First-place Eagles raise level of expectations

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Expectations for the Philadelphia Eagles have soared following another convincing victory.

This was supposed to be a rebuilding season, but the Eagles (5-1) have emerged as the team to beat in the NFC East and they’re a front-runner in the conference.

If they get some key players back from injury and improve some areas, the Eagles are legitimate Super Bowl contender.

“We’re winning these games, but there is a lot to fix, a lot to correct as well,” coach Doug Pederson said Friday, a day after a 28-23 win at Carolina. “It’s never perfect.”

Carson Wentz tossed three touchdown passes and the defense stifled Cam Newton and the Panthers (4-2) to help Philadelphia become the NFC’s first 5-win team. Three of those wins have come on the road. The Eagles have a mini-bye before hosting the Washington Redskins (2-2) on Monday, Oct. 23. That’ll start a three-game homestand.

“I’ve got to keep them focused and grounded on even some of the situational stuff still,” Pederson said. “We’ve got to eliminate the big play on defense. We’ve got to get better in the red zone on offense, and just keep working in those areas. We weren’t as good on third down (Thursday) night, so we’ve got to keep working that area. So just keeping them focused and detailed on those specific areas.”

Wentz has established himself as a rising star in his second season. The 2016 No. 2 overall pick withstood relentless pressure, took a lot of hits and overcame some dropped passes and penalties to lead the Eagles to victory in front of a hostile crowd on short rest.

He lowered his shoulder and took on tacklers a couple times and made precision throws in clutch spots in the second half.

“That’s the one thing about this kid,” Pederson said. “He’s so tough mentally and physically. He just stays in there and battles and still, his eyes are down the field. He doesn’t let (getting hit) get to him.

“He’s a great leader of this football team even in his second year. Guys really respect the way he plays. It’s exciting to see from your quarterback.”

The Eagles won without their best offensive lineman, right tackle Lane Johnson, and have been winning without top cornerback Ronald Darby since Week 1. Johnson should return from a concussion for the next game and Darby is getting closer to coming back.

After the Redskins, the 49ers (0-5) and Broncos (3-1) visit Philadelphia. The Eagles then will have a bye after Week 9. By then, they could be making a strong push for the No. 1 seed in the NFC.

NOTES: Pederson said special-teams ace Chris Maragos needs more tests on his injured right knee. Losing Maragos would be a significant blow for one of the NFL’s best units. … Pederson said linebacker Jordan Hicks should be fine after hurting his ankle.


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