The NFL has never seen anything like the Eagles’ dizzying collapse

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It has long been said that the NFL stands for Not For Long. Change comes quickly in a league of copycats where winning strategies are scrutinized, analyzed and imitated and constant innovation is critical to continued success. But even by that standard, it’s hard to remember a faster fall from grace than what has befallen the Philadelphia Eagles over the past two months.

The Eagles were the envy of the league just seven weeks ago, a winning machine led by an energetic young coach, a rising franchise quarterback and one of the most talented rosters in football from top to bottom. After winning last year’s NFC championship and coming within three points of winning the Super Bowl, they posted the NFL’s best record on Thanksgiving Day and appeared poised for a return trip to sports’ biggest stage. .

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But from that 10-1 start, the Eagles crumbled and limped into Monday night’s NFC wild-card playoff after losing five of six games, a death spiral marked by crushing losses to the Cardinals 3 -12 and the Giants 5-11. It all came to a merciful and predictable end on a muggy Monday night at Raymond James Stadium, where they were routed 32-9 by a mediocre Tampa Bay team they had dominated in October: a horror-show score that could have It would have been much worse if the error-prone Buccaneers hadn’t dropped about a half-dozen passes. The Eagles couldn’t block. They couldn’t catch. They certainly I couldn’t tackle. They were unprepared, unmotivated and disinterested. In a key sequence loaded with unmistakable metaphor, the Tush Push (his signature short-yardage game once hailed as unstoppable) I was on the goal line.

The Eagles have experienced their share of down-the-stretch failures in a nine-decade history filled with far more heartbreak than glory (2014 with Chip Kelly, 1994 with Rich Kotite, 1981 with Dick Vermeil and 1961 with Nick Skorich), but none of those collapses. It can be compared to the breakneck speed regression of the last seven weeks. This year’s team became the second team in NFL history to fail to win 12 games after a 10-1 start, joining the 1986 New York Jets. But even those Jets conjured up enough pride while they were in free fall to achieve a victory in the playoffs. Not these Eagles, who suffered the second-biggest postseason loss in their history, against a bottom-10 offense led by a journeyman quarterback.

Two months ago, it would have been unfathomable to imagine the Eagles parting ways with Nick Sirianni, the 42-year-old wunderkind who in two and a half seasons had amassed the best win-loss percentage of any current NFL head coach and appeared on deck for a big contract extension. After the most spectacular season ending in NFL history, it’s almost harder to imagine the alternative.

So what happened? Let’s start with the obvious. After last year’s Super Bowl run, Philadelphia saw both of its coordinators hired for head coaching jobs: OC Shane Steichen of the Indianapolis Colts, DC Jonathan Gannon of the Arizona Cardinals. Those vacancies were filled by Brian Johnson and Sean Desai respectively, and it was clear that the replacements were in over their heads from the start.

The once-formidable passing rush that flirted with the NFL’s all-time sack record last year, and lost key players Javon Hargave, CJ Gardner-Johnson and TJ Edwards in free agency, regressed severely to despite the investment of more cap space by general manager Howie Roseman. and recruit resources on the defensive line than anywhere else. That spending was intended to mask deficiencies at linebacker, cornerback and safety, holes that proved too large to schematically repair, especially when the secondary was hit by injury early in the season.

Hurts, the MVP runner-up a year ago who played with a dislocated finger Monday night, injured his knee in October and never fully recovered. Johnson’s maddening refusal to run the ballDespite an offensive line stocked with future Hall of Famers and a Pro Bowl-caliber running back in D’Andre Swift, he persisted all season.

In short, they had big problems. And when it came time to fix them, the coaching staff had no idea what to do. Once that was clear to the players, it was over.

None of that can directly explain Philadelphia’s golden start to 2023. And it’s true: The Eagles raced to the NFL’s best record over Thanksgiving weekend and the inside track at No. 1, racking up wins over Tampa Bay, Kansas City, Miami, Buffalo and Dallas, all of which ended up in the playoffs. But instead of recognizing that their gaudy record benefited from an element of luck that defied analytical scrutiny (seven of those wins came in single-score games), the coaching staff fell for the delusion that winning DNA and organizational culture would help them get ahead. They knew how to win.

But the house of cards collapsed in early December when they hosted San Francisco in a highly anticipated rematch of last year’s NFC title game. The Eagles allowed touchdowns on six consecutive drives (85 yards, 90 yards, 75 yards, 77 yards, 75 yards and 48 yards) in a 42-19 loss that began their demise. It was a bitter pill to swallow for Philadelphia, which had been hearing trash talk for months from San Francisco’s star players about how the Eagles were overrated frauds. But in the end, the Niners were right about everything, they saw Sirianni clearly and, unlike most other NFL teams up to that point, they were severely exposed.

Like the boxing champion who is never the same after that first knockout loss, the Eagles lost something that afternoon they would never get back. San Francisco established a plan, but the lack of response from the coaching staff made it too easy for future opponents to follow. (The Eagles’ inability to plan a blitzkrieg response for two months, for example, reflects an incompetence rarely seen at the NFL level.) They were defeated the following week in Dallas and only moved south from there, their once solid defense receding. in a blur of wasted assignments, broken coverages and missed tackles. In a move that reeked of desperation, Sirianni replaced Desai as defensive coordinator with Matt Patricia, a retread whose main claim to fame – certainly in Philadelphia – was overseeing a Patriots defense that gave up more than 500 yards to the Eagles in their first and only match. Super Bowl victory.

There is no shortage of blame for everyone. Some may question how the leadership among the players on the team was so bad as to allow this result. Others may retort that the coaches gave the players no chance to win. Either way, Philadelphia’s stunning implosion amounts to a missed opportunity that will haunt this football-mad city for years.

The obvious answer is to clean the house. The entire coaching staff must go with the exceptions of offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland and special teams coordinator Michael Clay, whose once-shaky unit showed marked improvement starting in 2022.

As for Sirianni, it may not be so simple. His win-loss ratio remains the best in the club’s history, even taking into account this year’s catastrophe. No other Eagles coach has made the playoffs in each of his first three seasons, a job that suggests he has earned one more chance. It would certainly represent a change of style for team owner Jeffrey Lurie, whose poise and resistance to reactive moves has been a source of pride during his three decades as an owner.

But make no mistake: The Eagles find themselves at a crossroads that would have seemed unfathomable not long ago.

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