Not every local sportswriter had an enjoyable experience in the press box at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday. In fact, most of us had to stay and watch the entire game.
The Eagles won an arm-wrestling contest with an opponent that chose to tie both hands behind its back, and if a win under that circumstance is cause for celebration, that's a pretty good measure of how low things have gotten here. Confusing charity with achievement is tempting, but it's no way to get an honest self-assessment.
"I challenged the team a couple weeks ago as far as, let's finish the season the right way, and our last month of the season has been definitely heading in the right direction," Doug Pederson said. "It's great to finish strong, two division opponents, and get two wins this way, Kicking off the year the right way."
Beating the Giants and the Cowboys' second string long after being eliminated from contention is better than losing, but it would have been a lot more useful to win games during the stretch from Oct. 9 to Dec. 18, when the team was 2-9. Presumably, Pederson challenged the Eagles to remain relevant during that span and the challenge went unmet.
But yippee for a win and let's hear it for starting the new year right and, hey, play here-play there, it could have been us resting the regulars and headed for a playoff bye. As if.
During Sunday's game, a team source told the Inquirer's Zach Berman that, despite various rumors to the contrary, the organization was not contemplating changes at the upper level of the football hierarchy after the 7-9 season. Pederson would be back for a sophomore season. De facto general manager Howie Roseman would remain in place. The machinery that grinds steadily toward a bright future, with the gears sounding like this — "Wentz, Wentz, Wentz" — is the right one and the organization is staying the course.
That's fine, and might even be right, but aside from the quarterback position, there isn't much to indicate this team is really any better or more promising than the one that finished 7-9 a season ago and ignited the boosters on the Chip Kelly centrifuge that has now spun him from sub-orbital to deep space.
In the NFL, as Roseman reported after returning from his yearlong, deep-thinking sabbatical, there is no such thing as "aside from the quarterback position," and that's a good point, too.
If Carson Wentz is what the Eagles believe him to be, then the short-term pain — or maybe medium-term, or maybe long-term pain — will be worth it. All the draft picks and players sacrificed in order to draft him, which set back the team severely this season, will be nothing in comparison. (And, yes, they did recover Minnesota's first-round pick for Sam Bradford, which will be somewhere in the range of 14th or 15th overall. It should also be noted that their last three first-round picks taken at that point or later in the round were Danny Watkins, Marcus Smith, and Nelson Agholor.)
The question that was only partially answered this season is whether their assessment of Wentz is correct. Who can tell? He had just 16 touchdown passes and 14 interceptions and played to a mediocre 79.3 quarterback rating, but he had no receivers of which to speak and an offensive line that never recovered from Lane Johnson's suspension. We did learn that the young man could escape danger more often than one would think, and he got a lot of practice at it.
Give him some weapons and a solid line and what do you have? This season kept the answer a secret, and the problem is the next season might not be any more forthcoming. There are so many holes — defensive backfield, defensive line, offensive line, receivers, maybe running back — that the team doesn't have enough shovels to fill them all in one offseason.
"I'm going to wait to answer that because we've got an evaluation process these next couple of weeks to evaluate everything," Pederson said, asked what the team needs. "It's really hard to answer that right now."
Well, that's the right thing to say, at least until the players who play in those positions of need are able to pack up their lockers and get out of town, but some of them have to be back. Meanwhile, another year is gone and with it will be more than a few players who played out their last serviceable season with nothing to show for it.
Make your own list. Connor Barwin? Bennie Logan? Jason Kelce? Mychal Kendricks? Maybe they weren't all great this season, but they'll have to be replaced. And, don't look now. Bright spots like Brandon Graham and Malcolm Jenkins will be either at or approaching 30 by the end of next season. It goes fast.
So, enjoy the giddy thrill of finishing strong at 7-9 for the second straight season, if you like, but don't be surprised if a third one follows, or a fourth. And buckle up. If the team is wrong about Wentz or something happens to him, the organization won't have to eject folks from the stadium. They'll leave happily of their own accord.