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Eagles-Buccaneers: The good, the bad, and the ugly from Philly’s playoff loss

Highlights and lowlights from Philadelphia’s final game of the 2023 season.

NFC Wild Card Playoffs - Philadelphia Eagles v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Phillies pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report to Spring Training on Tuesday, February 13.

The 2023 Eagles’ season ended a few weeks ago after their 35-31 debacle to the Arizona Cardinals on December 31.

About the only ones who didn’t realize it were the Eagles, playing the role of perceptible ghosts on a football field.

Their epic failure of a season became official on Monday night in their 32-9 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the Wild Card round of the playoffs at Raymond James Stadium it what seemed a mere formality.

If you were to somehow cast a poll among the millions of Eagles’ fans asking how many thought the Eagles would beat Tampa Bay, it’s a healthy, educated guess that as many as 95-percent would have probably said that they would not.

They knew.

With 10:44 left to play, ESPN color analyst and NFL Hall of Famer Troy Aikman brazenly—and accurately—announced to the nation that the Eagles were a … “a defeated team and they were when they came in. And there’s been no life to this group really throughout the entire ball game.”

Aikman in that brief statement may have inadvertently blurted out the epitaph of Nick Sirianni’s three-year stay as Eagles’ head coach.

Sirianni has a .667 winning percentage, the highest of any coach in Eagles’ history. He is the only coach in Eagles’ history to lead the team to the playoffs in each of his first three seasons and he did win the NFC championship in 2022.

But what will last, until at least July, when the NFL machine cranks up again, is how the Eagles collapsed under Sirianni.

The scary part of it was the apathy shown by the Eagles’ loyal and fervent fanbase. They had a right. They knew the direction this team was going. They lost interest and checked out. The Eagles themselves soon followed with how they played in the regular season finale against the New York Giants.

The Eagles went out losers of six of their last seven games.

What was terribly unfair was how Eagles like Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox, Lane Johnson and Jason Kelce kept playing hard despite the score and the general ennui of their teammates.

Jalen Hurts looked disinterested. The Eagles, as a team, looked disinterested. They seemed more interested in getting their lockers cleaned out at the NovaCare Complex to arrange tee times and schedule their reservations to watch the Super Bowl in Las Vegas.

The Eagles went the entire game without converting a third down and were 0-for-2 on fourth-down conversions. They gave up 426 total yards of offense to 276, while Tampa Bay’s Baker Mayfield completed 22 of 36 for 337 yards and three touchdown passes. Hurts completed 25 of 35 for 250 yards and a touchdown, running for his life most of the night under the constant Bucs’ blitzes.

The Eagles and Sirianni did not help offset that. They ran the ball 15 times and threw it 35 times, while Tampa Bay had much greater balance, running it 29 times and throwing 36 passes.

This was a mess.

There were morsels of good and bad, with pounds upon pounds of ugly in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ 32-9 demolition of the Eagles.

The Good

Defensive tackle Milton Williams sacking Mayfield for the fourth time giving the Eagles a temporary reprieve with 4:35 left in the third quarter on a third-and-one. It did little to help the Eagles, who gave up a safety on the ensuing drive.

Defensive tackle Fletcher Cox and linebacker Nolan Smith combining to sack Mayfield for a 10-yard loss on a third-and-seven at the Eagles’ 45 on the Bucs’ first drive of the second half. It was the Eagles’ third sack for minus-21 yards.

Receiver DeVonta Smith’s 55-yard reception on the Eagles’ fourth drive, which led to the Eagles’ lone touchdown. Smith was the only glimmer that kept the Eagles in the game over the first half, with four catches on seven targets for 111 yards. His 55-yard reception led to an Eagles’ touchdown when nothing was going right for the Eagles. Smith finished with eight receptions on 12 targets for a game-high 148 yards receiving.

Receiver Julio Jones’ 14-yard reception on a second-and-11 at the Eagles’ 38 on the Eagles’ fourth drive. That got the Eagles’ offense going. Regrettably, Jones was hurt on the play and lost for the game in concussion protocol

Kicker Jake Elliott has been one of the few reliable players the Eagles could always go to, and he started the Eagles’ scoring on their third drive by making a 47-yard field goal, making him 16-for-16 in the postseason.

Defensive end Josh Sweat’s first sack since Week 9, pulling down Mayfield for a four-yard loss at the Eagles’ 36 on the Bucs’ third drive, forcing a field goal. Tampa Bay scored on each of their first three drives, going up 13-0.

Old reliable defensive end Brandon Graham’s three-yard sack on the Bucs’ third drive on a first-and-10 at the Tampa Bay 46. It was the first good thing that happened to the Eagles, after being down 10-0 and continuing to play lethargically. Graham came up with another huge play with 1:42 left in the half when he dragged down Mayfield for a seven-yard sack—and the second sack of the game for the one Eagle whose attitude no one would ever question.

The Bad

The Eagles’ Brotherly Shove getting stopped after the Dallas Goedert 5-yard TD pass from Jalen Hurts with 3:06 left in the first half. It zapped the momentum the Eagles had built after an empty start. The Eagles had converted 18 of 20 Brotherly Shove conversions—with the two stops coming against Tampa Bay. The Bucs got away with a facemask on Hurts by linebacker K.J. Britt.

Right guard Cam Jurgens called for an ineligible player downfield on the first play of the Eagles’ fourth drive.

The Ugly

Nickel corner Avonte Maddox getting completely lost on Mayfield’s lob to Chris Godwin for a 23-yard touchdown pass with 5:42 and the nail in the Eagles’ 2023 coffin.

With 6:11 to play, the very unfortunate injury to Darius Slay, who was carted off the field after grabbing at his lower left back after making a tackle. Slay at least put in an effort Monday night.

Trailing 25-9 early in the fourth quarter, when every play counted, Jurgens was flagged again for going down field on a second-and-12 at the Tampa Bay 29. Left tackle Jordan Mailata followed with a false start to push the Eagles back to the 34 for a second-and-17. The following play, D’Andre Swift was tackled for a one-yard gain. The Eagles took points off the board after a Tampa Bay penalty and Sirianni opted to go for it. Hurts pass to Smith in the end zone fell incomplete and it was a matter of time before the 2023-24 Eagles’ season was over.

Cornerback James Bradberry’s missed tackle, a constant theme throughout the night not only for Bradberry, but the entire team, on Trey Palmer’s 56-yard touchdown reception. Bradberry tried pulling Palmer down by the waist at the 50 and lost his grasp. That was on Bradberry. But as Bradley Roby and Nick Morrow converged from behind, safety bust Kevin Byard whiffed badly and as Palmer cut back, Roby fell over Byard, as Palmer ran into the end zone.

Hurts getting sacked for a safety with 2:16 left in the third quarter. The Eagles made no adjustments at all to the Tampa Bay pressure. Eagles’ receivers would not break off their routes and run away from coverage to the middle of the field to open areas, and Hurts was left scrambling with no time to look up.

The Eagles’ inability to read a blitz. Tampa Bay kept constant pressure on Hurts and the Eagles, and there were times they did see it, and caught it. But they did not on the third play of the second half when Hurts was piled under for a nine-yard loss at the Eagles’ 15.

The Eagles’ first half. Poor tackling: Tampa Bay gained 113 yards after the catch, 63 yards gained after contact. Tampa Bay scored on their first four drives, and it could have been worse if the Bucs had not dropped numerous passes. Tampa Bay outgained the Eagles, 242-182, which is 68 yards more than what Tampa Bay had for the entire game in their Week 3 loss to the Eagles. The Bucs controlled the ball for 19:06 to the Eagles’ 10:54.

The Eagles having to blow a timeout with 1:52 left in the first half to get Eli Ricks off the field. That’s a coaching issue. Having the right personnel packages on the field is something that coaching staffs should have solved in preseason. Apparently not with the 2023 Eagles. By blowing that TO, the Eagles had little to work with in the last minute of the half, calling their last timeout with :32 left.

Missed tackles—again—on tiny Deven Thompkins’ 10-yard run with 9:15 left in the half. Thompkins, who’s listed at 5-foot-8, 155 pounds, somehow broke free from Eagles’ linebacker Zach Cunningham, safety Kevin Byard and Kelee Ringo. It epitomized the Eagles’ lack of tackling effort.

The Eagles’ first quarter. Tampa Bay took a 10-0 lead. The Bucs had outgained the Eagles, 178-26, had 10 first downs to one, averaged 8.1 yards to 3.2, ran off 22 plays to the Eagles’ eight, and controlled the ball for 10:40 of the first quarter to the Eagles’ 4:20 time of possession. The Eagles first two drives produced 26 yards on eight plays, producing 3.2 yards a play.

The Eagles’ second defensive series. Tampa Bay took a 10-0 lead on just four plays. The Bucs had scored only one touchdown in seven of their last eight quarters. They only needed their second drive to equal that against the Eagles.

David Moore’s 44-yard touchdown reception came between Darius Slay, Eli Ricks, who was taken out by Avonte Maddox running across with Moore, safety Kevin Byard, who did nothing since coming to the Eagles, all waffling out there in the breeze as Moore zig-zagged his way by them.

The Eagles’ first defensive series. Tampa Bay took the opening kickoff down the field over 12 plays, consuming 4:58 and chewing up 65 yards to the Eagles’ 10. It was a portent of things to come. The Bucs converted one of two third downs—eventually two more than the Eagles had the whole game—and did not face a third-down situation until the eighth play of the drive. By then, the Bucs were sitting at the Eagles’ 20. Tampa had to settle for a Chase McLaughlin 28-yard field goal.

Bradberry and nickel corner Roby on the Bucs’ first third down, a third-and-three at the Eagles’ 20. They both bounced off Rachaad White like tennis balls, after seemingly having White trapped at the 22. White, needless to say, slipped through them both for a first down. That one play summed up the game.


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 Inquirer/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.

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