Sit down, Eagles fans. We need to talk. Or, rather, I need to talk. You need to listen.
I’ll be honest: I’m worried. Not about your team. Nor about the Vikings. The thing that I’m worried about is you.
To understand where I am coming from, consider that this is something I overheard the other night: “I’d rather play the Patriots in the Super Bowl. It’d be more fun beating them than the Jaguars.”
I heard this after I’d already heard multiple people say that they were selling their tickets to Sunday’s game so that they could use the proceeds to fund a trip to the Super Bowl. Granted, that’s a less destructive mind-set than planning to pay for the trip with the money you plan to win on a four-figure wager on the Birds plus-3. But, then, I’ve heard of that plan too.
All of this leads me to conclude that an intervention is in order, my concerns being two-fold.
1. I am concerned that you are in danger of losing your underdog edge.
2. I am concerned about what this means for your psychological well-being.
Let’s tackle that second one first. Nobody should misinterpret what you are about to read as a suggestion that Case Keenum is a more formidable than quarterback than Russell Wilson or Drew Brees. In fact, one of the Eagles’ likeliest paths to victory on Sunday starts with the ball in his hands.
Up until this season, when the ball was in Keenum’s hands, there was a better-than-average chance that it would end up in the hands of the opposite team. In 2016, of the 30 NFL quarterbacks who attempted at least 300 passes, only two had those passes picked off more often. It’s one of those deal-breaking traits for quarterbacks with ordinary physical talent, and, in Keenum’s case, it has often manifested itself at the most inopportune times. You saw an example of it on Sunday, in the waning minutes of the third quarter of a divisional round game the Vikings led by double digits. On a first-and-10 play from the Minnesota 25, Keenum found himself engulfed by the Saints pass rush and threw a ball up for grabs. Marcus Williams picked it off, and six plays later New Orleans was in the end zone with a touchdown that very nearly cost the Vikings the game.
This season, though, turnovers like that have been the exception. It’s one of the first things Eagles coaches and players mention when asked about the unlikely success of the career journeyman they will face on Sunday. Surely, they know about his penchant for picks, but they also know that the one he threw against the Saints was just his eighth of the season.
The reality is that Keenum, when avoiding mistakes, has been a surprisingly serviceable NFL quarterback. When he and Nick Foles were on the same team in 2015, it was Keenum who finished the year as a starter, and it was Keenum who was still on the team the following season.
That’s not to say that the quarterback position is a definitive notch in the Vikings’ column. But it definitively does not count in the Eagles’ favor. This notion that a team quarterbacked by Keenum cannot possibly walk into a hostile environment and walk out with a win is a sentiment born of delusion.
Fans in this city should know better. They’ve seen it before.
Think back to January of 2004, when Jake Delhomme rode into town on a chorus of guffaws. I suspect that you remember it well. The mind is a steel trap when it comes to negative emotional experiences. Of all the heartbreak that the early-oughts had to offer this town, that was a dose that penetrated the deepest.
The parallels aren’t perfect, but they are similar enough. The Eagles were coming off a dramatic victory (fourth-and-26) against an MVP-caliber quarterback (Brett Favre), and the Panthers had just notched an emotional win over their own. Instead of Keenum-to-Diggs for 61 yards as time expired, it was Delhomme-to-Smith for 69 yards in overtime. Instead of Drew Brees it was the Greatest Show on Turf. Still, the team that everybody feared at the start of the playoffs was no longer alive, and the path to the Super Bowl seemed clear. What ensued was a city lulled into a comfort zone that it had not experienced since, well, the previous postseason, when it was Brad Johnson and the can’t-win-in-the-cold Buccaneers coming to town.
Which brings us to the danger I sense. Not inside the locker room, but within you, the fan. You might not like to admit it, but this city’s energy is at its most productive when it is tinged with an undercurrent of angst. Bad things happen when, “Why can’t us?” becomes, “The world owes us something.”
Consider the dog mask. It’s a fun device that will make for a creepily fantastic visual spectacle on Sunday afternoon, when Fox’s cameras pan across the seats at Lincoln Financial field to reveal tens of thousands of affectless German shepherd heads attached to human bodies holding beer. The craze became an inevitability the moment Lane Johnson and Chris Long donned their rubber masks in the wake of the win over the Falcons (with confusion no doubt reigning as some foreign factory owner arrived at his desk Monday morning and called up a report on the weekend’s orders.)
The players’ mentality is that it’s all in good fun. On Wednesday, a smile crept across Long’s face as he sat at his locker and envisioned the scene.
“If people want to show up in dog masks and it’s like The Purge out here minus the violence on Sunday, that would be awesome,” he said.
Yet it’s worth noting that Johnson and Long waited until after the game to reveal the prop, presumably because of the thin psychological line that separates the mental states of, (a) reveling in one’s underdog status, and, (b) throwing it in the face of an opponent.
The question you must ask yourself: Is the dog mask a symbol of my excitement? Or of my righteous indignation?
If it’s the latter, I would argue that a reset is in order. Last week, the streets of this city crackled with a nervous energy that erupted on game day. The Eagles already face a tough task in recapturing the emotion they detonated against the Falcons. If you believe in the power of the crowd, then underestimating an opponent is a bad way to help them.
Fear spawns a unique kind of strength. The most dangerous dog is the one that has been backed into a corner. Few thought the Eagles would get this far. Now that they are here, few think they will get any farther. Forget about Minneapolis, the Jaguars, Tom Brady. It’s time to tap into that tortured part of your soul that still fears the Vikings.
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