Eagles' Super Bowl task just got tougher

Eagles' Super Bowl task just got tougher

BLOOMINGTON, Minn. — Gronk is back. 

Patriots All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski has cleared the NFL's concussion protocol and was a full participant in Thursday's practice at Vikings' Winter Park. 

The Eagles are going to have to deal with the best tight end in football in Super Bowl LII on Sunday. 

"I was just going through the protocol, whatever the standards were, whatever they had me do throughout the weeks," Gronkowski said Thursday afternoon. "I mean, I would say they were more on the cautious side of getting me out there right away with the bye week and everything in between, which definitely helped out big time, but just did every step by step every day, everything went smooth, and officially got the word today that I was cleared. So it was super nice to hear from the doctors going through the whole process and I'm ready to roll."

It's likely the Eagles will call on safety Malcolm Jenkins to cover Gronkowski on Sunday night. Jenkins has had success against top tight ends in the league before, but Gronk is a different animal. In every game Jenkins has ever faced the Patriots, either Gronk was hurt or it came before the tight end entered the league in 2010. 

Gronkowski (6-6, 267) played in just 14 games this regular season, but still went over 1,000 yards receiving for the fourth time in his eight-year career. 

"Obviously looking forward to the matchup," Jenkins said last week. "He's a top tight end in this league for a reason. He does a great job of creating contact and using his body to separate the defender from the ball and catches contested throws. He's faster than most people think and then (Tom) Brady puts it in a spot only he can get it." 

The Eagles practiced on Thursday afternoon, following their morning media session. Tim Jernigan (illness) missed practice for the second straight day. The Eagles have been dealing with a cold that's been passed around; Kenjon Barner and Doug Pederson were sick last week in Philly. Ronald Darby was added to the injury report with an illness but was a full participant. 

Also full participants were Jay Ajayi (ankle), Fletcher Cox (calf) and Dannell Ellerbe (hamstring).  

Back to Patriots practice, Brady practiced with black tape on his right throwing hand for the second straight day as the Patriots went in shells and helmets, a step down from their fully-padded practice on Wednesday. 

DBs Malcolm Butler (illness) and Brandon King (knee) were also full participants on Thursday, according to a pool report. Lineman Deatrich Wise Jr. also cleared the NFL's concussion protocol. 

The Patriots had a special guest Thursday: former nose tackle Vince Wilfork spoke to the team after practice.  

"He's a great leader for us, team captain 11 years," Belichick said. "A lot of friends here on the team, some new faces. But a guy that was very well-respected and had tremendous leadership on the team. It was good to see him." 

Eagles are falling apart and Doug Pederson has no answers

Eagles are falling apart and Doug Pederson has no answers

Let’s put in perspective just how catastrophic this was.

The NFL was formed in 1920. The league has crowned 98 champions. The Eagles were the 98th.

None of the first 97 had ever lost a regular-season game this badly.

That’s on Doug.

There are a lot of reasons a team that was unstoppable a year ago — the Eagles won 16 of 18 games that they tried to win — is now 4-6 and has lost five of its last seven games.

There are a lot of reasons the Eagles went into the Superdome Sunday and left with a 48-7 loss.

There are a lot of reasons the Eagles are averaging a touchdown less per game than last year and have just seven takeaways all year.

Doug Pederson got the credit last year when the Eagles had a dream season, and with this season crumbling to pieces in front of our eyes, we need to be honest about where to assess the blame.

It’s on Doug.

We can blame Howie Roseman for not doing a better job replacing some of the guys who left. We can blame Mike Groh for being a pale imitation of Frank Reich. We can blame Carson Wentz for not being able to make big throws at big moments when the Eagles need them the most.

But when a collapse is this complete, when a team is this unprepared, when an offense is this lifeless, when a season turns out this grim, it points directly at the head coach.

The Eagles have been shut out in eight of 10 first quarters this year, and that’s a team that’s just not ready to play football when the ball is kicked off.

It’s way too easy to just chalk this all up to the Super Bowl Hangover. Oh, this happens to every Super Bowl winner.

But that’s not the case. Only six teams in history have ever won a Super Bowl and then had a losing record the next year. Nobody since the Buccaneers in 2003.

Before that? The 1999 Broncos, but John Elway had just retired, which kind of explained that. Before that, the 1988 Redskins.

That was 30 years ago.

Super Bowl champions don’t do what the Eagles are doing. Because there’s a reason they won a Super Bowl a year earlier. Elite players and coaches.

I still think the Eagles have a ton of talent on offense, and they’ve been decimated by injuries on defense but they never really caught up to the Eagles until Sunday at the Superdome.

This is a talented team that’s playing horribly, and that’s on one person.

Doug had all the answers last year. Everything he did, everything he said. I’ve never seen a coach have such a magic touch with playcalling, handling a team, setting the tone for the week.

Whatever crisis came up, Doug and his guys just laughed it off and then went out and won by 24 points.

Now, Doug just has no answers. The same things keep happening, and so far he hasn’t shown any indication he knows what to do. How to stop it. How to fix it.

The same slow starts, the same lack of preparation, the same late-game collapses keep happening over and over and over.

And that magic from last year just isn’t there.

The Eagles made history last year, and nobody can ever take that away.

Now they’re on the brink of making history again, this time as one of the worst Super Bowl teams ever a year later.

And when Doug’s players and coaches and staff look at him for answers, they’re seeing someone who doesn’t have any.

And that’s the scariest thing of all.

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Doug Pederson tells Eagles players to not hang their heads; didn't work

Doug Pederson tells Eagles players to not hang their heads; didn't work

NEW ORLEANS — Doug Pederson walked through the visitors’ locker room at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome after the Eagles’ embarrassing 48-7 loss to the Saints (see observations) and told player after player to not hang their heads. 

They didn’t listen. 

How could they? 

In the wake of that butt-kicking on national television, player after player declined interviews. Player after player sat at their respective lockers with their heads down, shoulders slumped. Player after player wore dead-eyed stares. 

I’ve been to wakes with more energy. 

But that’s what happens when a team loses this bad. That’s what happens when a team with such high expectations has repeatedly failed to live up to them. The Eagles are lost right now. They gave up 48 points. They scored just seven. And it’s hard to figure out what’s the bigger problem. 

“I told them not to hang their head,” said Pederson, whose eyes were watery and bloodshot. “I told them that we’re going to come to work this week. We’ve got a great opportunity in front of us. We’re going to stay committed. I’m going to lead this football team and follow me. To every man in there, they embrace that. They understand that we’re obviously held accountable to the way we played today. But we’re going to look at the tape and we’re going to fix the mistakes and get ready for New York.” 

At least he didn’t say they need to look in the mirror. 

Pederson said they’re going to try to correct their mistakes. What else can he say? The coaching staff has to try to get this ship righted, but it’s Week 11 and the Eagles are now 4-6.

Pederson said despite the lopsided loss, his players “continued to battle, continued to fight.” 

Did they? They looked pretty dead to me. 

When asked point-blank if he ever questioned his team’s effort, he said: “Never. Not once.” 

Obviously, the thing everyone in the organization fears is that the team throws in the towel on the season. That would be incredibly and especially damning for the head coach. But at least if they gave up on Sunday, it would explain the drubbing. If they gave full effort and still lost by 41 points, might that actually be worse? 

Thanks to a Washington loss on Sunday, the Eagles are still just two games out of the NFC East lead with four division games — two against Washington — left to go. But it’s hard to come away from watching the loss to New Orleans and realistically think about the playoffs. 

Could a loss like this send the season into a tailspin? 

“There’s always that fear,” Pederson admitted. “But I didn’t sense that with our group. Not at all. Not in that locker room on the offensive and defensive side. To each and every man, just told them don’t hang their head. We’re obviously in a rough spot right here, but I believe in those players and those coaches and we’ll get it fixed.”

Pederson still believes. But it’s fair to wonder how alone he is. 

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