Following what was possibly the worst loss of the 2016 season on Monday night, Eagles head coach Doug Pederson said he believed that his team is heading in the right direction.
Maybe he was telling the truth. Maybe he said it to will himself into a good night’s sleep.
Whatever the case, Monday night’s 27-13 loss to the Green Bay Packers at Lincoln Financial Field was not a peak in the 2016 season.
It was a valley.
So why was Pederson convinced his team is heading in the right direction?
“Look at the effort,” Pederson said. “I think you might look at wins an losses. I got to look at the potential of the football team and the guys that we have. Are we there yet? No. Are we heading in the right direction? Yes. Again, it may not show up right now in wins and losses, but I see that potential. I see that there is no quit in this team. Everybody's fighting to the end. That's a sign that things are heading in the right direction.”
For a team that started the season with a 3-0 record, for a team that throttled Ben Roethlisberger and nearly took down the NFC’s best squad on its home turf, effort has become the barometer.
The fact is, the 2016 season was probably always going to be a rebuilding year for the Eagles. It’s just more convenient to remember that now, as any hope of making the playoffs is quickly evaporating.
Perhaps if the season was flipped on its head, this whole thing would be more palatable for Philadelphia fans. Perhaps if the Eagles started slowly, didn’t exceed expectations early and then showed signs of growth, everyone would have understood that this was a rebuilding year.
But it was fair for fans to forget all that while watching their team dispatch a Super Bowl contender and move to 3-0. At that point, “forget the damn rebuild; they can win this year!”
A lot has happened since then. The Eagles have shown their inexperience at several key positions, including at quarterback, where Carson Wentz has regressed into at least looking like a rookie. The team’s vaunted defensive line has failed to get much pressure in recent weeks and $100-million-man Fletcher Cox hasn’t had a sack in two months. And the team’s weaknesses at wide receiver and cornerback have been exposed time and time again.
It all hit a low point on Monday night when all those problems played out against an opponent that was on its heels. The Eagles just aren’t ready to deliver that knockout punch.
Still, for a team that has spent the majority of 2016 in playoff contention, effort seems like something that shouldn’t be questioned. Pederson on Monday was astutely asked why effort is now a benchmark for the team’s progression.
“I just think that we've given ourselves opportunities,” Pederson answered. “If we just make a few more plays, just one or two more plays in some of these ballgames, the outcomes are different and we're not talking about this right now. Yes, I'll admit, we're playing with some young guys on offense. These young guys are getting valuable, valuable reps. ... Yes, I agree that it may not show on the scoreboard and it may not show with the wins and losses. I totally get that. We're in this business to win games. That's why we're here. But at the same time, I look at the process. I look at the plan.
“I use those words because those are words that we use around here because there is a plan and there is a process. You build your team through the draft. You pick up a couple good free agents in the offseason. You continue to work. You watch these young kids develop and turn into ballplayers and you see the potential. That's why, when I say that, that's what I see with these guys. I look at how Seattle has built their team. I look how the Raiders have built their team. I look at the plan that's been in place for a lot of teams around the National Football League that are having success now in their third, fourth, seventh years.
“That's the direction that we're heading in. So that's why when I say those comments like that, that's what I see. I see us three, four years down the road. I see us seven, eight years down the road having consistency that way and winning more of these games than not.”
It’s a lot easier to remember the rebuilding process when that’s just about all that’s left to fight for. And after losing six of their last eight games, the Eagles’ idea of making the playoffs seems to be a distant memory.
The Eagles have five games left on their 2016 schedule. If they win them all, they’d have a chance to sneak into the playoffs. But it’s not about that anymore, remember? It’s about effort.
"Teams in our situation right now, even though you are still maybe on the edge of getting to where you want to be at the end of the season, you can kind of go the other way," he said. "It's not to put any added pressure on anybody, but at the same time I don't want people to just start tanking it in the last month of the season."
Now it’s about making sure the wheels don’t come off.
“It's my job to make sure that doesn't happen,” he said.
Now it's about the future. Really, it always was.