The Philadelphia Eagles were defeated by the New Orleans Saints in the Divisional Round of the 2019 NFL Playoffs on Sunday, 20 to 14. Here are some final thoughts on the final game of the season.
1 - There should be no head-hanging
Make no mistake: the Eagles squandered a big opportunity on Sunday. After jumping out to a 14-0 lead, Philly had a real chance to be the first time to ever defeat Sean Payton and Drew Brees in a playoff game at the Superdome.
Unfortunately, it just wasn’t meant to be. The offense ran dry. Injuries started to pile up at an abnormal rate.
Despite this, the Eagles were in the game until their final drive. Will Lutz’s missed 53-yard field goal gave Philly life.
It really felt like the Eagles were about to defy the odds once again. They were going to drive down the field and take the lead. We had seen this story before.
It all came crashing down, though, when Nick Foles’ pass to Alshon Jeffery went through the receiver’s hands and into the control of Marshon Lattimore. Season over.
Though the loss is surely disappointing, the Eagles shouldn’t be hanging their heads for too long after this one. They fought hard until the end.
31 teams don’t win the Super Bowl every single year. It’s very hard to do, which is what made last season so special. There have been much more painful conclusions to an Eagles season than this one.
2 - The legend of Nick Foles has reached an end
Nick Foles will always be an Eagles legend. He will always be the first Super Bowl MVP in franchise history. Philadelphia will always be grateful for him.
Foles was looking like his vintage BDN self early in this game; he was absolutely dialed in. He started out by completing eight of his first nine attempts for 113 yards and one passing touchdown. His quarterback sneak into the end zone also gave him a rushing score.
But then Bad Foles showed up. Foles underthrew Zach Ertz, who had a step on Marshon Lattimore while running a wheel route, and got picked off. The offense never looked the same after that. He just couldn’t get back in a rhythm.
It looked like Foles still had some magic left in him late in the game. I’m pretty confident he would’ve led the Eagles to a touchdown score on that final drive if the ball didn’t go through Jeffery’s hands.
But while the Eagles’ second interception wasn’t his fault, Foles does shoulder some blame for putting the offense in a spot where they didn’t have room for error while they were playing from behind. Following his hot start, Foles finished the game completing just 10 of his 22 attempts (45.4%) for 88 yards (4.0 average), zero touchdowns, two picks, and a 18.7 passer rating. The Eagles needed Foles to have a better game than he did on Sunday in order to accomplish an unprecedented upset of the Saints in New Orleans.
Foles’ performance obviously doesn’t diminish his legacy. Everything I said at the beginning of this section still holds true. It’s just disappointing that his Eagles career had to end this way.
And, yes, it does seem like this is truly the end of Foles’ time in Philly. There will be calls for the Eagles to keep him but it’s hard to see it happening. The Eagles have said time and time again that Carson Wentz is their long-term starter. Besides, even if the Eagles pick up his $20 million option, he can pay back $2 million to enter free agency instead. The Eagles could always franchise tag Foles but that would cost them at least $25 million for 2019. It’s been rumored that the Eagles might try to tag and trade Foles, so we’ll see if that happens.
Foles has had one of the strangest careers in professional sports. Perhaps THE strangest. He’s had so many ups and downs. No matter what happens moving forward, though, he’ll always be an Eagles legend.
Thank you, Nick Foles.
3 - The Eagles’ injury luck is bad
The following players got banged up in this game: Brandon Brooks, Brandon Graham, Chris Long, Michael Bennett, Avonte Maddox, Alshon Jeffery, Rasul Douglas, Fletcher Cox, and Jason Peters.
Some injuries (such as Brooks’ Achilles) were obviously more serious than others, but still, c’mon! That’s essentially a group of nine starters ... and it doesn’t even account for the 13 players Philly has on injured reserve/PUP or the three injured starters on the 53-man roster who were ruled out for the Saints game.
The Eagles’ ability to overcome injuries en route to a Super Bowl win last season was truly remarkable. At some point, though, injuries really start to take a toll and that was apparent on Sunday. 10th string cornerback Josh Hawkins gave up one of the only two touchdowns the Eagles surrendered on the day. The defensive line wasn’t as effective as they could’ve been if they were healthier. Jeffery was playing through cracked ribs.
It’s strange, too, because the Eagles suffered a lot of injuries the last time they played in New Orleans. Jordan Hicks, Sidney Jones, Jason Kelce, Douglas, and Maddox all got banged up in that one. The turf monster at the Superdome is vicious.
On a completely unrelated note, here are some random facts:
- The Saints have a history of putting bounties on players.
- The Saints have a clear dislike for the Eagles (calling them fraudulents, mocking the ski mask gimmick, playing Dreams and Nightmares after Sunday’s win, etc.).
- The Saints rolled a bunch of cash into the locker room leading up to the Eagles game.
- The Eagles suffered more injuries in both Saints games than in any other games this year.
4 - The Eagles are in good hands with Doug Pederson as head coach
The offense ultimately wasn’t good enough on Sunday but you can’t pin that all on Pederson. Foles was missing important throws that were there to be made. The running game, led by Wendell Smallwood, stopped being effective after Brooks got hurt.
Offensive struggles against the Saints shouldn’t be the biggest takeaway from Pederson’s 2018 season. Rather, we should remember how Pederson was able to turn around a 4-6 team and get them to the Divisional Round. I’ve said this before but the season easily could’ve went south when the Eagles were down 19-3 to the Giants in Week 12. But it didn’t. The guys stepped up and played hard for Pederson down the stretch. Foles obviously helped provide a spark when he re-entered the picture in Week 15 but the turnaround started before that point.
Part of what made the Eagles so dangerous heading into the playoffs is that basically their entire roster was playing well. Could you name anyone that was really under-performing relative to their talent level? I don’t think so. The players deserve credit for executing, of course, but that’s also a sign of good coaching. That’s the old “putting guys in positions to succeed” line that Andy Reid drove us nuts with.
Back when Pederson was hired, the Eagles really stressed the importance of his “emotional intelligence.” That phrase was mocked at the time but it’s actually turned out to be an important quality. After Sunday’s loss, Pederson stood at the locker room door and gave his players handshakes and hugs as they walked in. They were genuine moments of mutual respect and appreciation. Pederson loves his players and his players love playing for him.
Pederson’s demonstrated ability to handle adversity is a very encouraging sign for the Eagles moving forward.
5 - Jim Schwartz doesn’t deserve slander
The Eagles’ defense did not lose them the game on Sunday.
That’s not to say they were flawless. They allowed some frustrating conversions on 3rd-and-long.
But the bottom line is they made this game winnable.
If I told you prior to the game that the Saints would only score 20 points on Sunday, you’d have signed up for that. 20 points is the fewest the Saints scored in the Superdome all season long (excluding the Week 17 where they rested starters).
The 20 points allowed is even more impressive when you account for the fact the Eagles’ defense was dealing with a myriad of injuries. The main trio of defensive ends (Graham, Bennett, Long) all had to get examined for injuries at some point. Cox missed a significant chunk of playing time. Douglas getting hurt loomed large, especially given that Josh Hawkins was coming in to replace him. Hawkins had only joined the team in December!
So, yeah, miss me with any “fire Schwartz!” talk. He has his flaws but the Eagles could do much worse at defensive coordinator.
6 - A lot of key players probably just played their last games as Eagles
In addition to Foles, here are some guys that might’ve played their last snaps with the Eagles on Sunday: Brandon Graham, Chris Long, Darren Sproles, Jason Peters, Jason Kelce, Jordan Hicks, Tim Jernigan.
It’s not a definite all of those guys are gone but ... damn, it’ll be sad to lose even some of them, which will likely happen.
7 - It’s time to root for the Chiefs
The Chiefs are the easiest remaining option to root for in the playoffs. Screw the Saints, Rams, and Pats. Let’s see Andy Reid finally get a Super Bowl win.
Which remaining playoff team are you rooting for?
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