- - Tuesday, October 24, 2017

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

If you were paying attention, you could see these Philadelphia Eagles — 34-24 winners over the Washington Redskins Monday night in Philadelphia — coming last December when the Washington Redskins left Lincoln Financial Field with a fortunate 27-22 win.

Jay Gruden wasn’t paying attention.

The Redskins were facing an Eagles team last December that was on the verge of coming apart. They had lost their last three games. Rookie head coach Doug Pederson was about to be run out of town. Players were calling player-only meetings. Mutiny and chaos was in the air.

Yet you saw an Eagles team that came together on the field, battling the Redskins in a brawl after teammate Darren Sproles was hit with a cheap shot by Washington’s Deshazor Everett on a fair catch attempt.

You saw a Carson Wentz-led Eagles offense that put up 24 first downs, compared to just 16 by the Redskins, an Eagles offense that went 9 for 18 on third downs, compared to just 2 for 7 by Washington. The Redskins weren’t much better on third downs Monday night, converting 4 of 12 opportunities.

You saw Wentz lose only because he ran out of time while taking his team down the field at the end of the game for what could have been the game-winning drive.

Redskins coach Jay Gruden? He saw Redskins greatness. “It was a great game,” he told reporters.

It should have made Gruden nervous about what lay ahead for his team in the NFC East — the Eagles who now have a 6-1 record and are playing the best football in the NFL, with two of those wins coming against Washington already.

He gets it now. “I mean, just do the math,” Gruden told reporters.

Yes, there is a big difference between the Eagles and Redskins since that December 2016 game. Pederson’s team has grown.

Gruden’s team seems stuck in average.

Gruden saw greatness again Monday night — but not from his team.

“We’ve got to find a way to make those plays,” he said. “Give them credit: they made crunch time, big-time plays, scrambles, great throws, great tackles, sacks, interceptions when they needed them. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get it done.”

Gruden is paying attention now, and doesn’t like what he sees ahead of him. “If you look at 3-3 and 6-1, and we’ve lost twice to them, that’s a big difference,” he said.’

That math also includes facing the Seattle Seahawks in two weeks and the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday at FedEx Field — the Cowboys who just demolished the San Francisco 49ers 40-10, the same 49ers team the Redskins barely got by at home a week earlier by a 26-24 game.

Gruden seemed optimistic coming off that 49ers win, even though he had let Kyle Shanahan nearly beat him with a rookie quarterback coming off the bench.

Before Monday night’s game, Gruden, when asked about quarterback Kirk Cousins’ play, said he saw his team getting better. “We’ve been fortunate to be in games and have leads and we’ll be able to manage the game a little bit more against Philadelphia,” he said Friday. “We had a lot of pass rush and made a few mistakes here and there — didn’t play as well as we’d liked — but he has improved as everybody has on offense. You know, not just him. The offensive line’s played better, the tight ends have played better, the receivers have played a lot better offensively.

“I think that’s the case around the league, really,” Gruden said. “I don’t think anybody peaks out Week 1. I think you’re going to see steady improvement and the teams that improve the most and limit the mistakes are the teams that are going to keep advancing.”

The Eagles — there is a team where you have seen steady improvement since that December 2016 game against the Redskins, when a team seemingly ready to implode may turned the corner and started headed in the right direction.

The Redskins? Stuck in the land of lackluster, a place where they have taken up permanent residence under Gruden.

Thom Loverro hosts his weekly podcast “Cigars & Curveballs” Wednesdays available on iTunes, Google Play and the reVolver podcast network.

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