As Nick Sirianni and his dead-team walking Eagles trudged off the Allegiant Stadium field following yet another dispiriting loss, this one a not-as-close-as-it-seemed 33-22 defeat at the hands of the Las Vegas Raiders back in mid-October, a 2-5 record yoked around their necks like an overbearing anvil.
Sirianni was rightfully lambasted as a play-caller. Jonathan Gannon’s defense was getting shredded on a weekly basis. Jalen Hurts was maddeningly inconsistent, and all three men looked like they could be one-and-done with this franchise. The Eagles had no identity and, in that moment, no hope. The only thing going for them was the potential for three first round draft picks to be used by a general manager who had compiled a pretty lackluster draft history.
Things were bleak.
Fast two months, as a beaming Nick Sirianni walked off the field as the head coach of a team with a 9-7 record, best among all first-year head coaches, thanks to a gritty, come-from-behind 20-16 win over the Washington Football Team at decrepit Fed Ex Field. After getting torched in the first half, Gannon’s defense woke up and slammed the door shut on Taylor Heinicke and the WFT offense, and Hurts looked like vintage Donovan McNabb in coolly and calmly leading his team to a crucial victory.
Wins by the San Francisco 49ers and the Green Bay Packers later in the day then handed the Eagles a wholly unexpected playoff berth. Next week’s game against the Dallas Cowboys is mostly meaningless now, as Green Bay’s victory assures Dallas will not be the No. 1 seed, and the Eagles are locked in as the No. 6 or 7 seed. Sirianni should be able to rest his starters next Saturday night, giving his team an extra bye week heading into the NFL’s postseason tournament.
The Eagles have won four straight and six of their last seven. The competition hasn’t been great, but you can only play the teams on your schedule, and in what was supposed to be an ugly rebuilding year, Sirianni’s Birds are giving their fans playoff football.
It’s a gift, and no one should look a gift horse in the mouth.
Despite the 9-7 record and a surprise trip to the playoffs, some in the fanbase are not happy. And look, let’s not kid ourselves, this is not a team that is likely to win the Super Bowl. While there is no NFC juggernaut, the Eagles clearly have flaws that will likely be exposed by one of the top-seeded teams in the conference. They are unlikely to win their first playoff game, whether it be in Tampa against Tom Brady’s Bucs or in Los Angeles against Matthew Stafford’s Rams.
Yes, the quarterbacks the Eagles have beaten the last few weeks were awful. Trevor Siemian, Daniel Jones, Zach Wilson, Garrett Gilbert, Jake Fromm, Mike Glennon, and Taylor Heinicke are bottom-10 QBs in this league, while Dak Prescott, Patrick Mahomes, Tom Brady and Justin Herbert have eaten the Eagles’ lunch this year.
And sure, despite a fantastic performance from Hurts on Sunday, the jury is still out as to whether he’s going to be this team’s QB in 2023 (although ‘22 should be an absolutely lock at this point). But Hurts has shown a lot of promise, a lot of heart, and he’s an exciting player to watch. We don’t need to know whether Jalen Hurts is going to be the franchise QB five years from now. He is clearly the best option for next year and he’s a ton of fun.
The Birds have many flaws, but they have become the very best at something and that’s no small thing. The Eagles are the best running team in the NFL, and they’ve run all over some very good defenses along the way. The offensive line is legitimately one of the two or three best units in the NFL, and along with Hurts, the running game cannot be ignored.
So what’s behind some of the negative thought regarding the Birds?
Perhaps fans don’t want to give Nick Sirianni credit after ridiculing his press conferences and early season play-calling struggles. Perhaps people think the Eagles’ defense are frauds. Perhaps the anger at Howie Roseman’s many past draft mistakes is overshadowing what appears to be a very, very good 2021 draft, and the contributions being made by so many rookies this season.
After the Raiders loss, I didn’t see any way Sirianni and Gannon would make it to a second season, but with Sirianni specifically, his ability to change and lean into his team’s strength should be a credit to him. He’s a legitimate Coach of the Year candidate. After an off-season of intense criticism, Howie Roseman responded with a solid draft that has provided important depth to a winning team. Owner Jeff Lurie picked yet another head coach who has achieved success within his first two seasons. I was wrong about all of these things and I’m thrilled I was.
In short, the 2021 Philadelphia Eagles season has gone far better than anyone could have dreamed and they will head into the off-season with three first round picks and a suddenly much brighter future. They are in the playoffs in a rebuilding year, having their cake and eating it, too.
Everyone, just enjoy the cake!