Photo Source: Patrick Smith, Getty Images
After the Eagles tied the Bengals in Overtime in week3, I was feeling... ok. It seemed like the season was over, they weren't going to do anything special, and I'd be able to enjoy watching other teams while not really caring about whether or not the Eagles won or lost. But, the life of an Eagles fan is never that simple. For whatever reason, this team will ONLY play well when their backs are against the wall and they are in must-win game situations. It's maddening and frustrating that this is the identity of the team under head coach Doug Pederson, but boy is it entertaining. The underdogs are back.
Despite being hit with some more injuries to an already paper-thin roster, the Eagles managed to beat the San Francisco 49ers in a convincing 25-20 victory. With this victory and a record of 1-2-1, the Eagles, astonishingly, are first place in the NFC East. Just like that, every Eagles fan hopes for the season are restored.
With all that said, let's get to who stood out:
Fringe Roster Players:
The Eagles had several practice squad/bottom of the depth chart players who made incredible play(s) throughout the game. Let's get into those players who had the biggest impact.
Travis Fulgham (WR): Drafted last year by the Detroit Lions in the sixth round, Fulgham was cut by the Lions at the beginning of the season. He then went to Green Bay before being cut after just 9 days. Then, he came to Philly and after being initially cut after training camp, the Eagles resigned him to their practice squad and eventual 53 man roster for this game. His best play of the night, which also happened to be the Eagles' best offensive play, came when he caught a beautiful pass from Carson Wentz as he was streaking down the sideline for a Touchdown. Watching the play unfold was so refreshing. Carson Wentz looked good & one of his receivers finally made a good play. This one catch made the night, and that's why I'm calling this the Travis Fulgham breakout game.
Alex Singleton (LB): With a roster full of holes, the Eagles LB core is arguably the worst position group on the entire team. So, when starting Linebacker TJ Edwards was ruled out for the game with an injury, many, including myself, thought the 49ers would gameplan to take advantage of the situation. Try as they might, when Singleton stepped into the game he played fairly well in his backup role. But, what made him stand out was his interception that he returned for a touchdown in the 4th quarter. This one play was such a momentum boost for the Eagles. It gave them the energy and boost needed to survive a serious comeback threat by C.J. Beathard late in the fourth quarter.
Genard Avery (DE): General Manager Howie Roseman traded a fourth-round pick for Avery at least years trade deadline. Since then, Avery really hasn't done much of anything. He was at serious risk of losing his roster spot after an abysmal training camp and was even inactive during week 2's game against the LA Rams. However, he had a dominating performance last night against the 49'ers. One sack, one tackle for a loss, and five(!) QB hits meant that no matter who was under center for the 49ers, they were dealing with pressure. I can't say what clicked for Avery this game, but hopefully, this version of him is here to stay.
No Eagles writer can do a week 4 re-cap without talking about Wentz's improved performance. Through the first three weeks of the season, Wentz was undoubtedly the worst QB in the league. By almost every metric, Wentz was playing terribly. That changed Sunday night when he had a much-improved performance.
Wentz wasn't perfect; he threw a pick in the first quarter and still had more than a fair share of inaccurate passes. However, there were flashes of the player that the Eagles committed to making their franchise QB. The aforementioned dime to Travis Fulgham, succeeding at extending plays by moving out of the pocket, and the willingness to make plays with his legs were all welcome sights to Eagles fans everywhere.
To me, it seems like Wentz bottomed out last week against the Bengals. Wentz should be able to improve upon this better performance and begin to get back into the 2018/2019 version of himself. But, ultimately, who knows? The most frustrating part about Wentz's career thus far is that every game seems like a referendum on whether or not he's franchise QB material. This is in large part because Wentz is such a finicky QB. He can be a top 5 passer in the league one game and miss easy throws the next game. He can have 4 Touchdowns against the best secondary in the league and then have 3 turnovers against the worst. Wentz played his best game of the season so far. Trying to predict whether or not he'll be better or worse next game is a fool's errand. But, let's just be happy he played well this week.
This team lives and dies by its culture. They're aggressive, willing to take risks, and won't quit until the final whistle. That is why Doug Pederson's decision to punt the ball with less than a minute left in overtime against the Bengals last week was so confusing to so many people. A field goal would have been 64 yards, only three more than Jake Elliot's career-long of 61 yards. Instead of trying for the win, Doug settled for the tie. Philly media and Philly fans didn't take this lightly. There were questions on whether or not he had lost the locker room or whether he had stopped believing in his players.
Doug put all concerns about his belief in this team when, on the Eagles' first scoring drive, he elected to go for 2 extra points. He knew he screwed up by not going for the field goal last week (he actually said it was a mistake), and he knew he needed to show his confidence in the team. This confidence was rewarded when they completed the two-point conversion and continued to play well throughout the rest of the game.
Also, say what you will about Doug, but there is no coach better at motivating a team than Pederson. Beginning in 2017 and continuing through this season, the Eagles have had their backs against the walls but are able to rally when they absolutely need to. That doesn't happen unless you have a coach who can consistently and effectively motivate an underwhelming team. You could make the case that the Eagles shouldn't have to be in so many do or die situations and I'd say that it falls back on Doug. But, no team is better underdogs than the Eagles, and that's exactly how Pederson wants it to be.
Up next, the Eagles play the Steelers and a week after that, they play the Ravens. Those two games can very easily be penciled in as losses because both the Steeler's and Ravens are playing at an extremely high level right now. Again though, who knows? Philly, home of the misfits, have finally gotten their first victory. History suggests that once they're in their current underdog mentality, the Eagles are very hard to beat. I guess we'll have to wait and see.
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