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Where do Eagles go from here?

There have been some significant 4-1 starts for the Eagles in the history of my life.  Back in 1980 the Eagles started out at 4-1…they then ripped off 7 consecutive victories to put the NFC East in a coma…They then lost at San Diego 22-21, lost to Atlanta at home 20-17, beat the Cardinals 17-3 at home, then lost to the Cowboys at Dallas 35-27 to finish 12-4… they then went on to beat Minnesota and Dallas in the NFC playoffs, and ultimately lost to the Oakland Raiders in the Super Bowl.

1981 regular season was even crazier— they won their first 6 games! They were 9-2 at one point, but ultimately lost 4 of their last 5 games and ended up losing to the Giants in the wild card playoff game.

I won’t even bother to drag you down further into history, like 1974 when the Birds started out at 4-1 then proceeded to lose 6 in a row, and of course they missed out on the playoffs.

I guess my point is the intelligent Eagles fan should avoid getting overly excited by a fast start.

That’s because stuff happens on a weekly and daily basis to screw up a good team.

There are weird injuries you can’t anticipate, like Lane Johnson’s concussion. How does a 300-pound mountain man get a concussion? Well, it happens. Bouncing brain matter doesn’t lift weights.

Other weird stuff is coming, too, though we can only guess what it will be. One guy comes back from a hammy or a sprain, another one goes down with the same thing. God forbid Carson Wentz is slow to get up from the next time he gets twisted like a pretzel by a jailhouse blitz.

We are at the doorstep of relevance of the NFL at 4-1… but sustaining that pace is a whole ‘nother ball game.

Perhaps the worst-case scenario I can give you is the combined 1993 and 1994 versions of the Eagles. Rich Kotite was head coach. In 1993 the Eagles fired off to a 4-0 start…then lost 8 of their next 9 games before finishing at 8-8.  Then in 1994, Kotite’s Birds started out hot at 7-2…then lost 7 in a row to end up at 7-9.

Marathon vs. Sprint? I get that, you get that, but let’s hope Doug Pederson gets it.

You and I may not love Tom Brady, but we certainly admire his “Tommy 5 Rings” resume. Anyway, Brady does a spot every Monday night on CBS Radio where he is interviewed by a veteran CBS journalist who plugs his Macy’s sponsorship then asks him football-related questions.  Last night Brady had to explain away his disappointment in a 3-2 start for the Patriots. He essentially said, “In 18 years of playing this game, I realize it’s a week-to-week game of adjustments, 16 adjustments a season, and a win last week does not transfer automatically to an inside track to winning this week…”

In other words, even Tom Brady goes into his next game not really sure of the outcome…

That is to me a revelation of how cautiously the Eagles need to approach this next battle on a short week with the Carolina Panthers on Thursday night.

Yes, emotions and feelings are high right now in the Eagles’ clubhouse. They’re getting all kinds of feel-good vibes from friendly supporters and the local media. Guys like LeGarrette Blount who were being questioned for conditioning issues and “want to” just a few weeks ago are now being lifted up in praise and tribute by the Philly press and social media.

That’s the beauty of winning 4 out of 5… it promotes forgiveness and harmony.

But as we have seen in team history, 4 out of 5 is just a “Welcome” doormat to a season whose front door is barely cracked open.

There’s a long way to go to convert 4-1 into a divisional or wild card edge.

I think Doug Pederson is aware of this cautionary tale, as he kinda got sidetracked by the euphoria of a 3-1 start last season and subsequently watched his team go into a losing streak, a really bad tailspin. He seemed reluctant to adjust his in-game coaching style at times because—well, after all, it had gotten him to 3-1.  Granted, the team he manages now is not the same team. But there are always ghosts to deal with among the holdover personnel…

No, I want to believe Doug is growing as a head coach, so I am going to say he is going to be less predictable in his in-game calls moving forward—and that applies to defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz too—and that premise assumes that both coaches really understand now how quickly opponent teams are adjusting to everything that was working well for you when you were 4-1.

Oh, we are going to see a real test of that idea down in Carolina on Thursday night.

“We’ve got to find ways to keep maximizing our opportunities,” said winning quarterback Cam Newton, who was a dazzling 26-for-33 for 355 yards and three touchdowns in Carolina’s 27-24 victory over Detroit on Sunday.

The Panthers are 4-1. Their only loss was to the Saints, who are 2-2.

The Panthers know what it’s like to be a part of the NFC playoff picture. They made the postseason three years in a row from 2013 to 2015 and just about ran the table two years ago, losing only to the Falcons in Week 16 and the Broncos in the Super Bowl. They have a veteran team full of guys who were part of that 2015 run, and they know the feeling. But they were humbled by last year’s 6-10 flop, so they’re not getting too excited about a 4-1 start just yet.

“Just got to continue to have good games,” Panthers tight end Ed Dickson said after an out-of-nowhere career day with 175 yards on five catches. “Find a way to continue to grow as a team, grow as a family, grow as a franchise.”

“There’s still a lot to work on,” said Panthers rookie running back Christian McCaffrey, who had his first NFL touchdown on Sunday. “Every day is about finding a way to get better. The positive thing is we’re 4-1 and we know we can be a lot better.”

Here’s to the expectation that the Eagles’ team culture matches the workmanlike reaction to a 4-1 start which I hear coming out of Carolina’s locker room.

 

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