'Just the tip of the iceberg,' Lurie says of Eagles

Posted: January 07, 2014

At one end of the Eagles' locker room late Saturday night was owner Jeffrey Lurie, offering optimism in the aftermath of his team's 26-24 playoff loss to the Saints, speaking of the future as if it were full of nothing but happy days for his franchise.

"This is just the tip of the iceberg," Lurie said. "It's a missed opportunity, and it's the tip of the iceberg. I think that everyone in this room knows it. It's a very young team, and at the same time, they already learned what it takes."

At the other end of the room was left tackle Jason Peters, 32 years old, 10 years into an NFL career in which he has made six Pro Bowls and been named to two all-pro first teams and never won a playoff game, sending the same message as Lurie but in a more defiant tone.

"Everybody counted us out, thought it was going to be a rebuilding year, and we start winning, and everybody started jumping on the bandwagon," Peters said. "They start believing, and we believed from Day 1. I believe it was a good year and something to build on for next year."

It is what everyone inside and outside that locker room believes, and rightfully so. Despite Saturday's disappointing result, the Eagles have the look and feel of a team on the come, and the tangible evidence suggests this season was merely a sample of what this team can achieve once the players have more time to marinate in Chip Kelly's special sauce.

Everything that Kelly implemented was new and fresh and took some getting used to, and still the Eagles probably identified their latest franchise quarterback in Nick Foles, learned that defensive coordinator Bill Davis was astute enough to shore up and work around his unit's obvious and inherent weaknesses, went 10-6, won their division, and took a Hall of Fame-caliber quarterback and a Super Bowl-winning coach to the brink in the playoffs. There's a lot of good stuff in that stew. Even the overriding reasons that the Eagles lost to the Saints - their offense was sluggish at the start, and their defense was tired by the end - were in some ways a function of a simple truth: Kelly is an unorthodox NFL coach, and the Eagles are still at an early stage in their development under him.

"We've got to get some more balance," wide receiver Jason Avant said. "When one thing isn't going, we've got to adapt a lot quicker. We adapted later on in the game, but when the defense was stopping them early in the game, it was the perfect time to make some hay, and we didn't do it."

No, they didn't. But soon enough the frustration will wear off, and the anticipation for next season will grow, and the Eagles' player-personnel people will try to supplement the roster's talent and depth (starting with better defensive backs and pass-rushers, one hopes). The team's most promising players - Foles, Zach Ertz, Lane Johnson, Brandon Boykin - figure to improve, and Kelly will, too, and the Eagles figure to be a trendy Super Bowl pick in 2014.

That's the theory. Now for just a little reality. Take a glance at the Eagles' 2014 regular-season schedule. Remember: Because they were a first-place team this year, the Eagles play a "first-place schedule" next year - a measure necessary for the NFL to achieve its goal of a season in which all 32 teams finish 8-8. So the Eagles' opponents will include the following:

Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers. Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks. Colin Kaepernick and the San Francisco 49ers. Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers. Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts. Larry Fitzgerald and the Arizona Cardinals. Not to mention six dogfight games within the NFC East and two against teams with new head coaches, the Houston Texans and the Tennessee Titans.

That schedule sure looks daunting today, but it's only today. The comfort is that no one has a clue how next season will play out. The Texans were a Super Bowl favorite last summer, and they started falling apart before September had ended. No one really knows anything about the NFL anymore. But the Eagles have a chance to build something great here. That's what their 2013 season showed. That's what's certain. And that's all you can ask for in sports.


msielski@phillynews.com

@MikeSielski

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