The NFC East division is a long shot for the Philadelphia Eagles following a 35-31 loss on New Year’s Eve. It was another sloppy performance from a team that seems destined for a first-round playoff exit.
The Cardinals exploited a lifeless and inept Eagles’ defense on Sunday to further dent the armor in a team widely regarded as the tin men of the NFL playoffs. Matt Patricia’s unit watched a three-point lead evaporate in the fourth quarter, allowing one of the worst offenses in football to drive 70 yards on 9 plays in 2:01 to pull off the upset. James Conner capped a 128-yard rushing day with a 2-yard touchdown run. Game over.
Minutes prior to Conner’s run, it looked like the Eagles were going to hold on. Jake Elliott’s 43-yard connected from 43 yards out with 2:37 left in the fourth quarter to finish a lackluster drive – 8 plays for 24 yards, 2:53 – that elicited more boos than cheers from the hometown crowd. The noise level ratcheted up only when Jalen Hurts hit A.J. Brown for an 18-yard toss to A.J. Brown. The field goal proved to be window dressing for the Eagles’ most embarrassing loss of the year.
“There’s no flight in any of us. One bad game can’t take away from what our defense has done,” safety Sydney Brown said. “It is what it is. We just lost to the worst team in the NFL. What can you do? You gotta move on. It’s not ideal but there are lessons to be learned and that’s all you can take from this game.”
Philadelphia can still win the NFC East if they beat the Giants in Week 18, coupled with a Cowboys’ loss to Washington, but they are no longer in contention to clinch the No. 1 seed in the NFC. The 49ers locked that up following a 27-10 win. The Eagles must fight on. The mood in the locker room wasn’t great in the immediate aftermath as soured expressions filled the room.
“It’s exactly what you think it would be,” Brown said of the team’s mood. “It’s how we respond. We gotta stay together. There’s going to be outside media that is going to try and tear us up and kind of pull us apart so it’s all about staying true to ourselves and knowing that we just need to respond, and there should be nothing but confidence in the building.”
Let’s get back to Sunday afternoon … and take a look at what happened on Sunday:
Sydney Brown Puts on the Superman Cape
The Eagles’ defense was getting gashed in the first half, especially in the middle of the field thanks to shaky linebacker play. Shocker, right? Shaq Leonard was either missing tackles or taking on the wrong assignment. Nicholas Morrow couldn’t cover anyone over the middle. Avonte Maddox looked a bit rusty in his return at nickel cornerback. And the safeties were hanging on for dear life — that is, until Reed Blankenship went out for a play and Sydney Brown sprang into action.
Following a momentum-swinging sack by Jalen Carter, the rookie third-rounder stole the ball out of the air and returned it 99 yards for a touchdown, accentuated by Brown trucking Rondale Moore before he crossed the goal line, to give the Eagles a 14-3 lead. The play was the third-longest interception return in Eagles’ franchise history and the early turning point in what looked like a blowout in the making until the wheels fell off the bus in the second half.
Jalen Hurts Gets Efficient
It’s no secret that Jalen Hurts’ injured knee has been hindering him in recent games, but that hasn’t stopped offensive coordinator Brian Johnson and head coach Nick Sirianni from asking him to run all the time. That wasn’t the case early on Sunday. Hurts didn’t rush once in the first half as he posted one of the most efficient stat lines of his career: 11-of-13, 114 yards, with 2 touchdowns for a 142.8 QB rating.
He chucked a beautiful dime to Julio Jones for a 12-yard score (first quarter), then turned a busted play into a 22-yard strike to Jones (second quarter). The fleet-footed quarterback didn’t take a rushing snap until there was 1:52 left in the third quarter. The Cardinals crowed about wanting to make Hurts beat them from the pocket and, in the first half, he did. Problem is there are two halves to every football game.
Commitment to the Run Game
The Eagles have joked (behind wry smiles) about hearing the fans’ pleas for them to commit more to the ground game. They let D’Andre Swift run it 20 times for 92 yards in Week 16, then started Sunday’s game by feeding Swift on back-to-back carries to start the game. Then, not surprisingly, the run game disappeared until the closing minutes of the third quarter.
Swift carried it 5 times for 40 yards, with Hurts churning out 4 carries for 18 yards, on a bullying drive that moved the chains (16 plays) and ate up clock (7:06). They capped it with a 9-yard scoring strike when Hurts rolled out to his right and found Dallas Goedert wide open in the end zone. That broke a 21-21 tie and put the Eagles up 28-21. It was supposed to be the exclamation point on a win.
Tush Push Gets New Wrinkle
The Tush Push or Brotherly Shove, whatever you want to call it, has been one of the most unstoppable plays in football this season. And now it has a new wrinkle. On 3rd-and-1 in the second quarter, the Eagles lined up in their favorite short-yardage formation package at the Arizona 39-yard line, but Hurts flipped the ball back to Kenneth Gainwell who executed a half-back option pass to DeVonta Smith for 17 yards and aa first down. That trick play set up a touchdown and pumped-up expectations … alas, it was fool’s gold. The Eagles went back to their stagnant, vanilla offense in the second half. They were outscored 29-10 in the second half, punctuated by a Hurts’ interception on the team’s final possession with seven ticks showing on the clock. He finished 18-of-23 for 167 yards with three scores.
Eagles’ Defense Cooked
Optimism for this team winning a Super Bowl is at an all-time low after watching the lowly Cardinals wipe the turf with the Eagles’ defense for four quarters. It doesn’t matter which coach is calling the plays (Matt Patricia or Sean Desai) because no one can make up for the lack of talent on the field. Their linebackers stink (see: Shaq Leonard’s tackling skills). Their young cornerbacks are learning on the fly (see: Eli Ricks’ disastrous angles). And their safeties can’t cover or stop the run right now (see: Kevin Byard’s comment on physicality). Meanwhile, the Eagles allowed Arizona to put a death grip on the time of possession (39:39 for Arizona to 20:21 for Philly) while racking up way more first downs (32 for Arizona to 17 for Philly) and more total net yards (449 for Arizona to 275 for Philly). The secondary looked absolutely cooked – minus a questionable pass interference call on Kelee Ringo – and the pass rush did them no favors. Minimal pressure. One sack. Three quarterback hits. This isn’t a championship defense.
AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth