It’s often harder to know what’s worse; a humiliating loss against a good team that leaves you demoralized, knowing there are still miles to go before you can compete with them, or a loss like Sunday’s frustrating 17-11 defeat at the hands of the San Francisco 49ers that was filled with missed opportunities against a truly great opponent.
The Eagles blew a golden opportunity to go 2-0. They should have had at least a 13-7 lead at halftime but wasted a 91-yard reception to Quez Watkins when the offense couldn’t punch the ball into the end zone after starting with a first-and-goal from the 1. They also had a field goal blocked.
It was a maddening afternoon of football.
None of this should have been a surprise, because this is what happens when you are so very young at the two most important positions in the NFL: head coach and quarterback.
Yesterday was Nick Sirianni’s second career game as head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles and he was out-classed by Kyle Shanahan, widely regarded as one of the best coaching minds in the league. There is no shame in that, and growing pains by Sirianni should be expected in his first full season in charge.
His play calls along the goal line were highly suspect, to be sure.
.@Eagles sequence of plays at the 1 yard line with a chance to go up 10-0 is one that leaves you scratching your head. I have no idea what they are trying to do. Does anyone know? #BaldysBreakdowns pic.twitter.com/K1LcFF6qV0— Brian Baldinger (@BaldyNFL) September 20, 2021
It’s tough to watch the Eagles squander a golden opportunity, but none of it should be surprising. After a brilliant week of play calling against Atlanta, Sirianni’s inexperience was apparent during that sequence and throughout the rest of the game. Growing pains this season were inevitable.
The same holds true for Jalen Hurts, who started his sixth career game at quarterback on Sunday. As outstanding and confident as he was last week against the Falcons, he was that unsure of himself for the entirety of Sunday’s game against San Francisco and failed to get into any kind of rhythem throughout. To be sure, DeMeco Ryans’ defense is significantly better than Atlanta’s unit was a week ago, but Hurts’ inexperience will manifest itself with week-to-week fluctuations like this.
It’s still undetermined if Hurts can become the franchise quarterback, but as I wrote previously, Hurts’ career has started remarkably similar to Donovan McNabb’s. To wit:
First 6 career starts: @donovanjmcnabb : 2-4 84-165 51% cmp 782yds 8-6, 37-231yds 22.3ppg@JalenHurts : 2-4 108-191 57%cmp 1373yds 8-3, 63-416-6 20.7ppg— Johnny Ulecka (@Johnnyu9322) September 20, 2021
Let the kid grow! He looks even better this year than last. #flyeaglesfly #aatbirds #nfl pic.twitter.com/fPiYJc4yHD
One should expect Hurts to light it up one week and look ragged and hesitant the next. It’s how young QBs operate and, for the record, Hurts has done better than a few highly touted signal callers taken very early in the two most recent drafts.
Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson have five interceptions each through two games.— Mike Kaye (@mike_e_kaye) September 20, 2021
I didn't see that coming.
Zach Wilson was bad today.— Matt O'Leary (@MattOLearyNY) September 20, 2021
Trevor Lawrence, Joe Burrow, and Justin Fields were also bad today.
It happens to young QB’s. His career trajectory isn’t written in stone after 8 quarters #Jets
The Eagles also have a trio of young wide receivers in Watkins, DeVonta Smith and Jalen Reagor. Reagor had a touchdown catch nullified when he allowed himself to be pushed out of bounds as he ran his route, and that simply can’t happen. That drive resulted in zero points when Jake Elliott’s field goal was blocked. Watkins had a couple splash plays, but Smith was nonexistent.
Expectations for Sirianni, Hurts and the wideouts should be tempered with the knowledge that this is a season for growth. The 2021 Eagles are not “Playoffs or Bust.” Week 1’s commanding win over the Falcons excited everyone, but the loss to the 49ers was a reminder that these Eagles aren’t built to win this year, and patience is required.
Next year, moral victories won’t mean anything, but this year, outplaying a Super Bowl contender for the first half and losing by less than a touchdown, even at home, is something on which the coaching staff can build. If the Eagles were expected to be a Super Bowl contender themselves, anger at yesterday’s missed opportunities would be well-founded.
Not this year. If mistakes don’t get corrected, if play calling doesn’t get better, if Hurts struggles repeatedly, hand-wringing will be warranted. For now, looking for improvement and expecting inconsistency should be the default setting.