Just a month ago, the Eagles hit rock-bottom.
They gave up 37 points in a loss to the pitiful Dolphins. Backbiting teammates leaked stories slamming QB Carson Wentz. Inept WR Mack Hollins was praised by his coach for “lining up properly”—and then cut days later.
The team was 5-7, and the fan base was furious. Our Super Bowl LII Champions had entered 2019 as a Vegas darling, but optimism drowned in a nasty stew of bickering, ineptitude and what appeared to be a lack of brains and effort.
And then, the craziest thing happened.
Just as my WIP Radio call-in lines devolved into a medley of “fire Howie Roseman” calls, the script flipped. The Birds won their last four games — none without raising your blood pressure, of course — and emerged again as NFC East champions.
Generally, it’s no great feat to finish 9-7 and capture the flag of the NFL’s weakest division — even when that means crushing Jerry Jones’s heart.
But this year is different. Even as the Eagles stumbled around at mid-season, they grew into a different team. An unexpected team of no-names and underdogs. A team Philadelphia could fall in love with.
The players in green-and-white who iced the Giants, 34-17, on Sunday included some long-time stalwarts who, let’s agree, had played quietly this season. So thank you, Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, and Malcolm Jenkins for stepping up at the end.
But more so, the game was won when key runs and catches were made by Joe Palookas who fans couldn’t even identify. Practice squad alums. Street free agents. Last-chance walk-ons who found their footing in the biggest moments of the season.
On Sunday, the Eagles totaled 400 yards of offense. Of that, 279 came from players who were on the practice squad earlier this season.
Consider that Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor count for $23 million against the cap this season, and haven’t been seen in a month. Meanwhile, someone named Deontay Burnett wandered into the Meadowlands yesterday and hauled in a critical 41-yard pass from Wentz. You have to love him.
Sparkplug Boston Scott and overlooked Greg Ward best represent what’s happening here. Scott, the replacement to the replacement to the replacement running back, scampered for three TDs Sunday. That sent every fan with a few remaining Christmas bucks scrambling to the internet to buy his No. 35 jersey.
And Ward, who’d languished on the practice squad forever, had six catches. That gave him 28 in just five games. It’s clear he has chemistry with the quarterback. Unlike Agholor.
Oh yeah, the quarterback.
After some rocky times, Wentz is again the idol of the fans — at least those not too stubborn to admit they were wrong. His maturity, leadership and clutch performance with this group of backups has been nothing short of remarkable.
Wentz’s December stats: 145-of-219 (66.2 percent), 1,509 yards, 10 TDs, one interception. Oddly, the year he finally stayed healthy is the one when everyone around him got hurt.
And so the Battered Birds move forward to a home playoff game against the similarly injured Seattle Seahawks. The Eagles will likely play Sunday without Lane Johnson, Zach Ertz, Brandon Brooks, and . . . well, the list is too long to print.
At some point, those injuries may prove too much to absorb — but I’ll roll with them as a 1-point home underdog next Sunday.
But however it turns out, the narrative of this season certainly changed. The underachievers tag is gone. Somehow, the onslaught of injuries coalesced the team, and players you wouldn’t know without a program helped save the season.
And with that, the Eagles became the team you’ve got to love.