HOUSTON — They gathered in a corner of the visitors’ locker room, players and coaches and staffers and even some reporters, all huddled together watching a small television airing the fifth game of the World Series as if they convened at Chickie’s & Pete’s.
The Philadelphia Eagles had just beaten the Houston Texans to go 8-0, giving them the best start to a season in franchise history. There was not a lingering party in the locker room or anything to mark the occasion. Like most in Philadelphia, they’ve caught the fever of the baseball team that plays across the street and were hanging on to the final outs.
But they’re also a team that’s become used to winning. So a 29-17 victory on national television isn’t treated like the World Series. It’s treated like sweeping an opponent in a mid-June series.
“It’s just the next one,” Eagles coach Nick Sirianni said. “At this particular point, being 8-0 is sweet. It beats the alternative of being 7-1 or 6-2, right? We know our goal wasn’t to go 8-0.”
No, it’s not. The goal, as Sirianni explains it, is to focus on the week ahead. If he’s willing to allow himself to think beyond the one-week-at-a-time ethos, it would be to play as long as the Phillies have this baseball season. But it shouldn’t be lost that this group is rewriting history books in Philadelphia.
The last Eagles team to reach the eighth game of the season with an unblemished record was the 2004 squad, with Donovan McNabb completing touchdowns to Terrell Owens like Jalen Hurts did to AJ Brown on Thursday. McNabb’s Eagles lost that week. This group is doing something Reggie White or Brian Dawkins never achieved, something that eluded Randall Cunningham and Ron Jaworski, that Harold Carmichael and Chuck Bednarik never experienced. History is fun to make. But it’s not significant to break.
“Not to me,” Brown said. “I think winning, going 1-0, every week. But we’re not stuck on a number. We’re just trying to win every week. This s— is hard. Prime example, the first half. They took the ball out of our hand, running the ball. We’ve got to find a way to adjust. We’re not caught up in trying to go perfect. That’s not even a conversation right now. We’re just trying to win. Find a way to win.”
1 + 11 = ENDZONE#PHIvsHOU | #FlyEaglesFly pic.twitter.com/EenypJSpUc
— Philadelphia Eagles (@Eagles) November 4, 2022
The talk of going perfect is premature when some Halloween candy remains uneaten and Thanksgiving turkeys have yet to be purchased. But with the way the Eagles are playing — and the way their schedule is set up — it might soon become a discussion point.
They’re the 21st NFL team to start 8-0 in the past 30 seasons, and there are no banners hung at stadiums for 8-0 starts. If that reaches double digits, Mercury Morris’ phone might buzz more than usual.
Considering the Eagles’ record, that’s not inconceivable. They don’t play a team that currently has a winning record until the Tennessee Titans in Week 13. They return next week with the Washington Commanders visiting for “Monday Night Football,” followed by games against the Indianapolis Colts and Green Bay Packers. Entering the season, the Colts-Packers-Titans stretch seemed like the most difficult on the schedule. And perhaps it proves to be — any game against Aaron Rodgers should create a degree of worry — except the Colts and Packers have a combined record of 6-9-1.
The Eagles will have targets on their backs in the coming weeks, as undefeated teams tend to do when the weather turns cold. What helps is that they can play different ways. In Sunday’s win against the Steelers, the Eagles had three touchdown drives of five plays or fewer. On Thursday, the Eagles’ first touchdown drive went for 18 plays. Their next touchdown drive went for 10 plays. If styles make fights, then the Eagles can adjust to different opponents.
Or, to use Hurts’ analogy, order different items on a menu.
“I made the reference to your favorite steakhouse or seafood spot, whatever it is, the high-end one. You have your fish of the day. You have the chef’s choice,” Hurts said. “I feel like we can show up and run the ball effectively, throw the ball effectively, kind of do both. Just kind of depends on what that flow of the game is looking like. That’s a testament to our players, how we prepare, and our coaches putting us in good positions.”
Hurts played his first game in his native Houston. He went 21-of-27 for 243 yards and two touchdowns. It was another efficient game through the air, which has become normal for Hurts, who has had a passer rating of over 100 in each of the past three games.
Eagles’ Jalen Hurts returns to Houston for the first NFL game in his hometown
The homecoming hit Hurts on the team bus when he went to a hotel and not his house. He had family and friends at the game, a group of whom he met afterwards. And at Channelview High School, where Hurts attended and where his father still coaches, there was a “Football Frenzy” two hours before kickoff with local residents gathering to celebrate the Eagles’ signal caller. The band played. There were dance routines. There was a raffle for Hurts memorabilia. Hurts jerseys and shirts from different moments of his career were worn by those who remember when he was a high school quarterback playing for his father and Philadelphia didn’t yet know his name.
“Any time I can come back to the city of Houston, it’s special,” Hurts said. “Coming back to a place where I’ve built a lot of memories. … I’m proud that my family got to see that today. I’m proud my dad got to see that today.”
So when Hurts reflects back to Thursday, what will his memory be?
“Being able to get a win,” Hurts said. “There’s a lot to be grateful about. There’s a lot to reflect on and look at, the things that we did well. There’s also a lot of things that we can improve on. I’m not going to make excuses about anything with the short week. We have a standard of play. We want to play to that at all times. It’s a learning experience for us. It’s a formative experience that will only build us up. I truly think the only direction is to rise.”
The Eagles were heavy favorites and didn’t cover the spread despite a 12-point victory. It was the first time this season they didn’t have a lead at halftime. (The game was tied at 14.) They lost their first fumble of the season. They allowed the Texans to rush for 168 yards on 5.3 yards per carry, evidence that their weakness at this point might be their rush defense. (That’s exacerbated by the absence of Jordan Davis, and it shouldn’t be dismissed that Jonathan Taylor, Derrick Henry and Saquon Barkley await in the next five weeks.) Left tackle Jordan Mailata sat by his locker disappointed by the two sacks he allowed at the start of the second half.
So it’s not as if Sirianni and the coaching staff will make the players feel like the 1972 Dolphins when they review the film. But it’s easier to stomach those corrections after a victory, as they’ve become wont to do.
Plus, those correctable areas aren’t any more worthy to discuss as Javon Hargrave setting a career high with three sacks in the game, or CJ Gardner-Johnson taking the NFL lead with his fifth interception this season, or Miles Sanders rushing for 93 yards and a score and Dallas Goedert catching eight passes for 100 yards and a touchdown. There are other teams in the NFL that would consider those achievements the high-water mark of the season.
.@Jay_MostWanted checkin’ into the backfield AGAIN#PHIvsHOU | #FlyEaglesFly pic.twitter.com/FdFRjJSYit
— Philadelphia Eagles (@Eagles) November 4, 2022
For the Eagles, it’s just another week. And a short week at that — one that included a trip halfway across the country. Sirianni awarded two game balls following the win: One to owner Jeffrey Lurie for providing the team with the training and medical resources to promote preparedness for the short-week game, and one to Hargrave for his dominant performance.
Long plane rides are always sweeter after victories. So there are long weekends. By the time the Eagles reconvene, they’ll know whether the Phillies won the World Series. And they’ll embark on the final nine games of the regular season with a chance to rewrite the record books each week. What they accomplished on Thursday made Eagles history. What they hope to accomplish is available to the Phillies this weekend.
“I mean, I’ve been 8-0 before and lost a national championship,” Hurts said. “We haven’t accomplished anything yet.”
(Photo: Carmen Mandato / Getty Images)