Marathon approach to Eagles’ strange season may pay off with win this Sunday

You have to admit, the Eagles were pretty messed up by Game 8 of this long season.  Not that we had any great expectations going into 2021 after a disastrous 4-11-1 campaign which featured the collapse of Carson Wentz and the exile of Doug Pederson, but when you’re 2-5 under a new coaching staff and losing games in clueless fashion, things looked to be irretrievably bleak and definitely not building back better.

We dismissed Nick Sirianni’s coach-speak about “it’s a marathon, not a sprint” and “the goal is to get better every practice, every day, in every way” as sheer naivete cloaked in desperate cliche. Everything looked stupid at 2-5.  The owner looked stupid for hiring Sirianni. Maybe the team would limp to a 5-12 finish in the newly extended season and at least be able to claim it was successfully developing younger players as a result of a modified rebuild.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the postseason forum. Granted, a less heavyweighted schedule in the second half of the season helped, not to mention the random covid problems of opponents on the schedule. Yet the coaches kept preaching adjustments and improvements, and for all the weird flower power Sirianni was preaching, the overall improvement in basic game plan and execution kept happening.  Wins began stacking up.  As if to embody the racing strategy of running a marathon, here are the Eagles at 8-7 with a chance to go 9-7 after the upcoming game with Washington. There’s an actual chance to clinch a wild card playoff spot with a win.

The marathon analogy breaks down in the playoffs, of course.  You definitely need a late-kick sprint to make any noise in the playoffs.  Maybe the Eagles don’t quite have the overall talent or coaching experience yet to break through in win-or-go-home pressure situations.  But at least we could appreciate the rare air of playoff qualification in a season which looked like a disaster just a few months ago.

First the Birds will have to go down to FedEx Field and survive what is likely to be a desperate all-out frontal attack from the Washington club this Sunday.

Washington received some positive news after getting humiliated in primetime by Dallas last week, as they activated the likes of Brandon Scherff and Cole Holcomb from the reserve/COVID-19 list.

With Scherff, Holcomb, Kendall Fuller, Kam Curl, Taylor Heinicke, Kyle Allen and virtually the entire defensive line out of protocols and ready to play together for the first time in weeks, Washington has no excuse to come out flat. They also don’t have the luxury of more time to get better.  At 6-9, per the latest calculations, Washington enters Week 17 with a 4% chance of making the playoffs. In fact, they can finish as high as the No. 6 seed when all is said and done if they get the requisite help from other competing teams.

However, none of those scenarios will matter if Washington doesn’t win their remaining two games on the schedule, and it starts with welcoming the streaking Philadelphia Eagles to FedEx Field on Sunday afternoon.  It sounds incredibly simplistic, but the outcome of this game will be decided by who wins the battle of the trenches. The last times these teams played (last Tuesday), Philly’s offensive and defensive lines were dominant.

EYE shouldn’t even put this out into the universe, but Jerry Trotta at Fansided cautions us that WFT is out to wreck our marathon:

“In that last game against the Eagles [two weeks ago], the Eagles accumulated 238 rushing yards on 5.8 yards per tote and tallied two sacks and 20 pressures on Garrett Gilbert. With that said, Washington will field a more competitive roster this time around and we have a gut feeling Ron Rivera got through to the locker room after back-to-back embarrassing performances against hated rivals.

“The fact of the matter is Washington will be playing for more than just their playoff lives this Sunday. Their collective pride will be on the line and they have a chance to play spoiler against the playoff-hopeful Eagles.  Look for an inspired performance en route to an “upset” win. Washington 24, Eagles 21.”

Welp, no surprise that some analysts believe Washington is due to burst someone’s bubble.  After all, the Eagles didn’t exactly get off to a great start against them two weeks ago despite the eventual win.

Washington opens as a four-point home underdog for Sunday.

The Eagles, meanwhile, already know they’ll be without Miles Sanders and have now seen Jordan Howard pop up on the injury report as well. With him practicing on Thursday that’s a good sign he’ll be back on Sunday. And, of course, Jalen Hurts’ ankle should be getting healthier each week, allowing the second-year QB to take advantage of his strongest asset — his ability to escape pressure and run with the football, something that was clearly missing in the Eagles 27-17 win back in Week 15.

John McMullen’s take on this game seems reasonable to me:

“All of a sudden thoughts of the playoffs are more reasonable than not for the Eagles and by late Sunday night, Philadelphia could punch its ticket to the dance. A number of things have to happen but Green Bay over Minnesota is very likely, and one of two other dominos: San Francisco topping Houston or New Orleans losing to Carolina is almost certainly going to fall. That leaves just one other lever: the Eagles taking care of their own business and beating a Washington Football Team drowning in adversity.

“Whether it was the recent COVID issues, the off-the-field tragedies involving Montez Sweat and Deshazor Everett, or the in-fighting between Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne, WFT head coach Ron Rivera certainly has his hands full trying to keep his team fighting to the finish line with a negligible 7% shot in the dark of making the postseason.

“For the hand-wringing Eagles fans, the worries are the standard tropes of playing a division foe twice in 12 days, the fact that Washington will fight hard after being embarrassed by Dallas, 56-14, last week, and the realization that while Tyler Heinicke and Kyle Allen aren’t Joe Theismann or Mark Rypien at quarterback, they are more competent than what the Eagles just saw in Garrett Gilbert.

“When you throw all of that into the hopper maybe it’s a little more difficult than some might expect, but the Eagles should pull away late.”

At this point, we should just enjoy watching the drama play out.  This football season and this year in politics and society already defy predictive logic anyway.