The Eagles will travel to Tampa Bay this weekend to play the Buccaneers and to hear the fervent Eagles’ fanbase, the underlying feeling is “Why bother?”
Despite losing five of their last six games, the Eagles genuinely have a chance to defeat Tampa this Monday night in the Super Wild Card round of the NFC playoffs and advance.
They will just have to stop receiver Mike Evans to do so.
It’s no easy task.
Evans tied Miami’s Tyreek Hill for the NFL lead with 13 touchdown receptions in 2023 and was recently named second-team All-Pro after catching 79 passes for 1,255 yards. He now has 10-straight seasons of 1,000 or more receiving yards.
He will be facing an Eagles’ team that has had its problems against the pass. They finished No. 31 during the regular season against the pass in the NFL, allowing opponents and average of 252.7, ahead of only Washington. Against the Eagles earlier this season, Evans was targeted 10 times and made five catches for 60 yards, averaging 12 yards a catch.
Did Eagles’ interim defensive coordinator Matt Patricia learn anything from the first time the Eagles played Tampa Bay, a 25-11 Eagles’ victory in Week 3. Since then, the Eagles look far, far different from that team, both offensively and defensively.
“I think earlier in the year obviously all the teams are a little bit different than they are late in the year, for sure,” Patricia said. “That was a good game for us from that aspect of it. I think we just want to make sure this week we’re going back to playing fast and aggressive, and I’ve got to do a good job making sure the defense is in a good position to do that from that aspect of it, to make sure we’re ready to go.
“It’s interesting, any year you watch a season of football, and you’re 18 weeks later than where you were when you look at tape earlier in the year, it tends to look different, whether it’s offense, defense, special teams. There is a factor there that goes on during the season and we’ve got to make sure we give our best effort to that this week, too, so we look as close to that as possible.”
One major bonus the Eagles have is the return of cornerback Darius Slay from minor knee surgery. One major minus the Eagles will have is an under-conditioned Slay who will no doubt demand to play Evans.
Everything starts with Buc’s quarterback Baker Mayfield, Patricia stressed. When healthy, Mayfield is capable of extending plays and has a decent arm to get the ball downfield.
“Between Mike [Evans] and [Tampa Bay Buccaneers WR Chris] Godwin and other guys he’s got out there, he’s got speed,” Patricia said about Mayfield. “They have speed on the field, and you will have an issue downfield if you don’t have those guys handled.
“Some guys you can just put the ball up to and they’ll make plays, [Mayfield] has got good players from that aspect of it. I think he’s really good at reading coverages. I think he does a good job getting the ball out fast in those situations and extending the plays when he needs to. And he’s savvy enough and illusive enough.”
If the Eagles lose to Tampa Bay the way they did the Giants in the season finale, say goodbye to Nick Sirianni. If they manage to win, something that tests the boundaries of logic, considering the way they have played the last two months, Sirianni may have saved his job.
Joseph Santoliquito is a hall of fame, award-winning sportswriter based in the Philadelphia area who has written feature stories for SI.com, ESPN.com, NFL.com, MLB.com, Deadspin and The Philadelphia Daily News. In 2006, he was nominated for an Emmy Award for a special project piece for ESPN.com called “Love at First Beep.” He is most noted for his award-winning ESPN.com feature on high school wrestler A.J. Detwiler in February 2006, which appeared on SportsCenter. In 2015, he was elected president of the Boxing Writers Association of America.