A giant weight has been lifted off of the collective shoulders of Eagles fans. In an up-and-down rollercoaster of a season, the Eagles have finally been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs with a loss to the Baltimore Ravens earlier today. What a ride it has been. I say that a weight has been lifted because although this season was a heartbreaker, there was a lot of good that came out of it. It is nice to finally not do the late-night number crunching about how the Eagles can make the playoffs and instead focus on the future. Today’s game against the Ravens was like a mini embodiment of the season; a lot of promise and good things to look forward to, but the Birds ultimately fell short of the goal. Here are my reactions to the loss.
Ryan Mathews played well today
With almost every running back that the Eagles have nursing some kind of injury, Ryan Mathews looked impressive with the workload that he got. Mathews carried the ball twenty times for 128 yards and one touchdown. With that touchdown, Mathews recorded his eighth score of the season, which is also the most touchdowns Mathews has had in a single season. Mathews showed patience, vision, and solid downhill ability during his campaign today. Hopefully if the Eagles don’t upgrade at the running back position, Mathews can continue to have solid performances.
Hey! The defensive line actually showed up today
After a slew of quiet games from the Philly defensive line, Brandon Graham, Vinny Curry, and Fletcher Cox showed up today. Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco did not have a lot of time to develop good reads and he often missed his mark. He was sacked three times and fumbled during one of those sacks. The Eagles’ defense is so much better when the defensive line actually shows up and does its job. I was impressed with their performance today.
Jordan Hicks is special
Jordan Hicks does not get enough love from basically anyone outside of Philadelphia, but he is legitimately one of the best middle linebackers in the NFL. He showed why that is true today against Baltimore. Hicks dropped into coverage on a pass play and was able to disguise it well enough so that Flacco did not even see him, allowing Hicks to make a solid interception. On top of playing a solid game, Hicks is having a great year. In fact, he is only one of two middle linebackers with over 70 tackles, three or more interceptions, and ten or more passes defensed this season. The guy is always around the ball and is fun to watch.
Carson Wentz finally got his clutch drive
Carson Wentz has been in a number of crunch time situations this season and thus far, they have not turned into anything. Some of that, like the interception in the Lions game, has been the rookie quarterback’s fault. Some of it, like the whiffed block last week against the Redskins, has not been his fault. This week, Wentz found himself yet again within one score and with less than two minutes on the clock. He got it done. On his final drive, Wentz looked poised and calm in a very frantic situation, which ended in a rushing touchdown for the rookie.
You might say that this comeback effort was unsuccessful because the ensuing two-point conversion failed, but I count it as a success for a number of reasons. First, Wentz is going to get a massive confidence boost after overcoming that hump. Second, Wentz looked good and like a franchise quarterback should on the final drive. Finally, there is no telling what would have happened had the Eagles went for the PAT. To me, by all accounts Wentz passed a very hard test and looked good while doing it.
Is Zach Ertz finally going to break out?
There seems to be a kind of cycle that follows Eagles’ TE Zach Ertz. In the offseason, people hype him up, saying that he is going to break out finally. In the beginning of the season, Ertz is nowhere to be found. Towards the end of the season, Ertz starts to heat up, until it culminates with him going off every December, and thus allowing the cycle to perpetuate. This December, Ertz has 25 catches for 271 yards and a touchdown, which are impressive numbers. Today, Ertz contributed six catches for 80 yards. I can’t blame fans for being skeptical and thinking that this is just part of the cycle, but I do want to posit the theory that Ertz may be breaking out because he is finally totally healthy and ready to go. Watching Ertz today, and more broadly, in December as a whole, it is hard not to think of an elite tight end. Then again, he could be fooling us all once again.
The Eagles are entering the downswing stage of their rebuilding process. It is a hard time to be a fan, because it is never fun to watch your team struggle week after week. Yet, the Eagles have key pieces already locked up for a long time that will make this rebuild a quick one. They have Carson Wentz, who has the tools to develop into a top-10 or even top-5 QB at this level. They have Fletcher Cox, Jordan Hicks, and Brandon Graham, all key pieces to the defense, for a long time as well. The Eagles need to have a killer draft and they will be right there in the running for years to come.