NFL-leading Eagles are 8-1 with room for improvement

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Coach Doug Pederson laments the one loss.

Quarterback Carson Wentz talks about improving after scoring 51 points against the league’s top-ranked defense. Safety Rodney McLeod points out there’s bigger goals.

The Philadelphia Eagles are 8-1 and still can get better.

“You’d love to be undefeated going into your bye, but we’re not,” Pederson said. “For us to be at 8-1, it’s a tremendous credit to the guys and coaches in the locker room. Hats off to those guys for the way they work, the way they practice, and prepare.”

Lopsided wins have been common during Philadelphia’s seven-game winning streak. The average margin of victory is 14 points, including three wins by at least 23 points. The biggest victory — 51-23 over the Denver Broncos — sent the Eagles into their week off convinced they have something special.

Yet, they even nit-pick dominant performances. That’s one sign of an elite team.

“We’ll never settle, there’s always things to learn from,” Wentz said.

This is the fifth time in franchise history the Eagles have won eight of their first nine games. In 1949 and 1960, they ended up winning the NFL championship. In 1980 and 2004, they reached the Super Bowl and lost.

So, they have history on their side. And, the proper perspective.

“Our goal hasn’t been accomplished yet,” McLeod said. “There are a lot more games to go. We’re going to enjoy this bye week, but we know that we have a tough opponent coming at Dallas. That’s one game that, if we do want to reach our goal, we have to win.”

The Eagles weren’t supposed to be this good this fast. They were 7-9 in the first season of the Pederson-Wentz Era and expectations for Year 2 were low. A one or two-game improvement would’ve been progress.

Not anymore.

In a football-crazed city starved for its first Super Bowl title, anything less than a parade down Broad Street hoisting that elusive Vince Lombardi Trophy would be a disappointment at this point.

“The sky is the limit, man,” wide receiver Alshon Jeffery said.

Wentz is the main reason why the Eagles are front-runners in the NFC. No. 11 has taken a giant leap in his second season and is the first-half favorite to win MVP. Wentz has thrown 23 touchdowns and only five interceptions with a 104.1 passer rating.

He’s showing off his athletic ability, using his legs more and creating havoc for defenses. Wentz already has more yards rushing (211) than he did in 16 games (150) as a rookie.

“Great quarterbacks make the other guys really want to play at a high level and that’s what he’s doing,” Pederson said.

“It’s a team effort. Offensive line has to protect. But he’s doing a great job. He knows where everybody’s going to be. He prepares so well each week. It’s fun to watch him when things are really clicking like that and to see the guys having fun doing that.”

Like most teams, the Eagles have dealt with injuries. Top cornerback Ronald Darby dislocated his ankle in Week 1 and still hasn’t returned. Nine-time Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters, versatile running back Darren Sproles and playmaking linebacker Jordan Hicks each sustained season-ending injuries.

Backups have stepped up to fill voids and personnel boss Howie Roseman acquired 2016 Pro Bowl running back Jay Ajayi from Miami before the trade deadline to bolster the running game. Ajayi promptly ran for 77 yards, including a 46-yard TD in his debut against Denver.

“Definitely believe we can do a lot of special things here,” Ajayi said. “Great running back room and glad to be part of the dynamic that we have in there.”

The Eagles have to be wary of losing momentum. They were 3-0 and coming off a 34-3 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers going into their bye last season. Then they lost nine of 11.

“My job is to make sure that we stay focused and stay grounded,” Pederson said. “We’ve just got to continue to stay with the one-game mentality. That’s been a good formula for us this season. We can’t get looking down the road and upcoming opponents and scenarios. That’s for the media to speculate on and talk about.

“But we’ve just got to make sure that we maintain our focus, understand what got us to where we are right now at 8-1, and continue that process moving forward.”