The Philadelphia Eagles, in the strictest sense, did exactly what was necessary Monday night at Lincoln Financial Field. They beat the Oakland Raiders. They upped their NFL-best record to 13-2. They wrapped up the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs. They ensured the conference’s road to the Super Bowl goes through Philadelphia.
But there was a bigger task Monday for the Eagles when they faced the Raiders. They needed to reestablish their superiority over the NFC’s other top contenders. They needed to look, once again, like the NFC’s honest-to-goodness Super Bowl favorite.
They failed miserably in that regard.
The Eagles won, 19-10, when kicker Jake Elliott connected on a go-ahead field goal with 22 seconds remaining, then the Philadelphia defense added a cosmetic touchdown with no time on the clock as the Raiders botched their final-play series of laterals. But the Eagles did not resemble a Super Bowl team.
The defense played far better than it had a week earlier, when it was shredded by quarterback Eli Manning and the New York Giants. The Eagles allowed 95 rushing yards to the Raiders’ Marshawn Lynch, but they limited Oakland quarterback Derek Carr to 140 passing yards and intercepted him twice. Cornerback Ronald Darby’s interception set up Elliott’s decisive kick.
But that may have had as much to do with the error-prone Raiders, who had five turnovers in all, as with the Eagles. And the Philadelphia offense, in its second game with Nick Foles at quarterback in place of the injured Carson Wentz, was extremely unimpressive. Foles completed only half his 38 passes and threw an interception. The Eagles could not get a running game going. They could not sustain drives, going one for 14 on third-down conversions.
Someone will have to go to Philadelphia at some point during the NFC playoffs and beat the Eagles. But the Minnesota Vikings, New Orleans Saints, Carolina Panthers and Los Angeles Rams seem perfectly capable of doing that. If those teams were watching Monday night, they had to be delighted by what they saw from the Eagles.
The Vikings probably must be regarded as the true NFC favorite at this point, as they attempt to become the first team ever to play a Super Bowl in its home stadium. The Rams, Saints and Panthers aren’t far behind.
The Eagles remain capable of being a factor in the NFC playoffs even without Wentz, probably the league MVP front-runner until he had his season ended by a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. Foles is capable of playing well, as he did against the Giants in his first start after taking over for Wentz. He has a capable offensive line, productive running backs and good receivers around him on offense. The defense has been formidable almost all season, despite the issues against Manning and the Giants.
But Wentz’s injury was crushing. He was the MVP favorite for a reason. He not only was throwing the ball well from the pocket; he also was making magical plays while improvising. He was, with great regularity, making something out of nothing. And he had the trust of his teammates, who seemed to believe they were headed to a special season with their prized second-year quarterback.
That feeling is now gone, it appears. If it’s not, it probably should be. The Eagles, without Wentz, have barely gotten by against two teams going nowhere, the Giants and the Raiders. And if the Eagles want to avoid a disappointing ending during the NFC playoffs to a season that once seemed headed toward such great things, they’d better be a far different team than they were Monday night
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