January 17, 2022
You know the story all too well by now. After a 2-5 start that was just about as bad as expected, the Eagles won seven of their next nine games, annihilating the worst teams in the NFL en route to a surprise playoff berth as the No. 7 seed in the NFC.
They were demolished by a veteran Buccaneers team that was clearly more talented and better prepared, leaving Eagles players and fans conflicted over how to assess the 2021 season.
They made the playoffs — so it was a success, right? But they looked like that 2-5 team once they got there, and second-year QB Jalen Hurts played terribly — so it was actually a failure then, right?
As fans try and calibrate their expectations for 2022, with three first-round picks, some cap space and a world of possibilities ahead, the team's players are also conflicted on how exactly to feel as they clean out their lockers and head to their respective homes all across the country to rest and recharge.
Fletcher Cox has seen it all, from last place finishes to coaching changes to Super Bowl titles and everything in between. And for a guy who likes to say he is simply "renting his locker," and has for the last 10 years, his perspective is one of optimism and contentment. But of course, he gets to wear a Super Bowl ring anytime he wants.
"Looking at what we did, everyone counted us out," Cox said on Monday. "Everyone said to fire everybody, to make changes, but we know inside this building the culture [Jeffrey] Lurie created and that Nick [Sirianni] brought in here — not listening to outside noise. You want to just learn and grow like we did toward the end of the season. Look at what we did. Take a look back at it, what we came from. We were 2-5. We could have given up and everyone could have checked out."
The Eagles, of course, didn't. But they had cupcake opponent after cupcake opponent down the stretch. Being the best team out of a pool that includes the Giants, Jets, Broncos, Lions and Washington isn't really saying much, as their double-digit loss to the Bucs showed.
Which is why fellow veteran defensive lineman Javon Hargrave kind of signaled the opposite when he told the media "we still got our work cut out to get better" next season.
"We all can improve on little things in our game," he said, fresh off the end of his best season as a pro. "We have the right group of guys. We will be up for the challenge."
A mix of confidence, pride and disappointment seems to be the feeling at the NovaCare Complex.
"As football players we want to be as close to perfect as perfect can be," linebacker T.J. Edwards, who was more in the "we could have done more" camp, said. "There are a lot of things we want to work on in the offseason."
The team's leader, Hurts, clearly has a lot of support and sway in the Eagles locker room. And while his future may be murkier than he and his teammates may be willing to admit, the franchise's all-time rookie leader in receiving yards had nothing but love and positivity for Hurts as he prepared to turn the page to next season.
"[A] first-year starter leads us to the playoffs," DeVonta Smith said. "Everything is not going to be what you want it to be. You will have bumps here and there, but when adversity strikes, he responds. I think he's going to be that guy."
Hurts reflected that when he spoke later on Monday.
"I think I've done a lot of great things this year, a lot of things to learn from personally," the QB, who set an Eagles record for rushing scores by a quarterback, said, "I think the most important thing for me, as you ask that question, is the relationships I built with my teammates, the time we put in... the relationships with my coaches, I think there's a lot of value in everything that's happening this year."
History and a longterm lens will ultimately have the last say as to whether the 9-8, one-and-done season that just concluded was a successful one. If this is the start of an ascension toward an eventual Super Bowl-caliber team, it will certainly be looked at more fondly.
And Hurts sounds pretty determined to make that scenario play out.
"Theres' a certain type of desire and fire in their eyes, of disappointment but also of motivation," Hurts said of Howie Roseman, Nick Sirianni and Lurie. "The desire to put the work in and do the things you need to do to be a better team next year. We're all on the same page, we'll be back that the mentality. We kind of got our feet wet and it's a situation where we're going to learn from it.
"For me, I pride myself from learning from my mistakes, I pride myself from finding anything and everything that can be teachable in a moment and growing from it. I think on this team, being who I am, it has to be contagious...
"My second year as a starter it started today that's where my head is, attacking and learning from everything."
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