Two cheers echoed through the Philadelphia crowd during the Eagles' 34-24 win over the Washington Redskins on Monday night that illustrated just how special this Eagles season might be, and just how fragile it could be, too.
Carson Wentz's fourth touchdown pass drew "M-V-P!" chants, not a far-fetched aspiration with the Eagles at 6-1 and having the best record in the NFL through seven games. But those same fans also chanted Jason Peters' name as the future Hall of Fame left tackle exited the field on a cart in the third quarter after a potentially serious injury that would provide another major hurdle in the Eagles' quest to make this season special. Linebacker Jordan Hicks was also lost to what could be a major ankle injury.
"It's bittersweet a little bit," coach Doug Pederson said. "Guys are obviously excited for the win to be 6-1. But the realization is we have a couple guys [injured] in this game. We don't know the extent yet. Listen, this is a resilient group. We've seen it already, the first two months of the season. It's a great testament to the guys again tonight for battling and finishing the game."
The details of the injuries will be learned in the coming days, but the major story in the aftermath of the Eagles' fifth consecutive win is just how good their second-year quarterback appears to be, and how that could make the Eagles a serious contender as the season approaches its halfway point.
The Eagles are off to their best start since 2004, when they opened the season 7-0. They reached the Super Bowl that season. It might be premature to have those discussions, but it's fair to dream about what Wentz could do. He went 17 of 25 for 268 yards with four touchdowns and one interception, overcoming a slow start. Wentz was also the leading rusher with 63 yards on the ground. He now has 11 touchdowns in the past three weeks.
"I do feel good," Wentz said. "There's always plays every game, every week that you want back. I feel confident in all the guys that I just have to get the ball and they'll make plays."
The deep ball has been generous to the Eagles in recent weeks, and Wentz continued to show how far he has come since one year ago. On a first down at the Eagles' 36-yard line, Wentz stood strong behind stout protection and fired a strike downfield to rookie Mack Hollins for a 64-yard touchdown.
It was Hollins' first career touchdown, but the Wentz-to-Hollins connection could become common for the Eagles. The team is bullish on Hollins, and the fourth-round pick's playing time continues to increase.
After the defense forced a three-and-out, Wentz continued the offensive momentum. He found tight end Zach Ertz open downfield for a 46-yard reception. A tight end was the opponent's top receiver in four of Washington's five games entering Monday, and Ertz made sure he remained a big factor. He walked into the end zone on a 4-yard touchdown pass from Wentz later on the drive to give the Eagles a 17-10 halftime lead. Ertz led receivers with five catches for 89 yards and one touchdown, and he's now set a career high with five touchdowns this season.
"Obviously the whole season we wanted to be better as a red zone offense," Ertz said. "We put a lot of time into it, and it's good and have things pay off when you work so hard on it the whole offseason."
That touchdown was even more important because the Eagles had the ball to start the second half, giving them a chance to double their lead without Washington's touching the ball. That's exactly what happened. Wentz led the Eagles on a 10-play, 81-yard drive, culminating with rookie Corey Clement's acrobatic 9-yard touchdown catch to give the Eagles a 24-10 lead.
But the touchdown came while gloom interrupted the party at Lincoln Financial Field. Peters was carted off the field on the second play of the half because of a gruesome knee injury. Halapoulivaati Vaitai replaced him at left tackle and the Eagles continued moving the ball, but a Peters injury would be a major loss for the Eagles. The sideline and the crowd knew it — almost every player went onto the field to support Peters, and the crowd chanted his name.
"Anytime you lose an anchor like that, especially one of the best of all time, he just means so much to this team, especially to all the guys, just really a pillar in our building," right tackle Lane Johnson said.
The biggest threat Washington posed in the second half came late in the third quarter, when Kirk Cousins hit Jordan Reed for a 5-yard touchdown pass to cut the Eagles' lead to 24-17, but Wentz made sure that score was short-lived. He responded by taking the Eagles downfield again for his fourth touchdown pass of the game, this one a 10-yarder to Nelson Agholor. That was his 17th touchdown pass of the season, already eclipsing last year's mark and further validating the M-V-P chants that came from the stands. It also made a lackluster start to the game long forgotten.
Those compelled to sign an online petition complaining about the officiating in the Eagles' last game must have been further disgusted on the Eagles' first drive, when they were flagged four times on three plays. The Eagles were backed into a second-and-31 at their own 4-yard line, so Wentz tossed a deep pass that was intercepted but was effectively a punt — Washington took the ball over at its own 42-yard line.
"It was a sluggish start," Pederson said. "We've had a lot of time off and that's one of the things that I sort of messages to the team was exactly what happened. You have to try to guard against that. …[They] kept battling, hanging in there and learning how to finish is the key."
The Eagles defense remained stout at that point, overcoming a poor opening drive that resulted in a Washington field goal and the absences of Hicks (injured on the second play) and Mychal Kendricks (inactive with a hamstring injury). They kept Washington out of the end zone until the second quarter, when Cousins connected with Chris Thompson for a 7-yard touchdown to take a 10-3 lead.
That score remained while the Eagles offense couldn't find a rhythm. Once Wentz hit Hollins, the onslaught started. It continued what has become more apparent with each passing week. One of the NFL's heavyweights this season resides in Philadelphia. Wentz must ensure they remain that way even while the injury report becomes even more of a concern.
"The bulls-eye on our back becomes bigger," Pederson said. "It just becomes a challenge every week. That's a tribute to the guys in the locker room. They're up for the challenge every time."