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January 03, 2022

John McMullen: A ‘calm’ culture changer has Eagles back in postseason

Jalen Hurts' cool demeanor and influence on the locker room are part of the reason why the Birds are playoff bound

Opinion Eagles
Hurts_fans_Eagles_Giants_1226211_Kate_Frese104.jpg Kate Frese/for PhillyVoice

Jalen Hurts

That was quick.

Transition this. The Eagles are a playoff team.

The other stuff was always going to happen later Sunday. Houston is just not talented enough to compete on a consistent basis with playoff-level teams like San Francisco and it turns out a Sean Mannion-led Vikings team wasn’t even a speed bump against the top-seeded Packers on Sunday night as the Mike Zimmer era burns to the ground in Minnesota.

Before those obvious dominos could fall, however, the Eagles had to pull the first lever by beating the Washington Football Team for the second time in 12 days.

“Every scenario that I’m being told that we have to clinch a playoff spot,” Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni said Friday. “... ‘Okay, if this happens and this happens and this happens, we’re in.’ ‘Okay, what else?’ “If this happens and this happens and this happens, we’re also in.’

“But every one of those things requires us winning and that’s all that we can control. And so, that’s been my message all week.”

The message resonated as the Eagles inched closer to what was once deemed as a very unlikely postseason berth with a hard-fought 20-16 win in the one NFL stadium that doesn’t feel like an ostentatious symbol to America’s passion.

At roughly the same time the Cincinnati Bengals were topping the reigning AFC champion Kansas City Chiefs and punching their own ticket to the postseason with an AFC North championship. That result had more than one or two draftniks taking a victory lap on Joe Burrow, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 draft, a “culture changer” as many NFL scouts called him after he led LSU to a national championship.

All the Burrow hype is deserved because there may not be a tougher NFL city to win in than Cincy and it’s why the people who turned Marvin Lewis into a punchline for taking the Bengals to six playoff appearances in seven years without winning one were the real jokes, not understanding what kind of accomplishment that was.

Of course, a No. 1 overall pick is supposed to be everything with a side of everything else. Those are the future All-Pros and Hall of Famers who arrive with the pedigree of face of the franchise from the day they step into the facility especially when they happen to play QB.

How about the 53rd overall pick originally taken to be a cost-effective backup for the span of his rookie deal before being spun off?

Jalen Hurts wasn’t supposed to change anything in Philadelphia in less than one full season as the starter with all the whispers of Deshaun Watson, Russell Wilson, and Kenny Pickett muddying up every step of the journey.

Sirianni, though, mentioned the “calmness” around his team, one that enabled a 16-7 halftime deficit Sunday to seem manageable.

What I felt on the sideline today was this calmness,” Sirianni said. “There was a calmness throughout the entire game.”

That calmness is a reflection of the QB.

“I think that is definitely a reflection of how the quarterback is and how he was all day today and how he is in general,” Sirianni noted.

The coach also gave credit to plenty of his other team leaders.

“All the guys, Alex Singleton, Fletcher Cox, Rodney McLeod, and Jason Kelce and Lane Johnson. Those guys are calm,” the coach explained. “They’ve been in these situations before. What a great resource to have those guys to not only make the plays that they made throughout the entire game but have that veteran leadership like we have.”

It almost has to start with the QB, though, whether it’s a young one like Burrow with the Bengals or the savvy MVP machine in Rodgers, who once told his spoiled fan base to “relax” right before a patented run.

Philadelphia now has its own straw to stir a playoff drink.

“He’s tough. He’s tough-minded,” star right tackle Lane Johnson said of his QB. “... He takes the game very seriously. Win or lose, he’s always the same as far as the mentality as a quarterback in this league because you’re going take a lot of heat for the wins. You’re going to take a lot of heat for the losses. Just the nature of the game.

“But what he’s done this year, how he’s persevered, battled through some injuries, and being the leader he is, so shoutout to Jalen Hurts.”

Hurts doesn’t want that shoutout just yet, however.

“I’ve always had the approach of enjoying it when it’s done,” Hurts said. “I’ll let everyone else reflect on how far we’ve come as a football team. … But for me, the job is not done for us. It is not done, so we’re not done yet.”

John McMullen is a contributor to, and covers the Eagles and the NFL for Sports Illustrated and JAKIB Media. He’s also the co-host of “Birds 365,” a daily streaming show covering the Eagles and the NFL and the host of “Extending the Play” on AM1490 in South Jersey. You can reach him at Follow John on Twitter.