The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

NFL Reset: Team rankings, Eagles’ grit, Jets’ QB dilemma, Broncos’ woes

Quarterback Jalen Hurts scores the game-winning touchdown Sunday for the Eagles in Indianapolis. (Zach Bolinger/AP)

INDIANAPOLIS — The Philadelphia Eagles aren’t perfect any longer. Their flaws actually have become rather obvious. But they’re still quite good. And they still should be regarded as the Super Bowl favorite in the NFC.

A two-game losing streak following an 8-0 start seemed like a distinct possibility when the Eagles allowed the Indianapolis Colts to move straight down the field with the game’s opening possession Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium. Tailback Jonathan Taylor helped the Colts score a quick touchdown, and the Eagles, mistake-prone for much of the afternoon, faced a 13-3 deficit entering the fourth quarter.

But they steadied themselves to emerge with a 17-16 triumph that gave them the NFL’s best record, 9-1, entering the holidays.

“Any win, you take it any way you can get it in this league, especially on the road,” Coach Nick Sirianni said. “We clawed. We scratched. We fought. And we kept going, and we won at the end. And so I think any time your back’s against the wall, right, and you respond at all levels … it feels pretty sweet. And it builds, right? And you can build from anything.”

The Eagles spent much of this season as the NFL’s only unbeaten team, but they fell from the undefeated ranks Nov. 14 with a loss at home to the Washington Commanders, six days before the comeback in Indianapolis. Suddenly, the Eagles’ run defense looked vulnerable. That remained the case in the early going against the Colts.

But just-signed veteran defensive tackles Linval Joseph and Ndamukong Suh helped the Eagles slow down the Colts after that opening drive Sunday. There was no repeat of the debacle against the Commanders, as the Eagles took the lead on Jalen Hurts’s seven-yard touchdown run on a quarterback draw with just more than a minute remaining and held on from there. General Manager Howie Roseman excitedly greeted players outside the postgame locker room, and Sirianni credited defensive line coach Tracy Rocker with getting Joseph and Suh prepared to contribute just a few days after they were added to the roster.

The Eagles have made a rapid return to the NFL’s upper echelon

“To get those guys ready to play in that short amount of time is a tribute to coach Rocker,” Sirianni said, “and a tribute to Suh and a tribute to Linval that they were able to do it. … They went out there and they just played.”

As the season’s stretch drive nears, the Eagles lead the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants by two games in the NFC East. They lead the Minnesota Vikings by a game in the chase for the conference’s top seed. The San Francisco 49ers loom as a growing NFC threat. But the conference’s road to the Super Bowl very well could go through Philadelphia. The Eagles are still formidable.

“There are a lot of things that we can learn from,” Hurts said Sunday. “ … After every game, I assess it honestly about: What could we have done better to put ourselves in a better position … of course to win, but [also] to play to the standard that we strive to? … Perfection is something that will never be caught. But why not chase it?”

Top five teams

Team
Comment
1. Chiefs
There was almost no doubt Patrick Mahomes was going to drive for that winning TD in the closing moments Sunday night against the Chargers. He and his team just know how to win.
2. Dolphins
They move up on their bye week with the Vikings’ loss. Their four-game winning streak should become five with their post-bye matchup at home with the Texans.
3. Eagles
They sputtered on offense for three quarters in another mistake-filled performance Sunday against the Colts, who ran the ball effectively in the early going. But, hey, 9-1 is 9-1.
4. Ravens
A 3-3 score in the fourth quarter at home against the Panthers was not great. But the Ravens found a way to win. They haven’t lost since Oct. 16, and their schedule remains far from daunting.
5. Cowboys
The lopsided victory at Minnesota signals the Cowboys aren’t going away, even after that inexplicable loss at Green Bay a week earlier.

The Wilson dilemma

For the second time this season, a dreadful performance by quarterback Zach Wilson in a New York Jets loss to the New England Patriots has put his status as the team’s starter in question.

This time, Coach Robert Saleh isn’t expressing unwavering support for Wilson, the second selection in last year’s NFL draft who continues to show few signs of developing into a franchise quarterback.

When Wilson threw three interceptions in a 22-17 defeat Oct. 30 to the Patriots in East Rutherford, N.J., there was plenty of clamoring for the Jets to reconsider Wilson’s starting status. But Saleh preached patience, saying the team needed to continue to work with Wilson and predicting the young quarterback would be fine.

Things were far different Monday in the aftermath of Sunday’s 10-3 loss to the Patriots in Foxborough, Mass. Saleh did not commit to Wilson as the starter against the Chicago Bears on Sunday in the Meadowlands, and he did not say whether he would turn to Joe Flacco or Mike White if Wilson is benched. But the shift was striking.

“It’s just not the quarterback that’s being evaluated,” Saleh said at his news conference Monday. “Everything is being evaluated.”

The Jets are still the Jets, and Zach Wilson needs to step up

Wilson didn’t throw an interception Sunday but managed only nine completions and 77 passing yards. The Jets had only 103 yards of total offense and lost the game on a touchdown on an 84-yard punt return by the Patriots’ Marcus Jones with five seconds remaining. They fell to the Patriots for a 14th straight meeting.

When reporters asked Wilson afterward whether the Jets’ offense had let down its defense, he flatly said no. That response broke the quarterback code — accept all blame, deflect all credit — and reportedly did not go over particularly well with some of his teammates.

The Jets have a talented roster that’s mostly ready to win; all that’s required is decent quarterback play. They are 6-4 and one game out of first place in the AFC East, even with their quarterback deficiencies. Flacco started the season’s first three games while Wilson was working his way back from a preseason knee injury and still leads the team in touchdown passes with five, one more than Wilson.

In the short term, the Jets probably would be better with Flacco at quarterback. But it’s awfully soon to give up on a young quarterback in whom so much has been invested, and that’s the balancing act Saleh and the Jets now must perform.

Bottom five teams

Team
Comment
28. Rams
They poured all their resources into last season, and this was probably the inevitable follow-up to a go-for-broke championship push.
29. Broncos
Nathaniel Hackett has brought in a coach to help with game management and surrendered offensive play-calling duties. Wasn’t he hired to be an offensive guru? Nothing has worked out as planned.
30. Jaguars
They were on their bye. Did anyone really miss them? Did anyone outside of Jacksonville even realize it?
31. Browns
It didn’t really matter where that game was played Sunday. The Browns were going to lose to the Bills.
32. Texans
That was a feeble performance against the Commanders. It seems inevitable the Texans will have the top selection in the NFL draft and use it on a QB. Davis Mills isn’t the answer and now could be benched.

More woes for Hackett, Broncos

Earlier this season, the Denver Broncos brought in veteran assistant Jerry Rosburg to assist their struggling rookie head coach, Nathaniel Hackett, with game-management decisions.

Last week, Hackett turned over the offensive play-calling duties to quarterbacks coach Klint Kubiak, who had play-calling experience last season with the Vikings and was the closest staffer to quarterback Russell Wilson.

Jeff Saturday started his NFL audition with a Colts win. Now, reality sets in.

Kubiak was on the headset during practices throughout last week, but Hackett didn’t inform his players of the change until Saturday’s team meeting. The reasoning behind the switch was simple, according to one person with knowledge of the situation: Hackett wanted to make it clear he would do whatever it takes to try to win.

But the moves lead to some obvious questions: What value, exactly, does Hackett have? Is there any reason for the team’s new owners to retain him?

The Broncos hired Hackett, a supposed offensive guru, following his stint as offensive coordinator of the Green Bay Packers. Now he doesn’t even call the plays. He has looked overmatched at times with the responsibilities of being a head coach, as the addition of Rosburg demonstrated.

The Broncos lost, 22-16, in overtime Sunday to the Las Vegas Raiders to drop their record to 3-7. Wilson played better, completing 24 of 31 passes for 247 yards. But it’s still not working for Hackett and the Broncos.

The Broncos and Raiders joined the Los Angeles Chargers in fortifying their rosters in the offseason, making it appear the AFC West could be the league’s strongest division. Instead, the Kansas City Chiefs have a three-game lead and are the division’s only team above .500. It’s not NFC South-level bad, but it’s very far from what it was supposed to be. Meanwhile, there are two other divisions — the revitalized NFC East and the AFC East — in which every team is above .500.

Nicki Jhabvala contributed to this report.

Loading...