TAMPA, Fla. — The NFL season will eventually reveal what kind of team you really are.
For the Philadelphia Eagles, that reality came in the form of their 31-15 loss at the hands of the defending champion Tampa Bay Bucs in Sunday’s NFC Wildcard Game. It showed that while the Eagles had some encouraging moments in the second half of the season, they are an average team still miles away from being a legitimate contender.
When the season comes to a halt — especially in the jarring and ego-killing way that the Eagles’ season did — the questions immediately flow.
The one with the most seriousness: Is Jalen Hurts the answer at quarterback? He had some very good spells during the regular season and, at 23, guided Philadelphia to the playoffs in his first year as a full-time starter. His last impression wasn’t good though, as he was ineffective in the air and had a pair of expensive interceptions. The Eagles have three first-round picks in the April draft and must decide whether or not to use that capital on another caller.
“I know we’re all judged on the last game we played, I fully understand that, but I felt like Jalen grew throughout the year,” coach Nick Sirianni said. . “And he improved as a passer, he read the defense better, getting the ball to the right place. He has developed his ability to extend plays so much, not only playing with his feet, but also playing on the court when running. … I feel really good with what we have in place here at quarterback. I thought he’s had a great year and he’s come a long way and that’s [what] I expect Jalen just because of his character, his tenacity, his love for football. I can’t say enough about Jalen the person and the player.
Once that direction is determined, they can move on to other pressing matters, including bolstering their passing rush and adding better playmakers on offense. While the Eagles managed to sack Tom Brady four times on Sunday (their production resumed when All-Pro right tackle Tristan Wirfs went out with an ankle injury), they finished with the second-fewest sacks in the NFL ( 29) during the regular season. . Edge rushers are especially needed. Brandon Graham is set to turn 34 next year and is coming off an Achilles rupture, Derek Barnett is a pending free agent, making Josh Sweat, who did not play in this game following medical intervention earlier in the week, the only defensive end currently considered a building block. The receiver remains a big need, with little production coming from the position outside of rookie DeVonta Smith.
One question that was answered this season was about Sirianni. Yes, it seems that he can coach. The Eagles have outperformed in 2021. Once the sting of that loss subsides, that will be the general consensus in Philadelphia. But they only beat one team that finished the season with a winning record (the New Orleans Saints, at 9-8). And while the chants that erupted from the crowd at the end of Sunday’s game — “Eagles suck!” — weren’t quite right, they’re as close to the bottom as they are to the top. Their moves this offseason will help dictate the direction they take in 2022.
“This game doesn’t define us, doesn’t define who we are,” Hurts said. “We know all the different things that we’ve overcome, we know the environment that we’ve built as a football team and as an organisation. … I know as a football team we’ll come back. And it’s a feeling that’s kind of going to simmer in our hearts and simmer for all of us, and with the youngsters on this football team, we’re definitely coming back hungry.
QB Breakdown: Some notable Jalen Hurts stats from the first half, via ESPN Stats & Info: He was 2-of-8 with an interception on passes with 10+ air yards, 2-of-6 with a pick under pressure and 0- from -4 with an interception on an out-of-pocket pass. His interception late in the first half in the end zone was the beginning of the end for the Eagles this season.
Mind-boggling stat: It was the Eagles’ 47th playoff game in franchise history. They were held scoreless in the first half of a playoff game for only the second time in club history, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The other time was in the 1996 wildcard game against the San Francisco 49ers.
Disturbing trend: The Eagles were held scoreless in the first quarter for the fourth time in five games, except for the regular season finale against the Dallas Cowboys in which Philadelphia rested most of its starters. This is Hurts’ fifth straight start in which the Eagles have been held without a point in the first frame.