Back in October just days after beating the Arizona Cardinals easily, the Philadelphia Eagles squared off against the Carolina Panthers on Thursday Night Football. Philadelphia had lost to the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 2, but entering the game against one of the better NFC teams the Eagles rode a three-game winning streak. Philadelphia won that game. Carson Wentz had two electric throws, one on third and long to Mack Hollins and another to a streaking Alshon Jeffery. The buzz began then. For a city that cares more about its football team than anything else, the dream of finally winning a Super Bowl flashed then. That feeling stuck for several more weeks. It lingered and lingered. Until.
I try not to be overconfident as a fan. On Christmas Eve, 2000, I remember so vividly watching Charles Johnson score a touchdown against the Bengals. Philadelphia won the game, making it win No. 11 on the season. I went to my first Eagles game earlier that year with a childhood friend who most likely doesn’t remember me. That season marked the first of five straight the Eagles made the playoffs. The Eagles playing in January became this expected thing. Philly won the Wild Card game over Tampa Bay that season before losing to the New York Giants, who eventually went to the Super Bowl. The following year the Eagles made their first conference title game since 1980. A string of conference championship appearances followed. Things were bound to break right. Third through sixth grade were too good to be true. Year after year the Eagles had an opportunity to make the Super Bowl. Against the Rams it felt just good to be there as Marshall Faulk did his thing in the fourth quarter. Against the Buccaneers it felt like a bad dream as Ronde Barber returned an errant Donovan McNabb pass 92 yards the other way with Brian Westbrook nursing an injury. Against the Panthers it turned into a nightmare as the offense sputtered. The entire city let out a sigh of relief against the Falcons, though. That was 2005. Sixth grade. January 23. My cousin RJ and I went to the game. Brian Dawkins laid out Alge Crumpler. Chad Lewis scored two touchdowns. The entire city exploded. Finally, a Super Bowl appearance after four tries.
Since then. Since the Eagles lost to the Patriots in that season’s Super Bowl. It’s been a grab bag of successes and failures. Kevin Kolb, Michael Vick, Nick Foles, Chip Kelly, The Dream Team, Kevin Curtis, star cornerbacks turned actors eating lunch in cars, DeSean Jackson, Danny Watkins, LeSean McCoy, Alex Henery, Macho freaking Harris. It’s been nine January’s since the Eagles won a playoff game. Philadelphia beat Minnesota and New York before Larry Fitzgerald planted his flag as rightful owner of the Eagle defense. Philadelphia has made three appearances since, losing to the Cowboys (’09), Packers (’10) and Saints (’13).
Everything changed when the Eagles traded up with what appeared to be a fortune for an unknown redhead in the spring of 2016. Following a true roller coaster rookie season, Wentz broke the record for most touchdown passes in a season in Philadelphia history before Week 14 ended. Wentz became the savior. It’s going to be him, everybody either thought quietly or shouted out loud. He’s going to give the Eagles their first Super Bowl, and it’s going to happen this season.
The game following the win over Carolina, the Eagles played Washington on a Monday night. Wentz made quite possibly the two very best plays of his MVP-caliber season.
With each passing game, the story of Wentz grew into this magnified prophecy seemingly too good to be true. There was the feature ESPN did leading up to the Washington Monday night game featuring Wentz and The Dutch Destroyer.
Here’s a talented guy who works hard, gives back and says all of the right things. He’s never too high, never too low. He’s the guy most likely to end countless years of heartbreak and disappointment. He’s the guy who will lead this team to a Super Bowl victory.
The third quarter in Los Angeles then happened.
After he tore his ACL, some hope still felt alive. The lowly Giants torched the Eagles supposed-elite defense but Nick Foles brought back memories of his 27 touchdown to two interception 2013 Pro Bowl season. But then Weeks 16 and 17 took place, showcasing the wide-ranging variance that is Nick Foles, and suddenly all hope appeared lost. The Eagles secured the top seed. 13-3. Playoffs. But Wentz wouldn’t be there. Wentz is supposed to be the guy to win the Super Bowl. He’s supposed to make the big-time throw on third down to bring Philly into field-goal range in the final seconds of a mid-January match-up.
It’s days before Philadelphia’s first playoff game since 2013. Atlanta upset the Rams last weekend, which means the defending NFC champions but sixth-seeded Falcons will play Philadelphia Saturday afternoon, exactly nine years and two days after Philadelphia’s last playoff win. Atlanta’s the favorite despite Philadelphia’s conference best record. Fletcher Cox has spoken out about the team’s underdog mentality. Nigel Bradham encouraged media members he and his teammates will definitely use being top-seeded home underdogs as bulletin board material.
When Wentz went down, head coach Doug Pederson said it’s a next-person up mentality. Losing Wentz is different than losing Darren Sproles or Jason Peters or Jordan Hicks, of course. The impact Wentz had on this team is all over. Jeffery signed in Philadelphia, because of Wentz. The defense could relax at times, because Wentz would score enough to make up for any miscues. There’s a feeling that this will be another quick playoff trip. One and done, making it a decade without a playoff win. Flashbacks from scoring three points against the Panthers and the lack of stops in the fourth quarter against the Rams, register in the minds of Philadelphia fans everywhere. But there remains another feeling altogether. The feeling that this time it’ll be different. The feeling that lingered from Week 6 through Week 14 might exist someplace. The backs are against the wall, yes, but why not this team? Why not this year?