There comes a point in every ascending teams growth where they have to go into a huddle, with the game in balance, look each other in the eye, amidst a screaming crowd of 80,000+, and win a ball game.
Every ascending team has to win a game like that to validate to themselves, and to the rest of the league, that they are for real. It's wins like that, with your backs against the wall that help a team grow into a champion.
The Eagles in 2016 didn't have any "Litmus Test" games per se, but they did have some "Litmus Test" moments that I think should help them once those same situations roll around this season. I've stated it many times, but Wentz being able to go out there and play in Seattle, play in all the divisional games, and struggle was incredibly important for his overall maturation. Imagine had Bradford still been there and now we're heading into this season with Wentz having no idea how to handle these situations. We're looking at another lost season. Not now, Wentz was in those situations and he knows now what works and what doesn't work when the games' on the line.
What were some of the Eagles Litmus Test moments in 2016?
I think going into Seattle just alone was a moment for this team and I think that game is completely different if Nelson Agholor's head was on straight. It got out of hand quickly after his mistake, but I'm curious as to what that game looks like if that goes differently. Still, the Eagles are building to what Seattle is and I think witnessing that first hand was huge for this coach and his rookie quarterback. Playing well in Seattle is like a game 7 in the NBA playoffs. You kind of look around and see who's rising to the moment and who is afraid to be out there. Carson, to me, showed that he wanted to be out there.
I think the Ravens game was another huge check mark on the Litmus Test. Yes, the Eagles lost but after the team could have easily quit after the Cincinnati game, like they did on Chip, but they rallied to finish the season. I believe the Ravens game is going to be one that we look back on a few years as the game that changed things, which is weird because Carson didn't play particularly well. But it was the gamer theory that BLG and I talk about with Carson where it doesn't matter how bad he's playing, he's going to make winning plays when you need it most and how he ended that game had me the most encouraged about the future of Carson Wentz. To be a truly great QB in this league, you have to show up on the road and pull games out for your team. Anyone can win at home, but the best win on the road and leave the opposing fan-base dead. Using what he learned in these two games are going to pay major dividends in 2017.
So, what's going to be the Eagles Litmus Test game in 2017?
The game where they need to execute and be perfect if they're going to leave 80,000 people speechless?
My bet is the Broncos game in Week 9.
Winning in Denver is similar to winning in Seattle for me. The stadium is loud, the weather will be nasty and that defense has an edge to it at home. Win in Denver and you officially have the leagues attention. Lose and get embarrassed? You're still not ready to take the next step in your maturation. Lose like you lost in Baltimore? You might have something there.
The Denver game is the one I have circled as to when we'll know if this Eagles team, it's quarterback and it's head coach are for real.