Admit it, you were saying it all week, too.
“It doesn’t matter if Jalen Hurts plays, the Eagles can beat the Saints with Gardner Minshew.”
Given his more than adequate performance against Dallas last week, there was every reason to think Minshew would be up to the task against the 6-9 Saints at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday. What followed was a putrid performance from the Birds’ back-up signal-caller and the entire offense in their disgusting 20-10 loss that, for the second straight week, denied them a chance to lock up home field advantage in the NFC playoffs.
There are some questions that must be asked.
Was this Nick Sirianni’s worst loss as Eagles’ head coach?
This was as ugly as anything we’ve seen in his two years as head coach. The first seven weeks of his rookie season were rough, as was a loss to the Giants last year. But given their 13-2 record, this one was perhaps hardest to take.
The Eagles did not record their initial first down until there were 13 seconds left in the second quarter. They were outgained 274-61 in the first half. Behind an offensive line that missed Lane Johnson dearly, Minshew panicked whenever he was without a clean pocket, threw high to receivers, checked down at inopportune times, and displayed a maddening inaccuracy that ultimately denied the Eagles their 14th win of the season.
Perhaps more than any game he actually played in this season, Jalen Hurts’ MVP candidacy was buoyed most by the offense’s performance against New Orleans.
Did the Eagles take the Saints for granted?
One couldn’t help but watch this game and feel foolish for brushing off the Saints the way we did. But it’s one thing for fans to overlook an opponent, it’s quite another when the team on the field is doing the same.
To be clear, the Eagles tried on Sunday, but they were not sharp. The decision not to start Hurts made all the sense in the world, but there did seem to be an attitude by the team that they didn’t need him to play in order to beat the Saints. And perhaps that mentality filtered down throughout the locker room.
The Eagles sure appeared to take the Saints lightly on Sunday. They played with little urgency or passion until it was too late and, by then, Minshew gave the game away with this disastrous pick-six to Pro Bowl cornerback Marcus Lattimore with a little more than five minutes left.
There were too many penalties. The offensive line allowed six sacks. The defense was pushed around the field for the first two quarters, although they responded well in the second half. The special teams were brutal once again.
One can’t help but feel like the entire team thought they could roll out there, in front of their home crowd, and watch the Saints crumble. Didn’t happen.
Are the injuries becoming too much to overcome?
After being healthy for so much of the season, the ouchies are starting to take their toll.
The Eagles possess one of the deepest rosters in the NFL, but they’ve absorbed some body blows the last few weeks. Hurts’ shoulder, Johnson’s abdomen, Avonte Maddox’ foot, C.J. Gardner-Johnson’s kidney, Josh Sweat’s neck injury Sunday, all of them have stripped the team of valuable star players the last few weeks. It was clear the offense struggled to find a rhythm without Johnson and Hurts, and it also was clear the coaching staff struggled to call a mix of plays that would work without a running quarterback or a stud right tackle in the lineup.
Teams need to be able to overcome injuries, but losing your MVP as well as the best tackle in football is very difficult to brush off. Had Hurts and Johnson played on Sunday, it’s likely we would have seen a very different outcome, but coaches must get creative when star players are out.
That didn’t appear to be the gameplan.
Did the Eagles peak too soon?
Ever since the Birds blitzed the Packers, Titans and Giants at the beginning of December, they’ve struggled, with each game successively worse. They pulled off a win against the Bears in Chicago, sure, but needed to ride Jalen Hurts literally into the ground to do it. They lost a shootout to the Cowboys in Dallas thanks to four crushing turnovers, and then there was Sunday’s stinkfest against the Saints.
Given Hurts’ return to practice this week, it’s likely he would have played on Sunday had this been a do-or-die, Week 18 game. Since it wasn’t, they held him out. Judging by Siriani’s comments after the game, it’s almost certain he’ll be out there next Sunday against a Giants team that, in an ironic twist, will be resting their starters ahead of the playoffs.
“[Hurts] was close this week,” Sirianni said. “Obviously, we’ll take it one day at a time. For me to say right now or today, ‘Yeah he’s playing’ or ‘He’s not playing,’ isn’t fair to anybody because so many things can happen in a week. We’re going to have to evaluate, see where he is. His health is the No. 1 priority. If he’s ready to go, he’ll play.”
We’ve learned you cannot assume Minshew will beat a bad team moving forward.
As for Johnson, he won’t be back before the playoffs, and one wonders how well he’ll be able to play with a sports hernia when he does return. I dunno, do right tackles use their core muscles? Until then, the Eagles will need more from Jack Driscoll, the rest of the offensive line, and the coaching staff, until Lane’s return.
Was this a “good” loss?
I’m usually not one to subscribe to the idea that there can be a “good” loss. A loss is bad, and Sunday’s defeat to the Saints was unconscionable. However, maybe it will serve as a wakeup call to a team that seems to have put their postseason cart before the horse.
Yes, the Eagles had three shots at earning that No. 1 seed in the conference. Perhaps having that much slack, coupled with injuries to perhaps their two most important offensive players, stole their edge from them. They knew they had breathing room, and now they’ve used it all up. One would imagine they’ll be much sharper on Sunday, especially with Hurts back and two strikes against them.
Should they lose next week, the Eagles will still go the playoffs, but likely as the No. 5 seed in the conference, a wild card team forced to play, for the second straight season, Tom Brady and the Buccaneers in Tampa yet again. There’s little chance the Cowboys are losing to the now out-of-playoff-contention Commanders next week, nor the 49ers falling to the moribund Cardinals.
No one thought it would come to this. In a season in which everything went right for 14 weeks, suddenly it feels like the wheels are falling off. How can a 13-1 team still be forced to play its starters in the final week of the season?
It was much the same feeling at the end of 2017, when Nick Foles struggled to take hold of Doug Pederson’s offense and the Birds stumbled into the postseason.
There are plenty of reasons to believe they will right this ship. Hurts’ return, provided he’s healthy, will fix much of what ails this offense. The gameplan should be better, and the Giants will have nothing to play for. The Eagles are still far more likely than not to earn the No. 1 seed, although they’ve made things much tougher on themselves than they needed to.
At the end of the day, the loss to the Saints is most likely the result of a combination of overconfidence and the absence of their MVP quarterback. And after all, it wouldn’t be a Philadelphia success story without something to fret about, right?