By Mark Gallagher
Today’s Eagles-Seahawks game at the Linc is a “tipping point” moment for the Birds franchise.
Originally, this game was scheduled for the 8:25 pm slot — a marquee time in the world of NBC football.
But it was moved to the more mundane 1 pm kickoff, reserved for late-season run-of-the-mill match-ups.
And that’s because the Eagles have been mediocre all season.
They were thought to be a Super Bowl-calibre group.
But they are 5-5 and it’s very clear they are not.
So fans should be asking themselves:
Is Doug Pederson a good enough coach and is Carson Wentz a Super Bowl-type quarterback?
The Seahawks’ visit is a matchup of two of the seven active NFL coaches who have won Super Bowls — Seattle’s Pete Carroll and Pederson of the Eagles.
Only one of those seven has won another Super Bowl. That’d be Bill Belichick, who has a record six titles.
The other members of that group are the Raiders’ Jon Gruden (who won a title with Tampa Bay), Mike Tomlin of the Steelers, Sean Payton of the Saints and John Harbaugh of the Ravens.
Only one other member of that group, Carroll, has even made it back to another Super Bowl.
“Those years are so magical,’’ Carroll said this week in reference to the Eagles winning it all two years ago but a comment that could also have applied to the Seahawks in 2013. “They’re hard to come back from sometimes. Most commonly, teams struggle coming back. It takes a little while to rebound.’’
A little less than two years removed from their greatest moment, the Eagles are at a crossroads.
They have a 5-5 record and a host of injuries to key players such as right tackle Lane Johnson, running back Jordan Howard and receivers Nelson Agholor and Alshon Jeffery (with another receiver, DeSean Jackson, out for the rest of the regular season).
The injuries have led to a lack of stability with the offense and increasing struggles for fourth-year quarterback Carson Wentz. An oft-cited stat this week is that Wentz is just 3-9 in his career in games in which Johnson has not played.
Two years after Pederson earned acclaim for the creativity of his playbook as the Eagles scored the third-most points in the NFL and gained the seventh-most yards, the Eagles now rank 14th and 23rd in those two categories.
A defense that features seven starters who also started in the Super Bowl win over the Patriots has also regressed.
The Eagles were fourth in the NFL in fewest yards and fewest points allowed in 2017 but rank ninth and 19th in those two categories this week, with some wondering if the group is beginning to show signs of age.
But if a lot of key faces remain, what’s also true is that the Eagles — like any team that wins a title in any pro sport — are simply not quite the same team they were then.
Of the 53 players on the Eagles’ roster for the Super Bowl, just 25 remain, a turnover that isn’t out of line from most title winners in the salary-cap era.
Wentz is actually not among that group. He was injured for the Super Bowl and not on the official roster as Nick Foles guided Philly to its win.
If there’s a common thread in teams that can stay at an elite level for an extended period of time it is great quarterbacks.
The Eagles thought they had one when they signed Wentz to a four-year contract extension worth up to $128 million with $66.4 million guaranteed last June.
His deal was signed about seven weeks after the Seahawks gave Russell Wilson his deal, and includes numbers that were not-so-coincidentally just a little shy of Wilson’s four-year extension worth up to $135 million that included $70 million guaranteed at signing.
While Wilson has unquestionably proven his worth this season, Wentz has given some Eagles fans some pause about whether he is truly a quarterback around which a consistently contending team can be built.
The Eagles’ offensive issues surrounding Wentz — notably, a receiving corps that by one estimate has 23 drops — and that he’s still just in his fourth season allow for some benefit of the doubt.
But one comparison with Wilson shows that Seattle fans should never take for granted for what is Wilson’s greatest strength — an ability to lead his team to victory again and again with game-winning drives in the final minutes.
In 50 career games, Wentz has led four fourth-quarter comebacks and five game-winning drives.
Wilson has matched those totals in this season alone. His fifth game-winning drive of 2019 handed the 49ers their first loss of the season. His fourth fourth-quarter comeback drive came the week before against Tampa Bay. For all the analysis that greets every NFL weekend, you really need to look no further than Wilson for why Seattle has again so far overshot expectations, standing at 8-2 entering Sunday’s game.
And as the Seahawks have successfully stayed at a contending level since winning it all in 2013, it’s Wilson who has been the biggest constant and the biggest reason for hope that maybe someday Carroll can break away from the ranks of those who’ve won just one tile.
In Philly, the questions about where the team is headed now, and in the future, only grow.