As Carson Wentz and the Eagles enter the bye week, their improbable 3-0 start may present them with their toughest challenge yet … raised expectations.
Four weeks ago, when Doug Pederson handed the reins to his rookie QB Carson Wentz, even the most ardent and unapologetic homer gazing through the greenest lenses would have told you not to get your hopes up for this squad. Make no mistake; the outlook was bright, as a future, once distant, seemed to be coming into a clearer focus. But, this was a 6-10 Philadelphia Eagles team at best. This year would be about implementing systems and developing rookies.
Even when Wentz conducted Pederson’s orchestra with stunning precision in Week 1 and Defensive Coordinator Jim Schwartz unleashed an impressive attack that limited the Cleveland Browns to 10 points, the needle didn’t move. ‘It was the Browns’, they said … ‘Now, the Bears have film on them’, they said … ‘Weren’t they supposed to win anyway?’, they asked, dismissively.
So, after Week 2 and the Monday Night mauling of the Chicago Bears, some eyebrows were raised. But, the consensus was still little more than cautious optimism. ‘Chicago isn’t as good as we thought.’ ‘That’s a different game if Cutler doesn’t get hurt.’ ‘Pittsburgh’s next. There’s your wake up call.’
Getting to the Week 4 bye at 2-1 was considered a ‘best-case scenario’. So, a loss to the Steelers would be acceptable, as long as Wentz continued to shine and they didn’t get embarrassed. Was anyone prepared for what came next, this unimaginable and historic 34-3 boat race? Neither Steelers coach Mike Tomlin or his QB Ben Roethlisberger had ever even trailed by 31 points, let alone lose by such a margin. In fact, it has been two decades since any Steelers squad had been so far behind in a game. Now they were 3-0 and looking invincible.
If this was a case of a team with nothing to lose playing loose and over their heads, this would be the point where sphincters throughout the NovaCare Complex would start to tighten. But, listening to the post-game interviews, the running theme was a greatest hits of our favorite clichés … ‘One game at a time’ … ‘there’s a lot we still need to fix’ … ‘nobody’s satisfied’ … you know the drill.
En masse Eagles Nation had already given them a pass for the year. As long as it was in the name of progress, any failures or mistakes that came wrapped in an honest effort would be forgiven. But, after Sunday’s systematic dismantling of the Steelers, they are atop the division, undefeated and outscoring their opponents by an average of 20+ points per game, all of that may have changed.
This is Philadelphia. We remember the 1994 season when the Birds raced out to a 7-2 start that featured a 40-8 trouncing of Steve Young, Jerry Rice and the 49ers in San Francisco. We also remember losing the last 7 games of that season and missing the playoffs. Only two years ago, we all feasted on turkey after a 33-10 whipping of the Cowboys on Thanksgiving Day made them 9-3. Then, we starved as they dropped three in-a-row to, once more, squander a great start and miss the playoffs.
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This is Philadelphia … and, while we are all loving this glimpse, we will now see every failure and every mistake in the light of the last three games. Instead of ‘It’s ok, they weren’t supposed to be that good this year’, it will be ‘Where the hell is the team that smoked Pittsburgh?’ or ‘Just another Bobby Hoying …’.
That is the problem with expectations. They change. Is it possible that these guys can handle it?
… and another thing …
Wentz’s accomplishments continue to astound. He set the mark on Sunday for consecutive pass attempts without an interception to begin a rookie season (102). Dallas rookie Dak Prescott (99) is right on his heels. The next records on the horizon are the most attempts without a pick to begin a career (Tom Brady – 162) and the longest such string at any point in a rookie season (Sam Bradford – 168). It’s clear that these are not a priority to Wentz. But, if he continues to play with the precision and focus that he has displayed thus far, those records will come.