Skies were clear over Cleveland on Thursday night. Temperatures were cooling from an 80ºF midday high towards a low in the 50s. WKYC even waxed romantic over the streaking white airplane contrails accenting the purple twilight. It was perfect football weather, offering the visiting Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles no excuse for their 5-0 defeat.
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Results in preseason are allegedly meaningless. Coaches are evaluating players. Those whose jobs are guaranteed are working into game-shape. Even in the third game, starters still play just the first half. That said the Eagles are winless this summer. Following 17-point blowouts to Pittsburgh (31-14) and New England (37-20), Philly’s defense can be happy conceding only a field goal. The safety is on the offense, which netted 32 points over the three games, including the negative total on Thursday night.
The evening’s deficit might’ve been worse had Browns starting quarterback, Tyrod Taylor, not injured his wrist in the first quarter. Rookie backup Baker Mayfield, selected no.1 in the 2018 NFL Draft left after two series to go through concussion protocol after throwing a red-zone interception. He was cleared but the game was there for the taking. Mike Groh’s offence needed only one scoring drive to get the job done.
Carson Wentz remains out with a cruciate ligament injury but the offensive line failed to protect Nick Foles. The Super Bowl hero threw two interceptions and fumbled a ball from one of the six sacks Cleveland registered on the night.
It was an abject performance against a club that is 1-31 in the past two seasons and mired in a decade-long streak of losing seasons. Cleveland, 1-1 in the preseason coming into the game, are improved but not that much.
Eagles coach Doug Pederson should be concerned. With the worst performance arriving in game three, he can’t blame the outing on rust.
Nor can he blame the NFL’s hard salary cap. Fans worried over their championship team breaking up in the offseason. Thirteen players, including four starters, were eligible for one form of free agency or the other. LeGarrette Blount’s 766 yards departed for Detroit and receiver Torrey Smith’s 435 were traded to Carolina. Each scored two touchdowns on the season. Blount was 31, though, and Smith will be 30 in January. Those are roster moves you expect to make.
Wentz’s status is the biggest setback, but Foles proved in February he could step into the role. The Eagles can’t let expectations rocket into the stratosphere after their long-awaited title. At the same time, it’s not unrealistic to expect them to handle the Browns.
The coming season won’t be easy. Every team is going to be gunning for the Super Bowl champions. Legendary champions like Joe Montana’s 1982 49ers often fail to make the playoffs the following season. From 2006-13, defending champions either failed to make the playoffs or lost in the first round. The Eagles are beginning to look like one of those teams.
Philly were improbable winners, last season. They gave Tom Brady and New England everything they could handle and then some to win Super Bowl LII. The Pats will be back, though. They always are. Bill Belichick never lets his squad relax. He never accepts an excuse. Even losing Brady to injury or suspension didn’t stopped the five-time champions. Doug Pederson must find a way to keep the competitive fire burning at Lincoln Financial Field.
Martin Palazzotto is a freelance writer and author of strange bOUnce, a collection of sport fiction.