In retrospect, the 2018 Eagles were not ready to come roaring out of the starting blocks, with Carson Wentz unable to enter the fray until Week 3, and other key pieces either starting the season with no real preseason work or still sidelined by injuries sustained during the Super Bowl run.
Maybe that should have been clearer to all of us, but, well, they'd won the Super Bowl with Nick Foles, and key players were sidelined along the way last season, and none of it seemed to make a difference in that magical playoff month.
Maybe we failed to grasp the real meaning of the word "unique."
At any rate, Eagles coach Doug Pederson grasped the NovaCare lectern Monday and took his best shot at making sense of his team's bumbling, stumbling 2-3 start. In Sunday's 23-21 home loss to the Minnesota Vikings, the Eagles did not seem to be at a talent disadvantage, any more than they had the week before in losing 26-23 in overtime at Tennessee.
What they seemed to be was hard to label – whatever the opposite of opportunistic is, that was it. They were a team that made everything harder than it needed to be. (Third-and-1 misdirection to set up a pitch to rookie running back Josh Adams, rather than just have Wentz burrow forward on a sneak?)
They were again a team that made some really nice plays near the end of the game, trying to dig out of a hole they'd dug, largely by taking penalties, tackling poorly and giving the ball away at the worst times.
Pederson was asked about Wentz's postgame observation, that "we're playing like we're a young, rookie team and we're not. … I kind of feel like that's where we were two years ago – we were that young team making these mistakes and kind of having those ebbs and flows. Last year you didn't see a lot of that. The veteran team we have, I'm confident we're going to fix it and turn it around, but it's frustrating right now."
"You can appreciate it," Pederson said. "It feels that way, because of the mistakes that we're making. I saw his comment. Mentioned that we're a veteran team making rookie mistakes. Those are the things that I've been talking about with you guys, the players have been talking about it. … Like I told the team at the end of the game in the locker room, championship teams can't make these mistakes and expect to win.
"That's where we are. … There is a sense of urgency obviously to get better, to fix it. We're on a short week this week, but our guys are professionals and they'll get it done."
Get it done by Thursday's visit to the Giants? That would be nice, but cohesion doesn't just happen, especially in a short week with very little real practice. Reality right now is 36-year-old, nine-time Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters limping around on a bad quad, leaving Sunday's game briefly for treatment and seeing his replacement, Halapoulivaati Vaitai, give up a sack that helped force the Eagles to settle for a third-quarter field goal on a promising drive.
Reality also is Jay Ajayi abruptly going on injured reserve Monday with a torn ACL, leaving Adams and Wendell Smallwood as the team's only healthy running backs.
"No, this is a different team. Last year was last year," Peters said afterward. "We lost guys in free agency and we have a quarterback coming off of an injury, I'm coming off an injury, and [Darren] Sproles [who hasn't played since the opener] is coming off of an injury. It's a different team, and we're just shooting ourselves in the foot right now."
Alshon Jeffery, in his second start of the season following shoulder surgery, had a tough outing against Xavier Rhodes (eight targets, two catches), and took one of the Eagles' two illegal-formation penalties, failing to toe the line of scrimmage.
"We're starting to get guys healthy, but there's always a setback. Someone gets dinged up, he misses a game," Pederson said, when asked about Super Bowl aftereffects, such as fatigue or burnout.
He said his players are battling through, but "right now it's not just carrying over enough into the games. The energy level is enough, the effort is there. We're just self-inflicting ourselves with explosive plays on defense, penalties, whether it be in the secondary or on offense. That's not fatigue, that's not burnout. That's just concentration on the task at hand."
• Remember when Jordan Hicks used to shed blocks and make big plays?
• Six of the 12 plays on which Eagles running backs carried the ball Sunday came on the opening drive of the third quarter, which ended with Jay Ajayi fumbling without being hit, on first-and-goal from the Vikings' 6. Why on earth would an offense struggling for rhythm ignore the run game? Doug Pederson's answer Monday was an Andy Reid-esque bit about falling behind and not being able to run. But the backs had just five carries in the first half. BTW, Giants opponents are averaging 124.4 rushing yards per game this season. So, brace yourselves for 60 Carson Wentz dropbacks.
• Eli Manning has been sacked 16 times. The Giants' defense has six sacks. Connor Barwin tracked down Cam Newton for one of them in Sunday's 33-31 Carolina victory.
• The Eagles' defense only allowed 16 points Sunday, thanks to those two missed Dan Bailey field goals. But it never took control the way it should be able to, at the Linc. After the offense couldn't score any points off Nigel Bradham's fumble recovery, Cam Johnston punted to the Minnesota 11, with 9 minutes, 11 seconds remaining. Get a stop, make the Vikings punt, get the ball back at midfield and try again to score the go-ahead touchdown. Except, Minnesota drove 55 yards in 11 plays, facing only one third down before Eagles defenders gathered themselves to force a 52-yard field goal that turned out to be the difference in the game.
That being tied with San Francisco for the league lead in fumbles after five weeks, with 13, would be a problem?
The Eagles are 7-2 at MetLife Stadium, in games against the Giants and the Jets. Their last loss there to the Giants was Nov. 6, 2016.
Doug Pederson said the roughing-the-passer call on Michael Bennett just before halftime will be part of the package of plays the Eagles send to the NFL for clarification.
"That will probably be in there just to get an idea" of what coaches tell players they need to correct, Pederson said.
Of course, nothing the league can say will change the outcome, but for the sanity of Eagles pass rushers, it might be nice to have an acknowledgment that referee Walt Coleman's interpretation of Bennett's sack was incorrect.
"He went low into the quarterback's knees with his shoulder, with force. And the rule is that you cannot hit the quarterback low at the knee area or below with force. He got him there with his shoulder, so that's what I had as far as roughing the passer," Coleman told a pool reporter after the game.
Except, as the many replays showed, Bennett, pushed from behind by the tight end, made contact with Kirk Cousins' thighs, without much force at all, then slid down Cousins' legs and grasped his ankles, gently, if anything. Cousins slowly toppled over, Bennett's body underneath him to break his fall. It was far from any reasonable notion of "roughing," if you take the word literally.
This didn't deter Fox analyst Troy Aikman from continuing to defend the call even after Fox officiating expert and former NFL officiating head Mike Pereira tried to tell him it shouldn't have been a penalty, that Bennett neither went at the knees nor contacted Cousins with force.
"They're going to call that every time," Aikman insisted.