So maybe this is why no team has repeated as NFL champion since 2005. The Eagles continued to stumble through their post-Super Bowl hangover in Sunday’s overtime loss to Tennessee.
Equally important, the Titans were not awed, bouncing back from a 17-3 deficit. The cliché is true – when you’re the champ, you sneak up on no one. You wear the bullseye. Just as we witnessed in Tampa two weeks ago, every opponent will bring its A-game this season.
You could see the Titans mocking the Birds when, after scoring a fourth-quarter TD, they copied the Eagles bowling celebration from last year. And at the game’s end, Tennessee players rushed the stands to taunt the thousands of Eagles fans who had migrated down.
“They were the Super Bowl champs last year,” said Titans WR Corey Davis, who caught the winning TD with five seconds left in OT. “But now, it’s a new year.”
Indeed it is.
Blame for this loss, the worst of the Doug Pederson Era, can be spread from the coaches (inane play-calling and an inability to adjust); to the offense (dropped passes and the failure to protect the QB), to the defense (dreadful coverage and inept tackling).
The only men who can hold their heads high at the NovaCare Complex this week are Alshon Jeffery and Carson Wentz. Jeffery was terrific in his first game back from injury, with eight catches, including a 16-yard touchdown.
And Wentz looked more confident and accurate – on those rare plays when he wasn’t submerged by the Tennessee pass rush. Playing on a surgically repaired knee, Wentz took 15 hits.
Last season, the Eagles boasted the NFL’s top offensive line. Now, they look confused and out-muscled. Is it time to start worrying about 36-year-old Jason Peters?
Wentz was not helped by Nelson Agholor, who regressed to his 2016 form, dropping three catchable balls. Nor was he helped by his coach, who reverted back to the pass-happy Andy Reid clone we thought had disappeared.
Even as Jay Ajayi and Wendell Smallwood averaged 5.5 yards per carry, Pederson abandoned the run. Including sacks and scrambles, there were 56 pass plays to just 20 designed runs. This on a day when Tennessee’s pass rushers kept punching Wentz in the mouth.
“You go into games with a certain plan, a certain direction,” Pederson said Monday on Angelo Cataldi’s WIP Morning Show. “Maybe it was a bit skewed. . . You’re probably right; maybe we should have run the ball a few more times.”
Pederson never adjusted, nor did defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz. Last season, this defense’s hallmark was not surrendering the big play. This season, they’re coming in droves. Ronald Darby can’t tackle, Jalen Mills can’t cover and the pass rush took Sunday off.
Safety Rodney McLeod’s season-ended injury looks ominous. Last year, the “next man up” mantra carried them to the Super Bowl with a backup quarterback.
On Sunday, McLeod’s replacement, Corey Graham, played as if the Eagles had pulled a jersey-wearing fan from the stands to play single-high safety.
This doesn’t get easier. The Eagles host the Vikings (another team at the crossroads) next Sunday and then travel to play the Giants on a short week. Then they host the Panthers and travel to London to face the Jaguars.
We know now that wherever they go, whoever they play, they’re in for a scuffle. If these players and coaches don’t quickly adjust their attitude and scheme, they’ll become the 13th straight Super Bowl champion not to repeat.