LANDOVER — Just before the season opener between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Washington Football Team was to start at empty FedEx Field, the stadium PA played the sounds of crickets through the speakers.
It was a bit of dark humor during the most unusual season in NFL history.
The most popular sport in this country opened up, not just in Landover, but across the league in mostly empty stadiums.
Many fans and observers expected a strange and mistake-filled first week, and that’s what they got.
The Eagles came out and built a 17-0 lead with just over six minutes left in the first half, then crumbled under the weight of the Football Team’s exceptional defensive line that had its way against an Eagles offensive line that had only two starters in the lineup for the entire game.
The final score was 27-17. The lone bright spot on offense was the play of tight end Dallas Goedert, a second-round pick in 2018 out of South Dakota State.
“Shoot, we didn’t have any preseason, no fans out there,” said Goedert, who caught eight passes for 101 yards, including a 34-yard touchdown in the second quarter. “It was a lot different of an atmosphere. But you know it was still fun, when you’re on the field it didn’t really feel that much different. You were banging heads against another team. There’s a little bit of trash talk but I felt ready to go. I think we did a good job all training camp, putting ourselves in scenario situations. So, I think we started the game off really well. We just got to finish a whole lot better than we did.”
In the first half, the Eagles defense seemed to have all the answers against Washington’s offense that was led by second-year quarterback Dwayne Haskins.
At the half, Haskins was just 7-of-16 for 77 yards and a touchdown. The former Ohio State standout recorded 45 of those yards in the final 1:37 of the half.
The Football Team got great field position when Wentz threw a pass intended for rookie wide receiver Jalen Reagor that was picked off by Fabian Moreau at the Eagles’ 45-yard line.
By then, Wentz had already been sacked four times.
The Birds were already missing All-Pro Brandon Brooks, who is out for the season with an Achilles injury, and last year’s first-round pick Andre Dillard, who is out for the year with a biceps injury. Then just before kickoff, the Eagles learned All-Pro right tackle Lane Johnson would not be available, as he was not fully recovered from ankle surgery performed in August.
In their place was aging Jason Peters at left tackle, second-year offensive lineman Nate Herbig at right guard and rookie Jack Driscoll, a fourth-round pick out of Auburn, at right tackle.
The Birds were also missing second-year running back Miles Sanders, who was nursing a hamstring injury.
Washington brought five first-round draft picks to the line of scrimmage, including the 2020 No. 1 overall pick Chase Young, who is already drawing comparisons to Hall of Famers Reggie White and Lawrence Taylor.
Add in former Temple standout Matt Ioannidis coming off the bench at defensive tackle and a 2019 season that had Pro Bowl numbers of 8.5 sacks.
Given the mismatch, the numbers were predictable: Eight sacks, 14 quarterback hits, 10 tackles for loss, two quarterback hurries, two interceptions, three fumbles and three passes knocked down.
“Man. It was tough,” Goedert said. “We got a little bit aggressive. We had those couple of turnovers, which really hurt us. You know, anytime you turn the ball over on your own side of the field, it puts the defense in a really tough position. They battled, the defense was playing great, and we put them in tough spots.”
The Eagles hope to have Johnson back next week as well as Sanders. Head coach Doug Pederson said on Monday he is sticking with Herbig, who is listed at 6 feet 4, 334 pounds.
With the Los Angeles Rams and Aaron Donald coming to town this Sunday for the home opener, the Eagles will need all the help they can get.
If the Birds fall to 0-2, those cricket sounds will be the sound of their season fading away. ••
Follow Al Thompson on Twitter @thompsoniii