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About Football and Expectations

I’ll go back to the Bond and flash fics in a day or two–still recovering from a lovely New Year’s vacation (maybe I will also write about that, though more likely I’ll post on Facebook). But as another Philadelphia Eagles season comes to a disappointing end, I thought I’d talk about expectations and evaluations and moving forward and stuff, lessons you can take from sports and apply to anywhere.

The Eagles were 4-12 last year, last in the NFC East, fourth worst in the league. They were widely picked to finish last in their division again, though some people thought the new coach, Chip Kelly, could get them to a second or even first-place finish. But the NFC East was thought to be a tough division, with Washington getting its star QB back and Dallas returning the same team that almost won the division last year and the Giants–well, you can never count out the Giants. Whatever happened with the Eagles, as long as it was better than 4-12, it’d be a gift.

So a weird thing happened in the opener. The Eagles demolished Washington in the first half and held on for a win. People started re-evaluating Coach Kelly and his offense. Maybe he was going to be innovative, maybe he was going to rack up 40 and 50 points a game. 

Then: three losses in a row. The Chargers, Chiefs, and Broncos would all be playoff teams in 2013, and the first two losses, at least, were close. But still, they were 1-3. Chip Kelly had been figured out, the defense was porous, the Eagles were going to finish 6-10 just as predicted.

Beating the hapless Giants and Bucs (combined record at time of games: 0-11) didn’t do much to change that view, but it got the Eagles to 3-3, amazingly tied with the disappointing Cowboys for the lead in the NFC East. That evaporated quickly with a 17-3 loss to the Cowboys the following week. They lost to the Giants 15-7 the next week–the 1-6 Giants–and that was it for Chip Kelly’s offense. Ten points in two games? The Birds, at 3-5, were done.

Only not so fast. They rattled off five straight wins after that, culminating in the Snow Game against Detroit, averaging just over 31 points a game. Only one playoff team in that bunch (Green Bay, playing without their star QB), but Arizona and Detroit were in the hunt at the time. Chip Kelly was back and the Eagles, incredibly, were in first place in their division. Even after a mystifying stumble in Minnesota, they pounded the Bears and held on against the disappointing Cowboys (they really should just change their name to that) to get to 10-6 and a division title. 

They then took the high-octane Saints down to the last minute before losing by two in yesterday’s playoff game. The defense tried valiantly to give the offense enough room to work with, and with the injuries on the Saints side, it was almost, almost enough. The Eagles played a pretty good game. They took care of the ball, they made some big plays. The Saints were determined to take away the run, so the Eagles passed. Nick Foles, in his first playoff game, had a couple bad throws, one questionable play where he took a sack and probably shouldn’t have, but overall he didn’t give the fans any reason to think he’s not the quarterback next year, and going forward.

So yes, the loss was disappointing, but against a playoff-experienced team like the Saints, it wasn’t bad. The Eagles need to stiffen up their defense, but they look pretty good on the offensive side of the ball. Getting Jeremy Maclin back will help, and giving Foles a full off-season as the starter will make him more comfortable. And they got to ten wins–yes, mostly against non-playoff teams, but as they say, you can only play the guys they put on the field. They surprised a lot of people, exceeded expectations, and while they could easily have won this game if a couple plays had gone their way, they’ve now got playoff experience for next year. 

So often we focus on the latest setback without looking at the larger picture. It’s hard not to live in the moment, but it’s also important to realize that the moment passes. Learn from it and move forward, be determined to do your best next time. Because there will always be a next time, one way or another.