Ladies and gentlemen, your first-place Philadelphia Eagles!
It sure doesn’t feel that way, right? The team that beat the Giants, 27-7, Monday night didn’t evoke greatness or prompt you to start booking passage to San Francisco for February’s Super Bowl 50.
But here we are, six weeks in, and first place is first place — even when it’s 3-3 with two division losses. The NFC East has become the modern version of hockey’s old Norris Division, with once-proud historic franchises scuffling under .500. Someone’s got to win the damn pennant, and right now I like the Eagles’ chances.
And while Monday night’s stumble-fest will never be looped on a highlight reel at the Hall of Fame in Canton, there were encouraging aspects. Start with the defense. No one will ever confuse Billy Davis with Jim Johnson —or Buddy Ryan for that matter. But Monday marked two straight excellent efforts.
Eli Manning sliced through them on the opening drive in a half-empty stadium, as Eagles fans were still enduring the frisk-fest that is now part of every public event. But after that? The guys in all-black owned the night. Good Eli became Bad Eli (the one who still gets cable). The defense forced three sacks, two interceptions, one lost fumble — all against a Giants offense that had allowed just four sacks and two interceptions all season. So much for that blather about Eli’s invincible quick release.
This D shows signs of becoming special, with Jordan Hicks (10 tackles) as a potential Rookie of the Year and Fletcher Cox as the nine-foot monster in the middle. It’s an aggressive, ball-hawking unit. The secondary is far less prone to stupidity than we saw in the Cary Williams-Nate Allen Era.
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On defense and special teams, these Eagles can win the NFC East going away. And 341 rushing yards in the last two wins suggests the Murray-Mathews-Sproles three-headed monster has finally hatched.
Which leads us, unfortunately, to Quarterback Sam. There were other concerns Monday — notably the continued dropsies by wide receivers and the mind-boggling decline of Jason Kelce. But the biggest concern, again, is Bradford.
He threw three more interceptions — including yet another in the Red Zone — and each time you wondered, “What the hell was he thinking?” These weren’t great defensive plays by the Giants, nor Bradford aimingthe ball through a tight hole. These were throws where no Eagle was in the neighborhood.
Chip Kelly covered for his skittish quarterback, as coaches do, saying the interceptions stemmed from communication errors between thrower and receiver. Maybe so. But six weeks into a season this nonsense shouldn’t happen.
So we move ahead. The Eagles have emerged from a 1-3 start, and you just hope Bradford doesn’t steer them back into the ditch. This may not feel like first place – it certainly doesn’t feel like a Super Bowl contender. But we’ve got a season now, and that’s a lot better than it felt two weeks ago.