9:25 PM EDT, August 21, 2012
— Interpretations are necessary for all NFL preseason games, in which final scores mean little, partial scores mean a lot and players are evaluated as much by how far they can push themselves emotionally as well as physically without cracking.
Such was the case for the Philadelphia Eagles, who in Monday night's 27-17 victory over New England revealed almost all of the good, the bad and the ugly in themselves.
Fans watched in horror while their top players nearly melted down completely under the glare of a national TV spotlight, before pulling it together when faced with a quarterback crisis in which their only three options suddenly were a rookie, a rusty veteran who spent last season out of the game, and dynamic receiver DeSean Jackson.
Given that they don't even want to use Jackson as a punt returner anymore, it ostensibly meant that rookie Nick Foles would be entrusted to try to pop the chaotic bubble that had formed over his side of the field, where boiling-mad head coach Andy Reid was challenged by equally frustrated defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins in a public confrontation never seen in Reid's previous 13 years on the job.
How they responded told us a lot about this team and which direction it is headed. It wound up overcoming a ghastly 16 penalties for 131 yards to dominate the game in every which way, particularly on the line of scrimmage.
So Eagles fans are hereby advised to not be alarmed by the events of the first half, but to actually be encouraged by them.
By the end of their night in the crucible, players and coaches had rediscovered the fine line they briefly stepped over between maximum aggression and uncontrolled frenzy. They regained the grip they needed to beat the Patriots' backups and not beat themselves.
Reid's fire was good. It was the best statement of all that the rebuilding process on this team is considered over and the win-now process has begun some three weeks before the first regular-season game. The switch doesn't go on by itself when the calendar flips to September.
And all that other jazz.
Jenkins' fire might have even been better because it indicates players feel the same urgency, which clearly wasn't the case a year ago with a too-young team that lacked on-field leadership.
Heck, this should have happened much sooner and much more often, like it has with their NFC East rivals up the NJ Turnpike for decades under guys like Bill Parcells and Tom Coughlin, multiple Super Bowl winners who specialize in confrontations.
Good for Andy Reid. Good for the Philadelphia Eagles. Good for their fans who like things real and unrehearsed most of all.
"It's an emotional game," Reid said. "He was fired up. I was fired up. Those things happen. Cullen is my primary leader on that defensive line, so I count on him for a lot of things. He was upset and I was upset. We talked about it afterwards and we're OK."
Just like Parcells and Phil Simms after all these years.
By the way, Jenkins essentially said the same things as Reid before escaping further interview requests with a quick exit out of the visitors' locker room at Gillette Stadium.
Of much greater concern should be all the late-hit penalties the Eagles committed on Monday. Unlike the sideline fire, which should burn even brighter as the season wears on, that stuff cannot carry over into the games that count.
But again, the players seem to know that.
"You train yourself to stop at the whistle," guard Evan Mathis said. "And in the heat of the battle, sometimes you go a little longer, sometimes you don't hear the whistle. So it's something we obviously have to clean up.
"Sometimes playing hard results in those kinds of penalties, and you have to find that fine line and push it to it and not past it."
Defensive end Darryl Tapp, who was flagged for roughing the passer and a late hit, knows this best of all. Unlike Jenkins and Mathis, his spot on the team isn't so secure.
"We have to tighten up," he said, "or it's going to be a long season. ... We've just got to continue to work at our on-the-fly judgment. It's not due to lack of effort. Everybody is trying their hardest, but sometimes you get caught up in the moment of the game and you make a boneheaded play."
But better to cross over the line and then back up in the preseason than to never approach it at all, like last year's Dream Team.
The Eagles have an edge to them now. All they have to do is make sure they don't fall off.
Copyright © 2014, The Morning Call