The Philadelphia Eagles silenced many of their doubters in Week 7, dispatching division-rival Washington with ease at home and improving their record to an NFL-best 6-1 with a 34-24 victory on Monday Night Football. Quarterback Carson Wentz announced his MVP candidacy, tossing four touchdowns while leading all players with 63 rushing yards. Jim Schwartz's defense terrorized Kirk Cousins all night, registering four sacks and hitting him 10 times in total. On paper, the night could not have unfolded much better.
However, instead of celebrating their big win, the Eagles lost All-Pro left tackle Jason Peters to a gruesome knee injury. On Monday, an MRI revealed he had torn his ACL and MCL.
During a routine pass play early in the second half, Philly guard Stefan Wisniewski rolled up on Peters' leg while finishing a block. The tackle immediately fell to the ground and began writhing in pain and clutching his right knee. Within a minute, the medical staff applied an air cast to Peters' leg, and the entire Philadelphia roster and several Washington players gathered around him, expressing their support. A visibly emotional Peters finally departed as the crowd chanted his name, a tribute rarely given to the generally anonymous offensive linemen.
The Eagles took little time announcing that Peters had suffered a knee injury and ruled him out for the rest of the half. Head coach Doug Pederson gave no official update on Peters' status during his postgame press conference, saying only that tests scheduled for Tuesday would reveal the extent of the injury. Now that those tests have been completed, it confirmed the worst fears, and Philly expects to play without their star left tackle for the rest of the season.
With quality offensive linemen in short supply, few teams can survive losing a starting-caliber tackle for an extended period. The impact of the loss increases exponentially for a player like Peters. Even at his advanced age -- he turns 36 in January -- the 14-year veteran remains a sturdy pass protector and the most valuable member of the Eagles' offensive line. He had missed just two games since the start of 2013 and has made every Pro Bowl team since.
After Peters departed on Monday night, the Eagles sent in reserve lineman Halapoulivaati Vaitai to fill his customary spot on the left side. Vaitai didn't derail the offense, but he did endure some growing pains, drawing a false start penalty minutes after entering. The penalty contributed to Philly stalling in the red zone and ultimately settling for a field goal.
Given that Vaitai has struggled in other spot starts, Pederson might feel compelled to shift starting right tackle Lane Johnson over to the left. Such a move wouldn't eliminate a hole in the offensive line, but it could secure Wentz's blindside. Either way, the line will suffer in Peters' absence.
While most offensive linemen in their mid-30s have retirement plans in place, Peters signed a three-year, $32.5 million contract to keep him in Philly through his age-37 season. He has given no indication that he wants to walk away anytime soon, though this injury could force him to recalibrate those expectations. Offensive linemen don't rely on speed the way players at other positions do, but the extended downtime and painful rehabilitation associated with knee reconstruction could affect how much he wants to keep his career going.
Emotional moment as Eagles players come to show their support for an injured Jason Peters while he's carted off the field. pic.twitter.com/4SmzT6e6GG- CBS Sports (@CBSSports) October 24, 2017
Regardless, the Eagles must plan for life without one of their starting tackles. While playing without a starting tackle understandably affects the quarterback position negatively, it disrupts Wentz more than most. With both Peters and Johnson in place, Wentz boasts a completion percentage of 63.9, 3,034 passing yards, 24 touchdowns and just six interceptions. However, with one of his bookend tackles missing, those figures drop to 60.7 percent, 2,600 yards, nine touchdowns and 12 picks. Likewise, Wentz's passer rating falls from 100.2 to a pedestrian 73.0 while the Eagles' winning percentage drops from 83.3 to 27.3.
Wentz has improved over his 23 NFL starts and can better accommodate Peters' absence than he could as a rookie. Still, Wentz's MVP-caliber play will most likely taper off to a noticeable degree.
And such a regression could have a meaningful impact on the Eagles' chances to finish with the No. 1 seed in the NFC. Entering Week 8, no other team in the conference has a record better than 5-2. However, those two teams -- the Los Angeles Rams and Minnesota Vikings -- play in less competitive divisions. Meanwhile, Philly has yet to begin a five-week death match featuring four games on the road, the type of stretch that can demoralize even the best teams.
The Eagles' ultimate goal becomes considerably more difficult without their blindside protector in place. Few teams have a backup plan at left tackle, and even fewer have a Jason Peters to lose in the first place.