You could tell just by the way Eagles coach Doug Pederson approached the podium on the Monday after his team defeated the Buffalo Bills 31-13 at New Era Stadium, that he was more confident with himself than he’s been for weeks, and for good reason.
If the Eagles had lost to the Bills, the Birds’ record would have been 13-13 since their team’s Super Bowl win.
That kind of record is the definition of mediocrity, and a far cry from the “new normal” of success Pederson had pledged at the start of the 2018 offseason.
But the Eagles won. They knocked off a team that was 5-1 coming into the game and improved their road record to 2-3, 4-4 overall at the midpoint of the season
Pederson was asked if this was something his team could build on going into the second half of the season.
“I think this team…we definitely learn from our past mistakes and failures,” he said. “I think we have to take the same approach with the successes we have, and how we ran the ball yesterday, how the defense stepped up and played. I thought our secondary played well. I think you take all of that into a positive and we use that moving forward. I look at the way we practiced last week and the intensity that we had, and how our leaders really stepped up and handled the team. Those are all positives that we can take forward into this week, which is another great test for our team.”
Pederson went on to talk about the upcoming home game against the Chicago Bears.
“It’s a good team coming in here, and that’s what we have to do,” he said. “If we want to be a good team, we have to take this now and move forward with it and learn from it. It’s a new week. We have to kind of reset and do it all over again.”
The Eagles came out of the Bills game with no further significant injuries. Rookie running back Miles Sanders left the game in the third quarter with a shoulder injury, but on Monday, Pederson said he was going to be fine. Against the Bills, Sanders rushed three times for 74 yards, including a 65-yard touchdown run in the third quarter, plus three catches for 44 yards.
The Eagles, as a team, rushed 41 times for 218 yards.
Jordan Howard, acquired this offseason in a trade from the Bears, rushed 23 times for 96 yards and a touchdown. He caught one pass for 15 yards.
Pederson was asked if this was going to be his style of play going forward. The coach said not having wide receiver DeSean Jackson as a deep threat dictates that the Birds must lean on the running game.
“Obviously with not having DeSean, that’s definitely a possibility,” Pederson said. “And I look at the success we’ve had and some of the wins that we’ve had this year and the amount of points, I think we’ve been over 30 points in the four wins and part of that is due to the run game. So I think that’s a formula for us.
The coach said Carson Wentz must be solid for the whole thing to work.
“Being efficient in the passing game, as Carson was yesterday, and being able to manage that,” Pederson said. “I think … and the other thing, too, listen, we didn’t get ourselves into a hole. We weren’t down two scores in the game yesterday, so that’s also a positive. Something that we’ve struggled with the last couple of weeks.”
The Eagles have a chance to get back into the NFC race. It starts with the slumping Bears, who have struggled on offense all season. Chicago will come to Lincoln Financial Field Sunday (1 p.m., Fox), having scored just 125 points for the season. Only the Washington Redskins have scored fewer points in the NFC.
The Eagles defense played much better last week with cornerbacks Jalen Mills and Ronald Darby back together as starters. The Eagles will be favored to win. The Birds would be 5-4 going into their bye week.
After the week off, the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots come to the Linc. Believe it or not, the Eagles have matched up well against the Patriots over the last few years.
The Eagles franchise is 7-5 in its history against the Patriots and has won the last two meetings – with Tom Brady under center.
The Birds defeated New England in Foxborough 35-28 on Dec 6, 2015. And, of course, the Eagles defeated the Patriots in a classic shootout 41-33 on Feb. 4, 2018 at Super Bowl LII.
The Eagles should have Jackson back as well as cornerback Avante Maddox, running back Darren Sproles, linebacker Nigel Bradham, tackle Jason Peters and defensive tackle Tim Jernigan.
Remember that most national observers believed before the season that this lineup, when intact, was one of the top rosters in the NFL for 2019. Playing at home, why wouldn’t the Eagles have a good chance to beat any team?
After that, the Eagles face the tough Seattle Seahawks, again at the Linc.
The last five games are against the winless Miami Dolphins, two meetings against the New York Giants, a road game against a bad Washington Redskins team and a Dec. 22 rematch against the Dallas Cowboys, at the Linc.
Can this team rally and go 7-1 in the second half and finish 11-5? Pederson didn’t commit to a record but it was obvious Pederson thinks his team is up to the challenge. At press time, the Eagles had not pulled off a major trade before the Oct. 29 deadline. The coach said he’s fine either way.
“The way our guys have kind of hung together and battled through a lot of adversity the first eight weeks of the season, we’ve battled injury,” Pederson said. “We’ve battled a lot of talk and things off the field. We’ve fought through that. So this team is starting to jell and come together, and so if we can add a piece, I think it’s great. If we don’t add a piece, I think it’s great because of the guys in the locker room and I think that’s a credit to those men.” ••
Follow Al Thompson on Twitter @thompsoniii