Each week between now and the Super Bowl, Marc Sessler will scan the NFL landscape for people, places and things -- events both evil and just, noble and impure, delightful and inglorious, filled with wise men and anti-heroes -- that burn bright on his radar.
Here's this week's briefing:
Eagles on the edge with thorny Thursday road tilt on tap in Green Bay
For starters, hysteria on my part accomplishes little. Eyewitness reports of a 5-foot-8 blogger running through the streets of West Los Angeles adrift over Philadelphia's pro football operation won't move the needle on the club's postseason chances.
Granted, Sunday's 27-24 loss to the Lions won't double as footage for Philly-based families to replay time and again by the fireside. Thrown into the embers is more like it, after second-round pass-catcher J.J. Arcega-Whiteside defied his job title by failing to hang onto a last-gasp deep shot from Carson Wentz that traveled nearly 60 yards before flickering off the wideout's hands on fourth-and-15.
Not a cinch for the rookie, with Detroit's Rashaan Melvin in his face, but Arcega-Whiteside had a chance. Instead, the Eagles are left to ponder a Sunday-to-Sunday horror show that began a week ago when Zach Ertz came up 1 yard shy on a fourth-and-8 grab with the game on the line against Atlanta in prime time.
From another angle, though, Philly hung around in back-to-back outings that saw injuries tear through the roster. Starting wideouts DeSean Jackson and Alshon Jeffery played a combined 17 snaps against the Falcons before sitting out the Lions loss. Stalwart left tackle Jason Peters was in and out of Sunday's lineup with an illness, while his backup, rookie Andre Dillard, suffered a knee injury five snaps in. On defense, the Eagles toiled without behemoths Timmy Jernigan (projected to be out a month) and Malik Jackson (on injured reserve) before losing cover man Ronald Darby midgame.
Cleaner play is a must. Wentz was undermined by a rash of drops, while up-and-down target Nelson Agholor lost a costly fumble in Lions territory, taking the shine off his two-score afternoon. Rookie runner Miles Sanders fumbled twice on one drive, with the second flub awakening an angry flock of boo-birds at the Linc.
I belonged to the offseason crowd that saw Philly as the franchise to beat in the NFC. Powered by a top-three front office and a Super Bowl-winning coaching staff, the Eagles have worked themselves out of multiple jams. Beyond the Nick Foles-led Super Bowl ride in 2017, Philly overcame one injury after another last season -- and a 4-6 record at one stage -- to journey within a touchdown of the NFC title game. That resiliency resonates, because so many of the same people remain inside the building.
Still, it might get uglier before it grows prettier.
The Eagles find themselves two games behind the Cowboys in the NFC East, with a tough ask in the hopper: A Thursday night clash in Lambeau against a surging Packers defense allowing 11.7 points per game with a league-high eight takeaways through three undefeated weeks. If Green Bay's offense hasn't exactly exploded under first-year coach Matt LaFleur, Aaron Rodgers came out of Sunday's win over Denver without taking a sack all game from a Broncos unit fronted by Von Miller and Bradley Chubb. Philly's defense knows the feeling after failing to drop Detroit's Matthew Stafford to the turf.
A 1-3 start feels realistic through the joyless lens of cold logic. Anarchist types would vibe off it, too, as Philly's talk radio outlets would morph into a verbal gabfest bent on civic destruction come Friday morning.
NFL Network "Thursday Night Football" host Colleen Wolfe comes from a long line of Eagles fans and remains suspicious, telling me Monday: "The team's banged up, but that's not an excuse for drops, fumbles and penalties. Wentz is doing everything he can to win ... They need to clean up their act quick."
Rookie head coaches angling to climb out from under
Strip away LaFleur's hot start with the Packers -- an effort helped mightily by defensive play-caller Mike Pettine's push for Assistant of the Year honors -- and the NFL's cadre of first-time head coaches are a troubling 1-13-1.
It's a reminder of how lonely the job can become. Freddie Kitchens operated as the toast of Northeast Ohio all offseason, winning over fans with his man-of-the-people persona and Cleveland-or-bust podium mantras. By Sunday night, he was fielding heat-seekers from a beguiled press corps wondering why Kitchens dialed up a bizarre Nick Chubb draw play on fourth-and-9 with the Browns down 17-13 in the final quarter against the Rams.
History was made for all the wrong reasons:
Kitchens shouldered the blame without an ounce of critique for his players, but it's fair to wonder when the breaking point comes for a media-darling Browns team anointed before Labor Day.
Kitchens might not love the pressing questions, but they won't stop coming as long as Cleveland's offense looks nothing like last year's spicy, creative attack, which surged down the stretch with a pocketful of house money after a coaching shakeup at midseason. With pressure building, both Kitchens and signal-caller Baker Mayfield feel like authors battling writer's block. Whatever masterpiece resides within simply cannot bust free into public domain, as exampled by Sunday's night's pent-up performance against the Rams:
It's been no easier for Zac Taylor in Cincinnati, Vic Fangio in Denver or Brian Flores in Miami, three men directing winless teams drifting in the opposite direction of relevance. Kliff Kingsbury hasn't won with Arizona, either, but I'd rather spend time with his Cardinals than subject myself to three-plus hours of Joe Flacco flinging anti-darts for the punchless Broncos.
Not too long ago, coaches were systematically given four seasons to build a watchable, engaging product. Those days are dust. We all saw what happened to Steve Wilks last year in Arizona, where one three-win campaign was all ownership could swallow. Now working under Kitchens in Cleveland as the Browns' defensive coordinator, Wilks is a reminder to all first-time coaches that fairness -- and a forgotten human charm known as patience -- has little to do with the fate most of them will suffer.
Just a reminder: This is meant to be fun
Online worlds are alive with early week think-pieces singing the glories of Daniel Jones after his selection at No. 6 in this year's draft netted a largely icy reaction. I'll keep it brief on the Giants' rookie passer, who authored a rousing comeback win over a Tampa squad asleep at the wheel on Sunday.
The G-Men were a drag due to their hellbent organizational desire to roll with Eli Manning at quarterback until American society creaked to a conclusion. Prior to Sunday, they were not unlike that dear old friend still playing Dungeons & Dragons in the basement of the local library at age 22 while the rest of the gang is discovering in bunches what our adult world has to offer. The Eli fetish grew far more unbearable this offseason, though, with the team propping up a declining Manning as part of what felt like a Soviet-era propaganda push.
A weight was lifted -- and not just for Giants fans -- as this new chapter bloomed. No slight to Eli, but it's a reminder that clubs stuck in their ways simply drag down the entire experience. Sundays should feature the finest players on the field, free from front-office politics and ownership tweaks. Jones made the Giants frisky for the first time in a thousand moons and it gave Week 3 a special energy -- a presumed corpse rising back to life. The rookie quarterback isn't perfect, but Jones represents the future -- better late than never for a storied franchise that tested our goodwill in recent days.