jones injured his hamstring in the second half and did not return. Fellow cornerback Rasul Douglas injured his knee at the end of the third quarter, but was able to finish the game.
Linebacker Jordan Hicks injured his calf in the fourth quarter and did not return. Long snapper Rick Lovato suffered what appeared to be a concussion late in the game. His status did not matter at the time because the Eagles did not attempt an extra point or field goal in the second half.
“It’s hard each week to overcome,” coach Doug Pederson said after the game, referring to the injuries. “But we’ve put ourselves in this position. Now it’s a one-game season each week. I trust every coach, every player and the front office that we’re going to get this fixed. It starts with me. And we have to do it in a hurry.”
At his news conference on Monday back in Philadelphia, Pederson gave an update on his injured players.
“That’s a big list,” the coach said. “Lovato, [concussion] protocol. Hicks is going to be more week-to-week. [Maddox is] day-to-day. Rasul, day-to-day. Kelce’s fine. Sidney Jones is more week-to-week.”
The 41-point loss is the largest ever by a defending Super Bowl champion. In comparison, the Birds lost three games all last season by a combined 27 points.
Wentz turned in his worst performance as a pro, going 19-of-33 for 156 yards, three interceptions and a 31.9 passer rating.
“I’ve played in a lot of football games in my career, ever since I was a kid, and this is one of the worst losses I have ever been a part of,” Wentz said at his postgame news conference. “It’s frustrating all the way around: offensively, defensively, special teams. We just got beat. I’ve got to be better, it starts with me, especially offensively. We’ve got to get that thing going early and often. We’ve talked about it all the time, and some guys haven’t been able to get it fixed.
“Yes, this is definitely a frustrating one today,” he continued. “We’re going to get out of here, go watch this film, and we’re going to go play a couple NFC East opponents and find out what we’re made of.”
The only bright spot Sunday was rookie running back Josh Adams, who rushed seven times for 53 yards and the Birds’ lone score, a 28-yard run in the second quarter.
First up from the NFC East are the New York Giants (3-7). And as luck would have it, Big Blue has played much better lately.
Head coach Doug Pederson was asked after the game, where does he go from here?
“Where do we go from here?” Pederson asked. “We come to work on Tuesday and we roll up our sleeves and go to work. This group is committed to that. I’m excited for this next few games we have coming up. We can only control what we can control, I tell these guys all the time. We’re going to come to work Tuesday and we’re going to prepare. We’ve got the Giants coming to town and we’re excited for that opportunity.”
Big Blue is looking forward to Sunday as well. The Giants have won two in a row, including their 38-35 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at MetLife Stadium on Sunday.
Eli Manning was 17-of-18 for 231 yards, two touchdown passes, no interceptions and a near perfect quarterback rating of 155.8. Rookie sensation Saquon Barkley rushed for 142 yards and two touchdowns. He also caught a 6-yard TD pass.
While the Giants offensive line gave up four sacks, it is clear this unit is playing much, much better over the past few games.
Guard/center John Greco, who has started six of the nine games he’s played in this year, talked about the improvement.
“It’s just guys coming to work every day,” Greco said at his locker after the game. “We’re focused and wanting to get better. I think that has shown over the last two games, especially.”
Two wins in a row after a 1-7 start is not going to spark any Super Bowl talk, but it does have the Giants looking forward to making up for the 34-13 drubbing the Birds laid on them on Oct. 11.
“That’s the thing, we’ve won two in a row, that’s where we’re at,” Greco said. “We’ve been talking since after the bye, we all did our own self assessments. We said we have eight one-game seasons. That’s still our approach each week. Philly, on the road this weekend, obviously any divisional opponent is going to be a great atmosphere. They got us the first time, so we have our work cut out for us.”
It is is easy for someone to look at how many players left a game that was over at halftime when the Eagles trailed 24-7, and wonder if some players quit and wanted out. Tackle Lane Johnson had a few words for any players who may have bailed.
“I’ve been in the league for a little bit,” Johnson said to reporters in front of his locker after the game. “[The Eagles brass] really look at guys to see if they quit. They really look at that and remember that stuff. It goes for anyone in the locker room.”
Johnson said it is just a matter of getting out to good starts. In 2017, the Eagles were among the elite in minutes they held a lead in a game. In 2018, they are among the worst.
“Last year, we scored on the opening drive, and that made play-calling a lot easier,” Johnson said. “Now we get behind early just about every game and we find ourselves in a rut.”
Johnson said the team knows the plays, knows each other. He said the team knows what has to be done.
“You can practice all you want,” Johnson said. “You can work to fine tune it. What it comes down to is, how bad do you want it?”
Eagles fans will all find out over the next three weeks. ••
Follow Al Thompson on Twitter @thompsoniii