Losing a season opener in itself isn’t cause for alarm. Four of the last seven times the Eagles have opened up a season 0-1 they’ve reached the playoffs, and that includes 2001, 2002 and 2003, when they reached the NFC Championship Game each year.
It’s not the loss. It’s how they lost. And who they lost to.
That’s what makes this one of the biggest challenges of Doug Pederson’s five years as head coach.
The Eagles lost a game Sunday that they simply can’t lose in a fashion that can’t happen.
And when a team with legit playoff aspirations coming off three straight postseason appearances blows a 17-point lead on opening day against a team in total rebuilding mode with a new head coach and a 23-year-old quarterback and 14 years without a playoff win … and it happens with their own 27-year-old 5th-year QB melting down?
That just can't happen.
And 16 teams are going to be 0-1 this weekend, but only one had the game won and gave it away in such spectacular style with their biggest superstar the biggest culprit.
So it’s not over-stating anything to say this is a critical time for Pederson. Because this one was a W on everybody’s list of predictions, and over the seven weeks, the Eagles have the Rams, 49ers, Steelers, Ravens and Cowboys on the schedule, and if they’re not careful, this thing could get away from them quickly.
And if you can’t beat Washington, maybe we need to add the Giants and Bengals to that list as well.
Since he got here, Pederson has been at his best when things were at their worst.
2016: They won their last two games in Pederson and Carson Wentz’s first season after an ugly five-game losing streak.
2017: They regrouped behind Nick Foles after Wentz’s injury and we all know what happened after that.
2018: Two years ago they found themselves 4-6 and left for dead after a historic 48-7 loss in New Orleans then finished 5-1 and with a playoff win in Chicago under Foles.
2019: They were 5-7 after a terrible loss to a 2-9 Dolphins team and then roared to four straight wins and a division title behind Wentz and a cast of practice squad unknowns.
Pederson’s greatest strength has always been keeping his team confident and motivated in the face of adversity, and his players have always responded to his voice.
That’s helped the Eagles become one of only four teams to reach the playoffs in each of the last three seasons despite an unbelievable rash of injuries that shows no sign of easing up.
But for them to make it four straight years, Pederson has quite a job in front of him.
Because you can’t always rely on late-season miracles to bail you out. And you can’t keep digging holes for yourself and figuring out a way to climb out of them. And let’s face it, going 9-7 and making a mad December dash for a wild-card berth isn’t what this team is supposed to be all about anyway.
Maybe the most disturbing thing about Sunday’s game was that it was Washington that had the confidence, swagger and attitude that the Eagles were supposed to have.
They were the team that believed in itself. They were the team that responded to their coach when things weren’t going well.
Pederson’s job is to change that. Very quickly.
To get Wentz back on track. To find an offensive line that can open some holes for the running backs and protect the QB. To get the defense back playing tough in the red zone.
More than all of that, he’s got to get this team to believe in itself again so they can compete with the better teams in the NFL.
Because during the last 32 minutes of that game Sunday, they didn’t look like a team that could even compete with the worst teams in the NFL.