It was big that the Eagles won Sunday night. What might have been bigger is how they won.
To a great extent the Eagles beat the 49ers with a bunch of young guys. Rookies. Draft picks. Practice squad call-ups. Waiver wire pickups who’ve been waiting patiently for a chance.
And that’s something that’s been missing around here for a while.
When the Eagles have won lately, it’s been because their best players were their oldest players. Kelce. Fletch. B.G. Malcolm. Ertz. Lane. Guys in their 30s or close to it.
It’s way too early to call this a youth movement, but there are some intriguing signs of life from some of the younger guys on the roster.
The Eagles ran a functional offensive line out there Sunday night with 22-year-old Nate Herbig and 23-year-old Jordan Mailata and got some good reps also from 23-year-old Jack Driscoll. They’re all showing promise. They’ve all made their first career starts this year. They all have a chance.
Josh Sweat, who’s 23, and Derek Barnett, still only 24, both seem to have taken their game to another level.
John Hightower, who had that huge fourth-down catch, is 24. K’Von Wallace, who had played seven career defensive snaps before finding himself covering George Kittle, is 23. Jalen Hurts, who seems to give the offense a jolt of energy whenever he’s out there, is 22. Travis Fulgham, who caught the game-winning TD, just turned 25. So did Genard Avery.
We saw speedy 22-year-old Adrian Killins make his NFL debut. Trusty Greg Ward, who leads the Eagles with 18 catches, is 24. Jalen Reagor is hurt right now, but he’s only 21. Davion Taylor, 22, and Shaun Bradley, 23, are playing a ton of special teams.
Not all these guys are going to pan out. Some may wind up as roster blips, forgotten by the end of the year.
But if the Eagles are going to have sustained success, a bunch of them have to develop and turn into quality NFL starters. Maybe a few will become stars.
Because that whole 2017 nucleus — Cox, Ertz, Graham, Kelce and the others — won’t be here forever. Guys get old and retire or get hurt or just aren’t that good anymore. Sadly, it looks like we’re seeing that right now with Jason Peters and DeSean Jackson, two all-time Eagles.
The Eagles haven’t had any young superstars in years. Their last Pro Bowler under 25 was Cody Parkey in 2014 and their last defensive Pro Bowlers under 25 were Lito Sheppard and Michael Lewis in 2004, for crying out loud.
We know what Miles Sanders can do, and he's only 23. Avonte Maddox is 24 and Dallas Goedert is 25.
But those guys are the exceptions.
Years of uneven drafting have taken a toll, and because of it the Eagles have grown over-reliant on older veterans and big-money free agents.
It’s not a formula for sustained success.
So seeing guys like Hightower and Mailata and Barnett and Sweat and Fulgham and Hurts and Herbig helping the Eagles win a crucial road game against a team that was in the Super Bowl eight months ago was really encouraging.
Let's be realistic. Most of these guys still have to prove they can be consistently productive pros. One promising night in Santa Clara doesn't prove anything.
But Sunday was a positive step. And whatever happens the next 12 games, the Eagles have to give these kids as much playing time as possible.
At this point nobody wants to see Peters getting embarrassed by players he would have dominated a few years ago or D-Jack unable to get through two games in a row without getting hurt.
The more snaps these youngsters get, the better.
We all know the Eagles need to get younger and faster, and maybe Sunday night was one small step toward that goal.