In light of Eagles' success, it's fun to consider all the ways the season could have gone south | Mike Sielski

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There were many moments where the Eagles’ season could have easily gone off the rails.

The Eagles would probably lead the NFL this season in upended expectations, if the league kept track of that sort of thing. So far, the biggest of those has been that the team has continued to win despite the absence of Carson Wentz. The Eagles’ style has changed, of course. They’ve gone from mauling all comers with Wentz to squeaking out close games with Nick Foles, and in that transition they’ve shown that their strongest trait is their resiliency, their ability to shrug off injuries to important players or avoid potential pratfalls and problems to keep winning.

Along the way – even well before the regular season began, in fact – there have been plenty of episodes that, to one degree or another, threatened to damage the Eagles’ chances of reaching the point that they’ve reached now: 14 wins in 17 games, a berth in the NFC championship game, a victory away from a berth in Super Bowl LII. And if some of these episodes weren’t really big deals even at the time they happened, many people treated them as such. That’s the nature of the NFL these days, especially when it comes to the franchise in Philadelphia, and the nature of sports coverage. You don’t just report what happened. You have to provide analysis or speculation about what this revelation or insight might lead to, and that can be a tricky business. Circumstances change. The unpredictable transpires. A reasonable guess ends up, as time passes, looking daft in hindsight. And often, minor stories get magnified beyond their proper perspective and proportion.

In that context, it’s funny now to consider all the ways that this Eagles season might have been derailed. For instance…

Sunday, Sept. 10

LANDOVER, Md. – Nelson Agholor stood at his locker with his back turned to the media members surrounding him there. He began to scream to no one in particular: “YOU’RE BETTER THAN THIS! YOU’RE BETTER THAN THIS!” But he had provided no evidence Sunday that he is.

In his first game since the Eagles made him their starting slot receiver, Agholor dropped all seven passes that quarterback Carson Wentz threw to him during a 24-13 loss to the Redskins at FedEx Field. Though Agholor, a first-round draft pick in 2015, had struggled throughout his first two NFL seasons, the Eagles had grown confident enough in him during training camp that they traded Jordan Matthews to the Buffalo Bills in early August.

Poll

Are you surprised that the Eagles are playoff underdogs again?

“Just have to keep working,” Agholor said after regaining his composure. “Keep working. Keep working. Keep working.”

***

Wednesday, Nov. 8

PHILADELPHIA – Eagles defensive tackle Fletcher Cox admitted today that his decision in May to skip the first week of organized team activities has led to his poor play this season.

In their 34-17 loss to the Broncos on Sunday, the Eagles allowed Brock Osweiler to throw for 298 yards and three touchdowns and never sacked him. Cox, whom the Eagles signed in 2016 to a six-year contract that could be worth as much as $103 million, was on the field for all 66 defensive snaps but did not make a tackle. He has not recorded a tackle in any of the team’s last three games, all of which have been losses and have dropped the Eagles’ record to 3-6.

Cox had missed the week of OTAs, a league source said at the time, to spend more time with his family.

“I realize now that my family should never come before voluntary football practice,” Cox said. “Without those walk-throughs, I just haven’t been the same player.”

Camera icon Yong Kim
Would Eagles defensive tackle Fletcher Cox have played even better against the Falcons on Saturday if he hadn’t skipped a week of OTAs in May?

***

Monday, Nov. 27

PHILADELPHIA – Claiming during an impromptu interview session with reporters that he “could coach this team better than Dopey Doug ever could,” Jim Schwartz announced today that he was resigning as the Eagles’ defensive coordinator.

The announcement marked the culmination of 12 weeks of discord between Schwartz and head coach Doug Pederson, as the Eagles have limped to a 4-7 record this season. An article in ESPN The Magazine last week detailed the intra-organizational power struggle among Pederson, Schwartz, owner Jeffrey Lurie, and vice president Howie Roseman. In one anecdote from the article, the four men met during the team’s bye week earlier this month, at which time Schwartz told Lurie and Roseman that he believed he would be a better head coach for the Eagles than Pederson.

Schwartz is rumored to become the head coach for the next NFL team that hires Mike Lombardi as its general manager.

***

Tuesday, Dec. 26

PHILADELPHIA – In the wake of Nick Foles’ subpar performance in a Christmas night victory over the Raiders, the Eagles have waived the former Pro Bowl quarterback and announced Tuesday that they had signed Colin Kaepernick.