When Doug Pederson and the Eagles coaching staff were preparing their strategy for Sunday's game at Detroit, the head coach saw something pretty scary - the film from last season's game at Detroit.
It was the third of three straight losses for Chip Kelly's fading team, a thumping defeat in which the Eagles fell behind by a significant margin in the first half and didn't put up any resistance the rest of the way. Eight current offensive starters and seven current defensive starters were on that team and lived through the humiliation. Zach Ertz, Ryan Mathews, and Jordan Hicks were out with injuries, but every member of the organization felt the loss.
So, as much as Pederson can bravely say he was confident this year's team was made of sterner stuff, when the Eagles fell behind by two touchdowns early on Sunday, he didn't know for sure how they would react. A total of 28 players who took snaps in Ford Field this time around had also been on the field for the Thanksgiving blowout that ended 45-14.
It turns out that things are actually different. A team that hadn't faced much adversity this season - trailing only once in the three previous games, and that by just four points - showed a lot about itself. The game still ended in a loss, but the Eagles came back to take a fourth-quarter lead and, one turnover aside, probably should have won. They earned the win even though they didn't get it, but they also earned respect.
"It just shows the character of this football team and where we are from even a year ago," Pederson said Monday. "I think this game a year ago got out of hand, and it got shut down, and it got blown out. This group didn't do that [Sunday]. This group was resilient. This group battled."
The game last season and the one this season started out similarly. Matthew Stafford came out hot and threw three touchdown passes in the first half of each game. A year ago, the defense returned from the locker room for the second half and promptly allowed two more. Not this time. Detroit gained a total of 10 net yards on its first four possessions of the second half, after gaining 199 net yards on its three first-half possessions.
Pederson said the sideline remained calm, the players didn't panic, the adjustments were made and - not pointing fingers or anything about anyone from the 2015 version - but he believes he knew why things held together.
"Well, I think it comes from the coaches," Pederson said. "If we're not prepared as a staff, the players are going to know it, players are going to see it and then there's chaos. I think it starts with the staff and works itself down to the players."
There was plenty going on that could have led to panic, or at least to the growing suspicion that this wasn't their day. The best example of their resolve came at the end of the first half, down 21-7, when the Eagles embarked on a strange 11-play drive in which they converted four first downs, were penalized 35 yards, were staring at third and 36 from their own side of midfield with 11 seconds left . . . and still got a field goal out of it. (They also survived the officials on that drive, one of whom wanted to bring back a 27-yard completion to Jordan Matthews, the longest play of the game for the Eagles offense, because No. 98 was illegally downfield. And he was downfield, but it was Detroit defensive end Devin Taylor, so that flag was quietly slipped back in the pocket.)
"Whatever adversity came our way, we were able to overcome it," Pederson said. "It's a sign of a good football team."
Not getting into that position is the sign of an even better football team, but the Eagles aren't quite there yet. They are still a quart low on reliable receivers and the defense showed a tendency to substitute aggression for discipline. If Lane Johnson loses his suspension appeal, as is expected, the offensive line's ability to protect the quarterback will be tested every week. And, just a reminder, their next seven opponents are a combined 24-9 at the moment.
No NFL season is going to keep going the way the first three weeks did for the Eagles. There are going to be other games like the one in Detroit, games in which the field tilts the wrong way and uphill is the only option. Not every team is willing to make the climb.
"This is a different football team than a year ago," Pederson said, the film from both games still fresh in his mind.
He thought that was the case. He hoped so. Now he knows.