Eagles

Doug Pederson adamant Eagles can overcome the ultimate loss

Doug Pederson adamant Eagles can overcome the ultimate loss

Remember when the Eagles lost Jason Peters and Jordan Hicks and Darren Sproles and plenty of folks thought the season was over? 

Doug Pederson does. 

Sure, this isn't exactly an apples-to-oranges comparison. Losing a left tackle or a middle linebacker or a running back isn't the same thing as losing an MVP-level quarterback entering his prime. It would be unfair to suggest they're the same. 

But Pederson has seen his team hurdle over every obstacle this year. With the biggest one yet now in front of it, it's his job to convince his team it can do it again. 

On Monday, Pederson tried to convince fans who have prematurely canceled Christmas. 

"To the fans out there, you can't lose faith," Pederson said. "This has been a resilient football team all season long. If there's ever an opportunity for me as a head football coach to rally the troops, now might be the time. 

"We just came off a tremendous victory to win the NFC East. Guys are riding extremely high. It's a little bittersweet. But you know what? We've got the Giants this week and we've got an opportunity to ... if you win Sunday, you get a first-round bye. There's still a lot to play for. That's what's exciting about this season. We're still playing for the opportunity to hopefully be in that game."

Pederson, just after delivering news of a torn ACL, was adamant that his team can overcome the loss of Carson Wentz

"It sure can," he said. "Heck yeah." 

It won't be easy. Before leaving Sunday's game, Wentz threw his 33rd touchdown pass of the 2017 season, breaking the Eagles' franchise record that had stood since 1961. But more than touchdown passes, Wentz made special plays seemingly every week, plays that only a handful of quarterbacks in the world can make. 

Nick Foles is a pretty adequate backup, and he did a nice job when called upon against the Rams. But he ain't Carson Wentz. Everyone, including his teammates, knows that. 

It's just that they don't have time to wallow in the loss of their superstar leader. Next weekend might be huge. 

A win against the Giants would earn the Eagles a first-round bye. A win against the Giants, paired with a Vikings loss, would earn them home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. After another obstacle was dropped in front of them on Monday morning, the Eagles can still help themselves. 

Pederson's role in all this is vital. He has to be the guy to hold it all together.  

"It's huge," he said. "I think even the guys felt it after the game yesterday. We just rally and we support the next guy. From my standpoint, you don't waver, man. You don't let people see you sweat, you just put your head down and you go to work. You get everybody ready to play. It was evident yesterday when Carson was out of the game, you saw Nick come in and come back and lead us to victory in that game. That right there is a great step in the right direction."

Jeffrey Lurie deserves more credit

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USA Today Images

Jeffrey Lurie deserves more credit

There’s one person who’s been here for all of it. From the wild-card win over the Lions at the Vet in 1995 to the win over the Falcons last weekend at the Linc. 

There’s one constant over the years with the Eagles, and that’s owner Jeff Lurie, and I don’t think he’s ever been appreciated enough for the organization he’s built, and I don’t think he’s ever been given enough credit for the way he’s built it.

Since 1995, the first year that Lurie had complete control of the franchise, the Eagles have reached the playoffs 13 times, and only the Packers, Colts, Steelers and Patriots have gotten there more. 

Today’s game against the Vikings will be the Eagles’ sixth conference championship game under Lurie’s ownership, and only the Patriots have been to more during that 23-year span.

We’re all aware the Eagles have never won a Super Bowl and haven’t won a championship since 1960, but Lurie has done absolutely everything in his power to build a winner since the day he got here.

He has never hesitated to spend money — tons of money — for free agents. Somewhere along the line, Lurie gained the reputation for being cheap when nothing could be farther from the truth. 

From Troy Vincent and Irving Fryar in the mid-1990s to Jevon Kearse and Jon Runyan and Asante Samuel and Nnamdi Asomugha and Stacy Andrews, the Eagles have always out-spent everybody in their pursuit of talent. 

Now, all those guys didn’t pan out. We know all about the Eagles’ free agent busts over the years. There have been plenty of them. But that’s not Lurie’s fault. He always trusted his personnel guys, and that’s what a good owner does. When they wanted a player, he wrote the check. 

He gave fans one of the nicest stadiums in the NFL. He got the NovaCare Complex built, helping make Philly an attractive destination for free agents. He's hired four head coaches, and the first two — Ray Rhodes and Andy Reid — were named Coach of the Year within their first few seasons. Chip Kelly could have been in 2013. Doug Pederson should be this year.

He approved the Michael Vick signing after a long and careful evaluation period when no other owner wanted anything to do with him, facilitating Vick's reinvention as a playoff quarterback as well as a productive member of society.

He navigated the franchise through a stormy transition from Joe Banner's stewardship of the front office to Howie Roseman's. He went out and hired Joe Douglas, which has paid immediate dividends in terms of talent.

He's brilliantly re-connected the franchise with its past, something his predecessor, Norman Braman, refused to do. Guys who gave everything they had for this franchise years ago and decades ago are once more made to feel a part of things instead of being forgotten and ignored. The historical displays at the Linc give real meaning to the 85-year history of one of the NFL's original franchises.

And he was in the middle of one of the most important decisions in Eagles history — the decision to move up to the No. 2 spot in the 2016 draft by any means necessary, whatever the cost, to draft Carson Wentz.

The organization's realization that until it had an elite franchise quarterback in place it wasn't likely to make a Super Bowl run was critical, and Lurie led that charge.

There have been mistakes and misjudgments along the way. That's going to happen when you run a franchise for a quarter of a century.

He allowed Brian Dawkins to leave after the 2008 season. He stuck with Reid one year too long. He shouldn't have given Chip unlimited power after the 2014 season. 

But the overall body of work? Overwhelmingly positive.

Since 1995, the Eagles have won 10 or more games 13 times in 23 seasons. Their overall record since Lurie took over — 206-160-2 (.563) — is sixth-best in the NFL during that span, second only to the Packers in the NFC.

And now they're one game from their second Super Bowl under Lurie, one game from winning the NFC with Pederson coaching and Nick Foles quarterbacking.

All the criticisms we've always heard about Lurie — he's an outsider, he's only in it to get rich, he's too cheap — are so ridiculously off-base and always have been.

Without Lurie there is no Reid or Pederson, which means there is no Tom Modrak or Howie Roseman, which means there is no Donovan McNabb or Wentz, there is no Dawk or Hugh or Trott, there is no Brian Westbrook or Jason Peters.

No, the Eagles haven't won a championship since Lurie bought the team, but he's done everything he could to make it happen.

And if not this year, the Eagles sure are in a tremendous position to keep making deep playoff runs for the foreseeable future.

Lurie wants this as bad as you do. He really does. 

It's time to appreciate what he's done for this franchise and recognize that without him, today would probably be just another lazy January Sunday where we all sat in front of the TV and watched somebody else play football.

Unselfish veterans key to Eagles' offensive success

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AP Images

Unselfish veterans key to Eagles' offensive success

When LeGarrette Blount was a rookie with the Buccaneers back in 2010, he wanted the ball. All the time. Every snap. Most rookies do.

Didn't happen. Bucs offensive coordinator Greg Olsen — who was at the Linc last weekend with the Falcons — made sure former 1,000-yard rusher Cadillac Williams got his touches, as well.

Blount respected Williams but wasn't crazy about the arrangement.

"Obviously, I wanted the football," Blount said of his younger self. "I felt like I was the better back, but Cadillac Williams had been a top-5 pick a few years earlier, he had been Rookie of the Year, he had an amazing career before his knee injury (in 2007).

"And Earnest Graham was one of my teammates, and he would just be like, ‘Man, be patient, wait your turn, it’ll come full circle, I promise you.’ 

"And so I waited and I was patient and my turn did come, and from then on I figured, 'OK, patience is the big key.' Don’t worry about yourself. Keep on grinding and preparing, and when your chance comes just make the best of it."

Seven years later, Blount has essentially become Earnest Graham, the wise old veteran who preaches patience and unselfishness to his younger teammates.

The Eagles don't have a 1,000-yarder rusher, they don't have a 1,000-yard receiver, but they do have 13 regular-season wins, a playoff win over the Falcons and a spot Sunday in the NFC Championship Game.

They're only the fifth team in the last 30 years to play in a conference title game without a 1,000-yard rusher or receiver. And they're the first in 11 years to get this far without anybody even reaching 900 yards.

And without veteran stars like Blount and Alshon Jeffery setting the tone with their unselfish approach, this sort of balanced approach to offense just doesn't work.

“We’ve had games where I didn’t have any carries, we’ve had games where Alshon didn’t have any catches, and we’re winning, and that’s the overall goal," Blount said.

"We couldn’t care less how many catches or how many carries or how many yards any one guy has. We all have one common goal in hand. We all have one thing that we all want more than anything."

We've all seen what happens when a star receiver or running back mouths off about his role or even complain quietly in the locker room to his teammates.

It creates hostility and jealousy. It puts coaches in a tricky position. It can sway a quarterback to target players to keep them happy instead of just running the offense. And worst of all, it can influence younger impressionable players to behave the same way.

These things can all crush a team.

But when guys like Blount, a two-time Super Bowl winner who led the NFL in touchdowns last year, and Jeffery, a Pro Bowler and two-time 1,000-yard receiver, are unselfish, team-first guys, it does the opposite. The young guys always want to be like the veterans, and when those veterans are setting an unselfish tone, it has a ripple effect throughout the roster.

"Me coming in as a young guy I already had that mindset when I got here that whatever the team needs that’s what I’m going to do," rookie receiver Mack Hollins said.

"But when you see your stars doing the same thing? That's huge. If you have guys who are demanding the ball or demanding touches, whatever they’re demanding, once you start demanding stuff, that’s when everything starts to fall apart. 

"You demand stuff, the ball ends up in places it’s not supposed to be and then you stop winning games. Having older guys, your so-called stars, that aren’t worried about what they get, they’re only worried about what we get, that’s critical to our success.”

The last team to reach a conference championship game without a 1,000-yard receiver or runner was the 2006 Patriots. The last to do it in the NFC was the 2003 Eagles and that was more a lack of talent than a real sense of unselfishness. The last NFC team to reach a Super Bowl without a 1,000-yard runner or receiver was the 1996 Packers.

Guess who was a backup quarterback on that team.

Doug Pederson.

It's Pederson who has set the tone for this team's steadfast unselfishness, but it wouldn't work if guys like Jeffery and Blount didn't totally buy in.

"I didn't have to sell it too much," Pederson said. "These guys are unselfish players. They are team players No. 1, and they are great additions to our football team and they have helped us get to this position in this conference championship.

"So it's not a big sell with them. Bottom line is both those guys just want to win the game."

The win last weekend against the Falcons was typical. Six guys had between three and five catches and between 24 and 61 yards.

During the regular season, three receivers had between 789 and 824 yards. Seven others had at least 120 receiving yards. And five running backs had at least 150 rushing yards but none had 800.

It's not going to get anybody to the Pro Bowl, but it sure makes the Eagles difficult to defend.

"It's not basketball, it's football," Jeffery said. "Football, you need everybody. If a lot of players or anyone got a lot of stats besides the quarterback, I mean, I don't think your team is doing too well. I'm just being honest."

Blount had the Eagles' only 100-yard rushing game — against the Chargers back on Oct. 1. Nelson Agholor, Zach Ertz and Torrey Smith each had a 100-yard receiving game. 

Nobody had more than one.

"Sometimes you just have to put it all on the line, and you can’t be selfish when everybody has one common goal because you have to make sacrifices for the better of the team," Blount said. "We’ve done that and it’s gotten us this far."

"There’s a lot of things that you can do that could be (selfish) but we’re a family, man. We love each other. We have each others’ back. That’s what’s gotten us this far throughout the injuries of guys and everything else."

The Eagles are one win away from riding this unselfishness, this team-first mentality, to the Super Bowl.

They face the Vikings at 6:40 p.m. Sunday at the Linc in the NFC Championship Game.

If all goes to form, they won't have a 100-yard rusher or receiver, but they'll have something a lot more meaningful.

Another win.

"This is just a pretty unselfish team all in all," Blount said. "From the O-line to the receivers to the quarterback, we have a really unselfish team at every position and that’s what you need. 

"You have guys that go out there and will do anything for a win, and if that requires them not playing as much or playing less, whatever it may be, they’re all aboard. That's why we are where we are."