January 16, 2022
The Eagles got treated like a Pop Warner team in their one and only postseason game this season, losing a 31-15 beating to the Bucs that was over long before the final whistle. Garbage-time scores do not paper over how terrible this performance was for Philadelphia.
Here's what I saw.
• Shades of Philadelphia's early-season games in their final game of the year — they found a way to put up some meaningless points at the tail end of losses, somehow and some way. Boston Scott helped them avoid a shutout with this nice run early in the fourth quarter, saving the whole group from an extra level of embarrassment:
The garbage time warriors struck again with time winding down in the fourth, as Kenneth Gainwell made a nice extra effort to get through a tackle and find paydirt in the final five minutes:
DeVonta Smith put the capper on the second score shown above, coming up with a nice play on the ensuing two-point conversion to provide just a little bit of hope for the Eagles if everything had broken right after that. This was pretty easily the play of the game for Philadelphia, and a great example of why they should have been force-feeding the ball to No. 6 all day long.
Of course, it ended up being lipstick on a comically ugly pig, but nice-looking lipstick all the same.
• The game eventually ended.
• Sundays are free now, which is nice if you have hobbies that don't involve sports. Heck, you lot can even watch upcoming postseason games not involving the Eagles, if you can stand to watch football after this debacle.
• Without being the "I told you so" guy regarding Jalen Hurts' performance in this game, every concern we hammered home all season (even during/after wins) showed up on the field in this game. All season long, we wondered aloud whether the style of game the Eagles proved they could win would be relevant to how they'd probably have to win in the playoffs. As it turns out, when you can't rely on your quarterback to make plays in the passing game with eight men in the box; when your quarterback misses big-play opportunities in a game where you're already trailing; when your quarterback bails on clean pockets with time to sit in there and deliver the ball downfield, that's going to be problematic against teams who can put points on the board.
Second-half performances against mediocre teams and worse quarterbacks disguised the fact that the Eagles basically had to play one style of football and one style of football alone in order to win games. It was easy to talk about the positives in Hurts' skill set — the athletic tools, his character/leadership, his ability to respond to adversity — when they were able to ride the rushing attack to victory, minimizing the focus on what he could and could not do in the passing game. But with the Eagles playing out of an early hole in the first half, the Eagles couldn't just continue to pound the rock and hope to beat the Bucs man-on-man in the trenches. They needed Hurts to throw them back into this one, and he showed no ability to do that.
To be fair to Hurts, it's not as though the run game carried their portion of the weight, either. Nick Sirianni tried to stick to their guns and attack Tampa Bay on the ground in the first half, but the style of running was not conducive to success against a fast Bucs defense. With so many of their plays designed to go to the outside, the gap between the two teams in the speed department was clear. There were few times where you looked at a run play or a swing pass and thought, "Oh man, they have a chance to break off a big gain here," because the Bucs closed down space before Philadelphia's ball carriers and pass-catchers could get their legs churning.
But I would argue Hurts' poor play and command of the offense hurt them in the run game, too. This offense was slow as molasses for most of the day, getting up to the line of scrimmage late and frequently snapping the ball as the play clock was winding down. Instead of playing with tempo and trying to catch the Bucs off-guard, the Eagles allowed Tampa Bay to explode out of the blocks on almost every single play, which led to early pressure and tackles for losses far too often. And the longer Hurts' struggles continued, the better Tampa felt about loading the box and sending extra guys into the backfield.
A quarterback having a stinker in his first playoff appearance is not exactly a harbinger of doom, because lots of very good and even great quarterbacks would have been fortunate to play at a game-manager level in their own postseason debuts. This is a different, faster, more physical game than the regular season, with a guarantee to face better opponents. The concern coming out of this one is that every issue Hurts showed was relatively predictable based on the body of work up to this point. Your quarterback being up to the task as a thrower matters, and Hurts lags behind in a lot of key areas, physical and mental. You can get away with being a slower processor with exceptional arm talent, and you can get away with middling arm talent if you process the game at warp speed, but Hurts is middle-of-the-road (and sometimes worse) on both ends. That's a recipe to lose games that matter, as you all saw on Sunday. He missed short, he missed long, he missed just about everywhere he tried to go, either because he couldn't find the rhythm or was too slow to see the opportunities in front of him.
None of this is to say, by the way, that he won't start at QB for the Eagles next year. That will be the big debate for months and months ahead, but it may very well be prudent to let him go at it again next year while they wait to identify a true future of the franchise. With the number of holes this team has, you could make an easy argument that combining assets for a readymade guy is a waste of time and draft capital right now. That said, it's not as though he showed he's some untouchable, has-to-start guy heading into next year. At a minimum, he should be on notice along with a lot of other guys on this roster. The rent is past due.
• I honestly feel a little bad piling on the defense after this game, given how this game played out. The initial approach in the first half is worth plenty of anger and condemnation, to be clear — Jonathan Gannon playing soft and/or sticks coverage against the best quarterback of all-time was just asking for trouble, and they walked right into a deep first-half hole because of their own actions. It's a style we saw fail miserably against every competent quarterback they played all season, and Jonathan Gannon seems to be the only person in the greater Philadelphia area who wasn't hip to this.
It would have been one thing if the Bucs came out and beat the Eagles because Gannon decided to challenge Brady with pressure and simply lost out to the GOAT. But the Bucs didn't run anything exotic, they didn't need to take tough shots downfield or over the middle, and the Eagles never came close to making the Bucs feel the absence of multiple high-profile skill position guys. Tom Brady stepped out on the field Sunday and got to set up shop against a defense that made his life easy, a luxury he should never be afforded even if he's dropping back against backups in a preseason setting. Play stupid games, win stupid prizes.
As with Hurts, all this game did was highlight the fact that their defensive success is more contextual than sustainable. You can get away with playing the way Gannon wanted to when you're up against the dregs of the league, waiting for mistake-prone QBs to screw up and gift you turnovers and missed throws. Expecting that to hold up in this setting against this quarterback is foolish.
On the other hand, that group at least looked like they had the intention to make this a game at some point, buckling down late in the first half and showing signs of life in the third quarter, putting pressure on Brady and giving the offense multiple opportunities to build a bit of momentum. It's not the defense's fault that Jalen Reagor can't field a punt despite supposedly being a return specialist, or their fault that Hurts turned the ball over with stupid throws, or their fault that they were constantly on the field as a result of the offense's total ineptitude.
• I can't sit here and tell you that I think Nick Sirianni was some huge problem in this game, in the sense that there were far too many opportunities left on the table by the quarterback. You can't blame the coach when the scheme and play calls have guys running open downfield, only for the quarterback to miss them entirely.
But when the entire football team shows up flat and unprepared for the biggest game of the season, of course, you point a finger in the head coach's direction. The Eagles didn't execute well in a single phase of this game, including on special teams, where the Bucs were able to run up the margins as they were already in the process of thrashing Philadelphia on offense and defense. It took until the fourth quarter of the game for the Eagles to finally begin exploiting the way Tampa was covering wide receiver Devonta Smith, which feels absolutely insane. Maybe this guy should be a bigger part of your offense:
What's truly bonkers is that the Eagles forced the ball to DeVonta Smith in a meaningless game to end the regular season all in an effort to get him an individual team record, and then somehow forgot to do the same thing in the most important game of their season. Whenever he gets chances, he produces, and the Eagles somehow lost sight of that for the vast majority of this game.
And by the way, Sirianni is the guy who should be taking a stand and saying "enough" when a guy like Reagor continually blows opportunities as a punt returner, which you can extrapolate to other positions and scenarios across the roster. The head coach not stepping in when a guy is clearly not cut out for a specific job is inexcusable, and Sirianni has been as much of a spectator with Reagor as anybody watching this game from home. They have beaten their heads into the wall there until they were concussed and bloody, though maybe a concussed guy would just get out of the way and earn the Eagles a touchback every so often.
This group was flat-out unprepared for what and who they were up against in this game, they failed to make meaningful adjustments until the game was over, and they will head home to a fanbase looking for blood in the aftermath of this loss. Sirianni will have to find a Rocky clip to watch in order to process that fact, I guess.
• I'm not sure how you can look at this game and say with any confidence that Howie Roseman should be the guy masterminding a critical 2022 NFL Draft for the Eagles, let alone steering the entire franchise moving forward. Even if you can set aside the high-profile misses and the guys they could or should have had instead, there are few places outside of the offensive line that you could point to as real strengths for this group. When they've gone light on investment, as they have at the linebacker position, you can see it showing up on the field. Where they've invested heavily, as they have at wide receiver and when they did selecting a second-round QB with a supposed franchise guy on a mega-contract, they've struck out almost as hard.
Sit here and ask yourself this — which Eagles position groups do you feel are set up for long-term success? Perhaps if you squint at wide receiver and assume they can get a true No. 2 between DeVonta Smith and Quez Watkins, you believe they can get there, but as we saw Sunday, they can only be as valuable as a quarterback allow them to be. There are standout individual players, sure, but nothing resembling a coherent and competent vision from a teambuilding perspective.
It seems highly unlikely that they're going to make managerial changes this offseason, but it feels past time for changes at the top. Don't hold your breath.
• Nobody cares if he was a first-round pick, there's a clear case for this to be Jalen Reagor's last game as a member of the organization. Even letting him get on the flight home to Philadelphia feels like a luxury he shouldn't be afforded. There isn't a single thing he has done well since arriving in Philadelphia — his speed hasn't shown up on special teams, as a wideout, or a gadget player in the backfield, he doesn't finish plays when he's not the guy getting the ball, he makes frequent mistakes when he's back deep as a return man, there is nothing tangible he brings to the table. He is simply not a winning player, and the Eagles would be better off making him someone else's problem and looking for reinforcements at the position. Snaps are being wasted on him, and Jason Huntley came out of cold storage in the final week of the season to put together a better kick return game than he has had at any point during the last two years.
Why the hell would you bother with this guy? What he lacks in production he doubles down on with brutal football intelligence. And he's not the only guy for whom that is the case. The Eagles stood across from a team with physical talent and intelligence vastly exceeding their own, and the end result was a fair reflection of that dynamic. He'll probably sneak a highlight of his punt return from early in the fourth quarter onto social media, too, as if that overrode the rest of the B.S.
Send him and Derek Barnett to the furthest corner of the football universe, far away from this team.
• Wonder if Miles Sanders thinks it would be okay to boo this performance.
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