Where did it start? When Gardner Minshew took back to back sacks on the first possession against New Orleans? When the Saints opened with a 15 play, 9 minute possession? After giving up a 1st down to the Cowboys on 3rd and 30 after back to back sacks of Dak Prescott? When a CeeDee Lamb touchdown after an Eagles penalty on 4th down after a Gardner Minshew interception evaporated a 10 point lead in Dallas rather than give the Eagles a chance to go up two scores? When Jalen Hurts injured his shoulder against the Bears? When the Eagles opened with back to back three and outs in Chicago?
Where exactly it slipped away no longer matters. But somewhere along the way the Eagles lost their groove. Their vibes are bad. Their mojo is gone. However you want to describe it, the it factor that ran through the team is missing.
It was there not too long ago. Three weeks ago the Eagles were 12-1, coming off scoring 40, 35, and 48 points. They beat the Titans down so bad that Tennessee fired their GM after the game. The Eagles vibes couldn’t be beat. This was 2004, when the regular season was just a formality. This was 2017, when everything came up Millhouse. And then it wasn’t.
Suddenly, the Eagles are tripping all over themselves. 8 turnovers in their last 3 games. 21 points per game in that span. Coaches that can’t get out of their own way. Players talking about fixing it and then going on the field and not fixing it.
What felt near unstoppable now feels off in nearly every way. They have one game to get it right. They have to get it right. And, aside from major injuries, there is no excuse if they don’t.
Here is where I would preview the Giants, but that would be a waste of time. The Giants may play starters, they may not, they may play them for a few possessions to keep sharp then wrap them in bubble wrap on the sidelines. It does not matter how they handle it, the Giants have already shown they can not compete with the Eagles. When they met four weeks ago with the Giants giving full effort the Eagles put up 48 points on the road without the benefit of multiple turnovers or defensive or special teams touchdowns. After a 6-1 start they are 3-5-1 in their last seven games, their non-losses being beating the Texans by 8 at home, outscoring the Commanders by 8 points over two games, and beating a Colts team that continues to discover new levels of ineptitude as their season comes to its overdue end. Their record does not indicate it but the Giants are, on talent and production, the weakest team in the playoffs. The Eagles, on talent and production, are one of the strongest. They should put this team away, again.
But without Jalen Hurts the Eagles haven’t looked much better. Because of his missed time Jalen Hurts isn’t going to win MVP. Even if healthy, Hurts was highly unlikely to win the award, voters prefer established players and big stats, Hurts had neither going for him this season. The only 25 and under QBs to win MVP were also league leaders: Lamar Jackson and Patrick Mahomes led the league in TDs in 2019 and 2018, Bert Jones led the league in passing yards in 1976, Dan Marino did both in 1984.
Hurts’ absence both took him out of whatever contention he was in. But it also strengthened his case as one of the league’s most valuable and important players this season. Gardner Minshew gave a standard issue middling backup QB performance in relief. He was no less effective than Teddy Bridgewater, Cooper Rush, or PJ Walker. It completely erased the notion that Jalen Hurts is a product of the system, and reinforced the idea that Hurts is the system.
The offense looked lost, and not just because of Minshew’s poor decisions. In 14 games with Hurts, Miles Sanders scored 11 TDs and averaged 79 yards, with Minshew at the helm he didn’t reach the end zone and rushed for 65 and 61 yards. The Eagles combined for 154 rushing yards in Minshew’s two starts, with Hurts they had five games with more that. Even the coaches looked lost. After spending most of the season looking like geniuses, the game plan and performances of Nick Sirianni and Shane Steichen against the Saints were weak and uninspired. Everything just seems off with Hurts out of the lineup.
Nick Sirianni and the Eagles marketing team like to talk about how each game is a different round of a larger fight. Well, they’re in the championship rounds now. The players like to call themselves versions of Batman. Well, they need their superhero now.
Jalen Hurts doesn’t need a monster game. He just needs to set things right. It is what franchise QBs do. It is what MVP candidates do. It is what leaders do.