If you were an Eagles fan watching the first quarter of Sunday night’s game against the Atlanta Falcons, it must have seemed like you were being punked. But it was true, and hard to take.
Player after player’s names were being announced as either out for the game or in the medical tent on the sidelines at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.
First, Eagles fans learned tight end Dallas Goedert was out for the game with a calf issue he experienced during the Eagles’ pregame warmups.
Then wide receiver Alshon Jeffery was gone for the game after suffering a calf strain early on in the second quarter.
Then we all learned DeSean Jackson was in the injury tent, then out of the game in the second quarter as well with what was announced as a groin issue.
Neither Jackson nor Jeffery had recorded a catch yet when they left the game.
If that were not enough to make any Eagles’ fan’s head spin, wide receiver Nelson Agholor went out to have his ribs checked and center Jason Kelce was stopped by the officials from going to the Atlanta bench. He wasn’t upset, he was just headed to the wrong bench.
Announcers Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth went nuts when quarterback Carson Wentz was pulled from the game at the beginning of a drive near the end of the second quarter for a check on a possible concussion.
Wentz, who was suffering through possibly the worst half of his career, had been standing on the sidelines for a few minutes before being summoned to the medical tent. Both Wentz and head coach Doug Pederson said after the game that officials need to get better at making that call.
“We’ll have communication, obviously, about it, but that stuff is out of our control,” Pederson said, “If they see it, they are going to pull the player and it’s out of our control. It’s out of my hands. I can’t do anything about it. It’s a medical issue. It’s a player-safety issue. I’m sure we’ll have discussions on it but quite frankly, it’s out of our hands.”
Backup Josh McCown replaced Wentz for six plays before the starter returned.
Running back/kick returner Corey Clement suffered a shoulder injury while returning the opening kick of the second half. When he got hit, Clement fumbled, the Falcons recovered and a few plays later scored a touchdown to take a 17-6 lead with 13:23 left in the third quarter.
To cap it all off, it was learned starting defensive tackle Tim Jernigan broke his foot in the game.
With all those injuries, Wentz was left with Zach Ertz, third receiver Nelson Agholor, rookie J.J. Arcega-Whiteside and fourth receiver Mack Hollins as his only targets for three quarters.
Wentz came back in the fourth quarter, put on a show, coming just inches short from pulling off a remarkable comeback.
The final score was 24-20. The Eagles’ record fell to 1-1 on the young season.
At his news conference Monday morning, Pederson said it was difficult calling plays since his running game was not effective and two of the receivers on the field had not gotten the same practice reps Jackson and Jeffery had been receiving and didn’t know the plays as well as the starters.
“If affects it, It affects it a lot,” Pederson said of his play calling. “If you were to look at my call sheet this morning, you would see a lot of scratch-outs on plays and different things. One thing that I said after the game, too, is with (OC) Mike Groh, (OL coach) Jeff Stoutland, and the offensive staff making the adjustments we needed to make and coaching those young guys up, Mack Hollins, J.J. And what’s interesting, if you watch the game as we did this morning, I mean, Zach is telling guys where to go. Nelly (Nelson Agholor) is telling — we’re moving guys. Our pieces are moving and we’re putting guys in positions that didn’t practice in those positions during the week and still had a chance at the end of the game. Took the lead and had a chance. My hat’s off to those guys for hanging in there.”
When the dust cleared, the injury forecast for all these players is not all that bad.
Pro Football Talk originally reported that the Eagles feared Jernigan was out for the season but then said it’s only a four- to six-week injury. NFL Network also reported Jernigan is expected to miss at least a month. At least that’s not the season.
There are several reports out there that Jackson may play against the Detroit Lions. The speedster sent out a Tweet on Monday to sort of confirm that: “Tough one not to be out there wit my brothers !! Ima bounce bac ASAP !!”
Agholor’s calf may take over a week to heal, but the Eagles have to play Sunday against Detroit then just four days later, the Birds face Green Bay on the road on Thursday Night Football.
“That’s the chess match we have to find out in the next couple days,” Pederson said. “We have a couple games here now in 11 or 12 days. We’ll make it work. That’s just what we do. We find a way, we make it work, we coach the guys up that are going to play, and we go play.”
Goedert’s situation is the most unsettling. Pederson confirmed that Goedert’s calf injury is related to the one he suffered during the team’s first preseason game. It was an injury that kept him out of the rest of the preseason. We will have to wait and see on him.
It was clear not having two tight ends affected the Eagles’ running game. The Birds rushed for a total of 49 yards against Atlanta.
Pederson said not having two tight ends didn’t help. He said also the Falcons defense, led by defensive tackle Grady Jarrett, who gave left guard Isaac Seumalo and the rest of the line fits all night, was a big factor.
“A little bit of both,” Pederson said. “We struggled to run the ball, something we kind of pride ourselves on. Last week, I might have mentioned that we were going to face a much better Atlanta Falcon defense than we saw in week one. That’s just — this is the NFL and a lot of pride on that side and they are well coached. So we knew that going into this football game. We were going to try to run and try to establish it and we struggled a little bit there. We have to make those corrections.
“That’s a big part, too, with a lot of the personnel changes, with tight ends and things like that, that got us a little bit away from it. I’m not going to make an excuse, but it does affect it just a little bit.”
There are reports out there that Clement will miss a week or two. Wentz and Kelce are fine and not expected to miss any practice time.
It could have been worse, much worse. But if the Eagles showed their fans anything Sunday night, it is that regardless of how many players go down, just like in 2017 and last year, these Birds will always be in every game, no matter what. ••
Follow Al Thompson on Twitter @thompsoniii