Philadelphia Eagles  

 

Eagles' latest blowout makes statement for NFL's top team

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PHILADELPHIA -- This is the kind of season the Philadelphia Eagles are having:

*Their quarterback, Carson Wentz, can feel pressure coming up behind him while he is pump-faking to his left on third-and-9, pull the ball down, spin around to his right, tuck the ball and take off for 16 yards.

*Their receiver, Nelson Agholor, can take a short pass 15 yards for a touchdown and flip into the end zone to avoid a hit.

*Their running back, Jay Ajayi, can go 30 yards down the right sideline and just as he is five yards from a touchdown, fumble the ball, where Agholor recovers it for the score.

*Their defense can be at least as impressive as all of that, not allowing a Bears first down in the first half, holding them to just 140 yards in total offense and stifling the league's fifth-ranked rushing offense to just six yards.

The Eagles' 31-3 shellacking of the woeful Chicago Bears is probably not the best barometer for the Eagles' balanced and sudden assault on the NFL. In fact, we haven't gotten a true measure of it at all. The Eagles have only played two teams with winning records so far, losing to the Chiefs before their implosion, and beating the Panthers. But if the Dallas Cowboys lose in Washington on Thursday night, the Eagles will clinch the NFC East title outright with the entire month of December left to play, a testament to their steady rise during the concurrent collapse of the rest of the NFC East.

The giddiness of the Eagles' electric slide celebration -- Philadelphia also leads the league in well-orchestrated celebrations -- is well-earned. But the toughest part of the Eagles' season is finally upon them: a three-game road swing that includes back-to-back games at the Seahawks and the Rams, who are battling for the lead of the NFC West.

To the outside, this looks like the measuring stick for a team that appears to be the most balanced and complete in the league, led by a quarterback whose rise -- 28 touchdowns and just five interceptions -- has been so dramatic it has surprised even his head coach. But a short listen to the Eagles as they wended their way down the tunnel to their locker room tells you they don't require validation from a better caliber of opponent. Defensive end Brandon Graham bounced down the hallway, chanting to nobody in particular, "You on that bandwagon now!" The Eagles are cocky and confident, and they head west needing not to prove anything more so much as wanting to keep the momentum going.

"It's essential to get every one," safety Malcolm Jenkins said of each game. "Every time we step on the field, it's essential to compete. For us, it's nothing to measure. We are our measuring stick. We prepare to be the best every week. We feel like the next three weeks are going to be huge for us, being on the road in December, it's a big deal."

It is a big deal that has produced an odd feeling in Philadelphia. Abundant prosperity has not been the recent norm for the local sports teams, and the Eagles have given their fans reason to believe that anything short of a Super Bowl will be a disappointment.

That is a wholly unexpected spot for a team with a second-year quarterback who has shown no sign of fading as he did late last season, and for a defense that is swarming with more and more aggression each week. The next two weeks will be a crucible for Wentz and the Eagles but no matter how they fare, they can point to their run so far for proof this is no fluke.

They have defeated their last seven opponents 248-99, won their last five games by double digits and the last four straight by at least 23 points. They rank in the top 10 on both sides of the ball, but they have so many weapons and spread the ball around so well, that Zach Ertz got the first 100-yard receiving day of the season for the Eagles on Sunday. The Eagles still have just one 100-yard rusher this season -- LeGarrette Blount did it in Week 4.

"That just shows you how unselfish this team is," said coach Doug Pederson.

This should have been a better test for the Eagles' defense, which entered the game ranked seventh in points allowed per game and first against the run. With Jordan Howard, the Bears were fifth in the league in rushing and Howard entered the game with 841 yards this season. He got just six on seven carries. Each week, the Eagles' defense seeks to make the opponent one dimensional and with rookie Mitchell Trubisky at quarterback, this week the emphasis was on smothering the run.

With that accomplished, the Eagles turned the page quickly and were already thinking about Seattle on Sunday night. The Seahawks' defense is damaged by injuries, but toppling Russell Wilson in one of the league's most overwhelming atmospheres would make a significant statement about where the Eagles deserve to be considered in the NFC. Pederson said even he could not have anticipated Wentz's performance this season, and there are few people who expected the Eagles to be in such favorable positions -- with home-field advantage throughout the playoffs well within reach. It has been a magical autumn for Philadelphia, and as night settled on the city, a downtown building lit up with green lights that flashed "GO EAGLES." And what Pederson said about Wentz could just as well apply to his whole team as they begin their stretch run with the biggest games of their season.

"You kind of hope and pray and wish you can do some of these type of things," Pederson said.

Follow Judy Battista on Twitter @judybattista.

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