CHICAGO - Unity is a difficult thing to achieve among a large group of individuals, but that's the challenge for football coaches attempting to build a team that sticks together when things aren't going well.
Having a happy team is easy when the talent is all there and the wins come naturally. That's not always the case for a team that is trying to find itself, trying to figure out if it is any good or not.
After two weeks, the Eagles are still a bit of a mystery team, at least as far as how this season will turn out. With Monday night's 29-14 win over the Bears, the Eagles remain undefeated, but their opponents are a combined 0-4. There was a lot to like in Soldier Field, but a lot that needs to be fixed, and much of that fixing will take time.
Time is what the Eagles have, however, and while this season could still yield something unexpected, that isn't necessarily the mission. Unity is the mission. Get the team together. Keep it together. Look in the same direction together.
There was a subtle bit of coaching in that regard by Doug Pederson before Monday's game even started. The pregame attention was focused on the protest gesture organized by safety Malcolm Jenkins during the national anthem, an action that was joined by three other players.
They made their point silently while thousands of fans in the stands honored the anthem by spinning towels in circles above their heads and cheering. We can discuss all of this for days and solve nothing.
What was most interesting, from a strictly football standpoint - and why else are we here? - was what happened immediately after the anthem. Pederson sent out Jenkins as one of his three game captains for the coin toss: Jenkins for the defense, Jason Kelce for the offense, and Chris Maragos for the special teams.
"Nothing's changed around here," Jenkins said. "That's the good thing. I've got nobody coming to me telling me not to do things. I think they all respect where I'm coming from. Things haven't changed in our building."
The coach knew for several days that Jenkins planned the protest. He didn't join that, and neither did the majority of the players. But he showed that his opinion of Jenkins and his opinion of Jenkins' role on the team were the same. He supported his guy in the only way he could, and it was a move you can be sure didn't go unnoticed among the others.
"It was a thing about unity. Whatever he did or was going to do, he was the captain for this week," guard Brandon Brooks said. "We're all a team at the end of the day."
That was a neat bit of finesse for a rookie coach. There's no guarantee his attempts at team-building will pay off in the long run. Unity is a fleeting thing. A few injuries, a few players who don't develop as well as hoped. Seasons that start with promise then fray. Getting everything going at the same time takes luck, but Pederson is putting them in position to take advantage if their luck holds.
Against the Bears, the Eagles went hot, then cold, then very hot again in the second half, with what turned into a lopsided win fueled by three Chicago turnovers. After the first two series of the game, they had already sacked Jay Cutler, stuffed the Bears offense, and taken the ball down for a 3-0 lead with Carson Wentz firing darts from one sideline to the other.
The narrative switched quickly as Cutler led Chicago to a touchdown, exposing some problems in the defensive backfield, but the Eagles retook a tenuous 9-7 lead at the half. Should have been more, but Jordan Matthews dropped a touchdown pass, another of those nagging problems that don't seem to go away.
On the road, struggling to hold things together, a lot of young and building teams let this kind of game slip away. It takes staying together at times like that, and despite their failings, that is what the Eagles did. They were playing without their starting tight end, with a kicker who was increasingly gimpy, with an offensive line that was a little leaky, and with a defensive backfield that wasn't very reliable.
And they won the game by two touchdowns.
That's impressive. It wasn't all about unity. A lot of it was about the two times the Bears put the ball on the ground after simple hits, or the one time that Cutler didn't seem to see linebacker Nigel Bradham. The resulting interception allowed the Eagles to bunch 13 points in the space of 21 seconds and turn a toss-up game into another win.
The turnovers helped, but unity and sticking together didn't hurt. That will be an asset in other games, too. They won't all turn out to be wins, but that is how teams are really built. They are built by coming through the fire and coming out the other side.
The trick isn't to always agree about everything. Sometimes the other guy misses a block or drops a ball or takes a stance you can't endorse. The trick is to have the other guy's back even when you disagree. That's a team.