by Joe Staszak
Heading into their monumental tilt with the New York Giants Thursday night, the Eagles needed to win 50% (5/10) of their remaining games to end up with a whopping six wins. But after a tough to watch 22-21 over the G-men the Birds now just have to win just 44% (4/9) of their remaining games to get to that magic number. And after an embarrassing loss to the Washington Football team yesterday, at 2-5 right now the Dallas Cowboys also need to win just 44% (4/9) of their remaining games get to six. If both those things happen the Eagles will win the division because they will have less losses, nine, while the Cowboys will have ten. Yes that tie we complained so much about with the Bengals a few weeks ago looms larger and larger as the season goes on. And no, don’t even think of giving Birds’ Head Coach Doug Pederson credit for that tie as he even said afterwards that he should have gone for the win. That would mean that the Eagles would be the worst division winner to qualify for the postseason at 6-9-1 since the format expanded to 12 teams in 1990 (this year 14 teams will qualify).
Now let’s pretend, for our purposes, as Eagle fans, that we want the above to happen and aren’t concerned with the long term outlook (we are or at least we should be but indulge me will ya?). The question is can they? I don’t know about you but I’m getting used to bad looking football that ends up in a harrowing, chaotic, misplayed, mis-coached, inexplicable, unforgivable yet heart-felt and somewhat entertaining 4th quarter.
The Birds have had 19 different offensive starters play for this season. They have trotted out six different offensive line starting combinations. Three of their starting skill receivers are hurt and their starting running back is out. Where have we seen this before? Last year they were also depleted on both sides of the ball and ended up winning their last four games en route to another divisional title and a home playoff game.
Try to get your head around this. If the season ended today the Eagles at 2-4-1 would host a playoff game with The Chicago Bears who are 5-1 right now. That’s right Wentz V. Foles. The host versus the ghost.
While “The Ghost” has his team at 5-1 and atop the NFC Central division, “The Host” has his team in first place in the NFC East. If the Eagles had lost to the Giants on Thursday they would have had to win 56% of their remaining games (5/9) to reach just six wins. Not likely with the way this team is being held together by tape and glue.
I can’t get my brain around all of the Wentz hate being spewed on social media. All he did on Thursday night is bring his team back from 11 points down with just over six minutes left and lead them to a one point victory and keep his team alive in the playoff hunt. Don’t think Wentz is clutch? Well, in the 1st through 3rd quarters this year he has thrown four touchdown passes and eight interceptions. Not good. But in the 4th quarter, when the game has been on the line, Wentz has thrown six touchdowns versus just two interceptions. His team was down 11 on Thursday night and he needed just tens play to move his troops 149 and punch it in twice to complete the biggest 4th quarter comeback of his career in just over six minutes. Wentz finished 25-for-43 for a season-high 359 yards and two TD passes, both in the final 4 1/2 minutes. Imagine if he could ever play like that for a full 60 minutes?
It’s hard to put a tangible value on the quarterback because he does lead the league in interceptions with ten, three more than in each of the previous seasons, and he did throw another bad one Thursday night against the Giants. But he has played brilliantly and valiantly considering he’s had to play behind a 2nd, 3rd and 4th string offensive line and has had to throw to practice squad players that most of us have never heard of.
He’s also had to battle the bonehead play calling of his head coach who has made numerous egregious in-game bad decisions. Last week versus the Ravens after Wentz hung 22 points on Baltimore in the fourth quarter, he attempted a two point conversion to tie the game with just under two minutes left. So what does he do? He takes the ball out of Wentz’ hands and had him run an RPO behind a back-up running back in Boston Scott on the left side of the offensive line. Not only did Wentz get stuffed but the next morning Pederson went on a local radio show and admitted he ran out of goal line plays. Yeah, read that last sentence again. I’ll give you some time to process it. Come back in three days. Ok you back? Yeah, I know. You can’t make it up. I’d like to tell you that these weekly Eagles pieces I write are part of my new fictional genre. But sadly they’re not. They’re real. They’re absolutely real.
So if last week’s brilliant finale wasn’t bad enough, Thursday night after a Greg Ward Touchdown cut the Giants’ lead to 21-16, again Pederson called a running play for his quarterback with the million dollar arm. This time to the other side and again he got stuffed. The conversion once again failed. Soon after that the Birds took the lead 22-21 with :40 seconds left. Again the Eagles attempted a two point conversion. So what does Pederson call? Remember he just called a running play for his franchise quarterback with the million dollar arm. This time he calls a pass play for his back-up quarterback, Jalen Hurts, with the million dollar legs. Both plays failed miserably. Throw in a 4th and goal from the three with about nine minutes left in the fourth quarter, down 14-10, and instead of just kicking a 20 yard extra point-like field goal to cut the lead to one, Pederson calls a fade pass play to 4th string tight end Hakeem Butler that gets batted down. Add it all together and what do you have? The 2nd luckiest win in franchise history (42-37 win over Washington, Sept 18, 1989 was luckier) and a collection of high-risk, low return, extremely unintelligent decisions by the head coach.
But what the Birds do have going for them is that the Dallas Cowboys are an even bigger train wreck right now. They’re coming off back to back losses where they got out scored 60-13. Their franchise quarterback, Dak Prescott is out for the season, and now they’re back up quarterback, Andy Dalton, will likely miss some time because of a concussion he suffered after a late hit by Washington’s Jon Bostic on Sunday. Dallas is also giving up a league worst 35.7 points per game and had given up at least 20 points in the first half of each of their first six games. That my friends is an NFL record. They also have the dubious distinction of being last in the league in turnover ratio at -13. Added to that they are coming off a home loss on national television to the Arizona Cardinals 38-10 where the Cardinals scored 24 points off of four Dallas turnovers. And If you didn’t think that was bad enough, after the game some of the Cowboys players openly criticized the coaches for not being ready. Here’s what some anonymous players said about their coaching staff after the Arizona loss. “Totally unprepared. They don’t teach. They don’t have any sense of adjusting on the fly.”…“They just aren’t good at their jobs”. Wow, I could have told you that but when the players come out semi-publicly with damning comments like that about their own, it just tells me that the infectious disease in Dallas is now spreading through the locker room and their season will soon be dead, if not already.
And believe it or not it got worse on Sunday as Head Coach Mike McCarthy openly criticized his players after the Washington loss for not retaliating after the Bostic cheap shot. That cheap shot will most likely have Dalton on the bench for Sunday night’s game with the Eagles and the Birds might get a real good look at the Cowboys’ back-up quarterback Ben Niducci, who will be making his first NFL start. Dalton left the game he could be seen screaming at running back Zeke Elliott on the bench for not executing a blitz pick-up that resulted in one six Washington sacks on Sunday. Like I said you can’t make it up!
Remember I asked you at the beginning of this article to live in the moment, for our purposes. If you do that then you should feel good about extra football here in Philly come January. I know that’s crazy with the team 2-4-1 almost at the halfway point. And this might make you even feel better. According to ESPN’s football power index, heading into Sunday’s games, the Eagles had a 61% chance of winning the division as of October 25, 2020. Dallas had a 23% chance with the Football Team and the Giants following respectively at 14% and 2%.
All told I’d say that’s not too shabby for a team down to just two of its starters on offense, a head coach that coaches as if he should be in perennial concussion protocol, a brilliantly talented quarterback who still makes rookie mistakes in his 5th year and a defense that allows opponents to score 75% of the time in the red zone. That’s probably why Mark Twain once said “Truth is stranger than fiction. It has to be! Fiction has to be possible and truth doesn’t.”