SEATTLE — One of the methods for dealing with humiliation is to return to the scene of your shaming, to become comfortable in the environment, and to let the panic subside.
Nelson Agholor should love the Emerald City today.
Agholor’s career hit bottom last season at CenturyLink Field. His two mistakes cost the Eagles at least 10 points, and maybe more, in the first loss of what would become a five-game losing streak that cost them a shot at the playoffs. He was called for an illegal-formation penalty that negated a 57-yard touchdown that would have given the Eagles the lead in the second quarter. He then dropped a deep pass, wide open, in the middle of the field. He stood there, clutching his helmet in frustration. It was an apt image. Agholor was the worst player on the team. After the game, in a soul-baring confession, he acknowledged his misery. He was benched the following week.
He returned to the scene Sunday, 54 weeks later. He notched career highs with seven catches and 141 yards, his first 100-yard game. He had his seventh touchdown catch of the season. He would have had more than 180 yards and another TD had Carson Wentz not overthrown him in the first quarter. Yes, the Eagles lost again, but this time, Agholor was the best player on the team.
After the game, he refused to be interviewed. The only question he would answer regarded his feelings about succeeding so wonderfully at the site of his greatest failure.
Was he happy that it happened here?
“No,” he replied, pointedly and brusquely … and, probably, falsely.
After all, who wouldn’t want his finest hour to come where his worst moments was lived?
Who rejects redemption?
It should be noted that Agholor is an unusual player. He is mercurial and emotional. He is usually amiable, and sometimes downright sunny, but he can be defensive and wary, too.
You see, Agholor is Chip Kelly’s only first-round pick, and so Agholor embodies the catastrophic mistake that owner Jeffrey Lurie made after the 2014 season when he gave Kelly full power over player personnel. Kelly was fired late in the 2015 season, but the Eagles are still cleaning up Kelly’s front-office mess. Nothing was messier than the first two seasons of Nelson Agholor.
He was a star among stars in high school in Tampa, Fla., and in college at USC, both repositories of boundless talent, but Agholor fizzled as an NFL rookie. He started slowly, sprained his ankle in the fifth game, missed the next three games and finished with 23 catches for 283 yards and one touchdown. Last year, trying to impress a new coaching staff, Agholor became a basket case. In the nine games before the Birds flew to Seattle, he had 27 catches, 264 yards, a touchdown, and one R-rated rant. He had dropped a pass at Dallas on Oct. 30, one of several passes the receivers dropped that game. After the game, he dropped a few bombs:
“At the end of the day, that [bleep] is nothing. … No one is perfect. I don’t look at no drops, none of that [bleep]. I’m tired of hearing that [bleep]. It’s stupid. … I dropped the first one. I ain’t drop one after that. What does it matter? Because if we lose, now you want to place blame on ‘Oh, this person did this.’ ”
Three weeks later in Seattle, his defiance turned to despondence.
“I can’t get out of my own head. I’m pressing so much. I’m worried about so many things. … I did it to myself. I started getting into my own head and trying so hard and thinking about being perfect, and when miscues were there and they were exposed, I let it just eat at me.”
The next day, coach Doug Pederson said, “Sometimes you have to take a step back in order to go forward.” He made Agholor inactive for the next game. Agholor caught nine passes over the last five games but seemed like a classic bust.
Then something happened between November 2016 and September 2017. Agholor grew up.
Playing out of the slot, he came to Seattle with 33 catches for 458 yards. Against the best defense the Eagles will face, in the most hostile stadium they will visit, he flourished. He has become Wentz’s emergency option.
It was Agholor whom Wentz looked for on his third-and-13, 51-yard Superman throw early in the fourth quarter. It was Agholor whom Wentz found four plays later, on third-and-14, for a 27-yard touchdown that cut the Seahawks’ lead to seven points.
That was Agholor’s fourth TD catch of at least 24 yards. He also has a 72-yarder and a 54-yarder. Before Sunday, Agholor not only had never had a 100-yard game, but he also had never collected 141 yards in any three consecutive games combined.
He is the team’s fastest receiver and best open-field runner. He is everything the Eagles hoped he would be when Kelly took him with the 20th overall pick in 2015.
He is nothing like the player who broke down in the visitors’ locker room last year here, the scene of his greatest humiliation and, now, the site of his most productive game.