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February 06, 2023

What they're saying: 49ers' Brandon Aiyuk thinks the Eagles 'got lucky'

Everybody's been somebody until they play the Eagles and lose, then there are suddenly a million excuses.

The Eagles got some fancy sweatsuits, hopped on a plane, and landed in Arizona. 

Super Bowl LVII is almost here but the anticipation never makes the wait any easier, and there's still a bit more of it to go. 

In the meantime, the week leading up will be rife with stories, interviews, analysis, talking points, etc. as the media from all over the world move to cover one of the biggest professional sporting events in the world. 

As far as what they're saying about the Birds, a quick rundown, but first...

A check on the salt mine

Let's start with a daily dose of sodium. 

Niners receiver Brandon Aiyuk, who had just one catch for 10 yards in the NFC Championship, said this over the weekend:

As you know well by now, the Eagles crushed San Francisco, 31-7, to move on to the Super Bowl.

Those "unfortunate circumstances" are referring to quarterback Brock Purdy's injury on the 49ers' first offensive drive, when Haason Reddick burst around the edge and got his hands in the way of the pass, the force of which tore Purdy's UCL as he was trying to release the ball.

The Niners' passing game was pretty much cooked from there, and why? Because their coach Kyle Shanahan thought it a great idea to have a backup tight end block the Eagles' sack leader, then keep up that same level of (non) protection for Josh Johnson, who also had to exit with a concussion after the Eagles' defensive line inevitably closed in on him. 

Look, would it have been a different game if Purdy didn't get hurt? Maybe, but I'd argue he would've been a sitting duck anyway because the Niners appeared to have come in with zero plan for the Eagles' pass rush. And that's not even to mention Nick Bosa getting pushed around all day on the other side of the ball while the Eagles' offense mostly dictated the tempo. 

But no, it's the secondary, which allowed the fewest passing yards all season, for the team that won by 24 that got "lucky."

For one reason or another, this Eagles team makes people MAD, and they can never settle on which it is: They're overrated, Nick Sirianni has a "free ride" because of the roster, Jalen Hurts is a "system QB," and so on. 

But at this rate, it's been boiling down to this: Everybody's been somebody until they play the Eagles and lose. Then there are suddenly a million excuses or some variation of "but they haven't played anyone yet."

And when that happens, guys are just telling on themselves more than anything. 

Just built different

Bruce Feldman | The Athletic ($)

To understand what really makes Jalen Hurts tick, and in turn, so successful in the NFL after needing to overcome so much, you'll find the answers going back through his college career, which is what Bruce Feldman did over at The Athletic.

Through every up and down, and there were lots of them in a few short years, at Alabama and then at Oklahoma, Hurts always kept pushing to get better, not for himself but for his team, and not to prove everyone wrong but to prove himself right. 

An excerpt from Feldman's look back:

[Oklahoma strength coach Bennie Wylie] has never worked with an athlete quite like Hurts in terms of his drive and determination. “I’ll be honest, I don’t know if I can compare it to anybody’s,” he said. “I’ve never been around anybody as consistent. Day in. Day out. Routine in and routine out. The words I’d use is calm and poised. Always. No matter what.

“He just felt different when he first walked in the building. He carried himself different, not with arrogance at all but with supreme confidence. And he also was vulnerable at the same time. When you have a dude with that kind of confidence, that successful but also that vulnerable to take your coaching and to take your words where you’re trying to build this guy up, that’s rare.” [The Athletic]

Understanding Nick

Peter King | NBC Sports

Since the NFC Championship, all eyes have been on the Eagles, in particular Hurts, who took a leap into an MVP-caliber season at QB, and head coach Nick Sirianni, who finds himself in the Super Bowl not even two full years removed from a 2-5 start and an introductory press conference that left little faith from even the most devout Eagles faithful.

Things can change real quick though, and with Sirianni under the biggest spotlight, Peter King tried to get a gauge on the second-year coach through an early morning car ride down to the NovaCare Complex:

You probably know him now as the hyper guy on the sidelines who looks like he’s had 5 o’clock shadow since age nine. It’s interesting that 10 years ago this winter he had his career derailed by Andy Reid bypassing him for a job on Reid’s first Kansas City staff. Interesting, too, that he’s pugnacious and private and would be fine if he never was in a headline the rest of his life—very smart in this voracious market.

In brief: Sirianni’s the son of a coach, was most influenced by his small-college coach, Larry Kehres, sounds like he majored in Coachspeak at Mount Union (Ohio), and is the perfect front man for grassroots American football. If a kid from the western New York town of Jamestown (pop: 28,712) who played Division III football and coached for five growth seasons at Mount Union and Indiana University of Pennsylvania can coach a team to the Super Bowl at age 41, you should be able to make it from anywhere.

“Are you a little surprised this has happened so fast?” I asked as Sirianni pulled onto I-295 in south Jersey, headed for the office.

“I don’t think of it that way,” he said. “I just think about one day at a time. Get a little bit better each day. I’ve been obsessed with that, even going back to when I was a high school basketball player. I’ve been obsessed with just how do I get better every day? How do I out-work guys? You never know how hard anybody else is working. That was as a player, whether it was football or basketball. That’s been as a coach. I don’t think of how fast it happened.” [NBC Sports]

True strength

Jeff McLane | The Philadelphia Inquirer ($)

Lane Johnson has pushed through the playoffs, and will continue to in the Super Bowl, on a torn adductor. But compared to everything else the veteran right tackle has dealt with, it's relatively small stuff. 

There have been the well-documented struggles with mental health, but as Jeff McLane reveals in the Inquirer, the battles go much deeper, which includes Johnson's mother being diagnosed with cancer. But they're pushing through together. 

A small excerpt from a long story well worth reading in its entirety:

Like anyone with familial relationships or otherwise, Johnson sometimes has outside forces — like the ARP machine — working against him. That he can exist on an island in pass protection and seemingly always remained disciplined — despite whatever may be going on in his life — is a testament to his fortitude.

But it’s always a mental grind.

“It’s mortal combat every weekend,” he said.

Johnson has had a whirlwind last few years, from the breakup of his marriage to his nearly quitting football after he left the Eagles in October 2021. Carpentier offered some tough love at the time, which led to a brief falling out. But they eventually reconnected, and even though she didn’t initially tell her son about her diagnosis, it has since brought them closer together.

“And that’s one reason I didn’t want Lane to know,” Carpentier said. “I didn’t want it to be a pity party. ‘Oh, Mom’s diagnosed with cancer’ and blah, blah, blah. But it ended up all working out and kind of got us all in the same frame of mind of how short life can be and don’t take things for granted.” [The Inquirer]

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