The Eagles lost their Bodyguard on Monday night. They lost their left tackle, who has protected the blind side of Philly quarterbacks for the last decade. They lost their captain, who lords over the locker room from his corner perch at the NovaCare Complex.
And when a fallen leader needs to be wheeled off the field, his exit deserves an appropriate send off.
Jason Peters – air cast around his injured right knee — was hoisted onto a cart around 10:15 p.m. Eastern time. Eagles players ignored officials and emptied onto the field and enveloped the offensive lineman. Every one. Save for linebacker Nigel Bradham, for whatever reason.
Peters, who only moments earlier was writhing on the ground, looked at ease when ESPN cameras focused on his face. He seemed to be encouraging his teammates to finish the task at hand. And, in fact, he offered words of encouragement and some coaching to his replacement, Halapoulivaati Vaitai, before leaving.
But Peters’ fate was ominous.
“If he stays down for a long period of time,” Eagles right tackle Lane Johnson said afterward, “usually it means something serious.”
Eagles coach Doug Pederson said that he wouldn’t know the extent of Peters’ knee injury until further tests on Tuesday. But several of his teammates said that they feared he suffered a ligament tear.
Could the injury cost him the next game? The rest of the season? His career? Questions about his and the long-term future at left tackle will have to wait for now. But if Peters’ season is indeed over, there was solace in the Eagles’ performance after he left and, ultimately, in a 34-24 win over the Redskins that was resilient.
Carson Wentz, of course, will compensate for slow starts, injuries, and various flaws. The quarterback, despite his relative youth, is playing at an otherwordly level. And even if Vaitai must replace Peters for the foreseeable future, there is reason to believe that Wentz will offset the downgrade.
And there was a reduction at left tackle after the 35-year-old Peters left. You don’t lose a probable future Hall of Famer, who is still playing at an elite level, and not suffer some sort of drop off. Eagles fans noted the significance as Peters was driven off the field. Chants of “Ja-SON PET-ers” rained down from the stands at Lincoln Financial Field as he waved his hand.
Peters went down with just under 14 minutes left in the third quarter and the Eagles ahead, 17-10. Redskins defensive tackle Ziggy Hood rolled onto the side of the burly tackle’s leg and Peters clunked to the grass like an anvil.
The replays were gruesome and showed Peters’ leg bending awkwardly under the force of Hood’s 305-pound body. Peters rolled on the ground and other nearby Eagles, such as wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, were visibly upset. The Eagles’ medical staff eventually stabilized Peters’ leg and he called to offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland to relay to Vaitai a tip on how to block Junior Galette.
“He didn’t even care [about his injury],” Wentz said. “He was just trying to coach and help us out to find a way to win.”
But Peters was able to speak to Vaitai after the players streamed onto the field.
“He said, ‘Just keep working hard. Don’t doubt yourself. Move onto the next play and you’ll be alright,'” Vaitai said. “He believed in me. It was a confidence boost.”
Vaitai took over at left tackle, as he did in the opening-day win at the Redskins, and the Eagles went back to work without missing a step. Wentz hit receiver Nelson Agholor for ten yards, and tight end Trey Burton for seven. The quarterback kept on a zone read and motored 21 yards and found tight end Zach Ertz over the middle for another 21.
Even a Vaitai false start in the red zone didn’t dissuade the Eagles. Two plays later, Wentz under a heavy rush, and just before he was hit, flicked a 9-yard fade to running back Corey Clement for a touchdown. The seemingly improbable toss had Hood pounding the ground in frustration.
But Wentz saved his best Houdini impersonation in the next quarter. The Redskins had narrowed the margin to 24-17 and they had the Eagles facing third and 8 on their own 27. They blitzed and Vaitai and the offensive line couldn’t sustain the onslaught. Wentz was swallowed up — or so it seemed. He somehow emerged from the scrum and scrambled for 17 yards.
Six plays later, Wentz found Agholor for a 10-yard touchdown and the Eagles took a 31-17 lead.
Can coach Doug Pederson expect Wentz to always bail the Eagles out? No. The Eagles offensive line had been one of the team’s more consistent units, especially during its five-game winning streak. They had become one of the better two-faceted groups in the NFL as the offense rediscovered his running game last month.
But they will need to help Vaitai from time to time. The Eagles had explored the idea of sliding Johnson from right tackle to left in previous seasons. And he filled in for the absent Peters in the second preseason game this August. But he struggled. Jumping from one side to the other is not for everyone.
Pederson said that he didn’t yet know if he would move Johnson. The right tackle said that he would be fine with it, but he noted the elite pass rushers he was scheduled to face over the next several weeks.
“You got DeMarcus Lawrence, who’s leading the league in sacks. You got Von Miller,” Johnson said, who also could have mentioned Khalil Mack. “It’s pretty tough on the right side, as well. So there’s really no place to hide.”
So it will likely be Vaitai, who played right tackle for the suspended Johnson last season, and who made the difficult switch to the left during the offseason.
As for Peters, his future is unclear. He’s never had a major knee injury in the NFL. But he did suffer two Achilles tendon ruptures in the 2012 offseason. Peters rebounded and came back better than ever in 2013. He played in every game last season. And he signed a two-year contract extension in June.
“He means a ton to that football team and to that locker room in there,” Pederson said. “He’s a tremendous leader. … You just see the respect on the guys. You see the respect of the fans what a guy like that, an all-pro left tackle who has been in this business a long time and the toughness that he plays with every single week.
“He plays nicked up every single week, and there’s no complaining out of him.”
But Peters has spoken openly about seeing the finish line. He wouldn’t want to end his career this way. But he earned a hero’s departure on Monday night. And the Eagles rode the cape of their quarterback in his absence.
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