PHILADELPHIA — The Philadelphia Eagles got what they needed out of their regular season finale on Sunday. They won the game, won the NFC East and clinched the top seed in the NFC playoffs. They got their quarterback and MVP candidate back on the field too.
It all probably wasn’t enough to calm the nerves of a jittery city, though, not when this once-dominant team struggled to put away a Giants team that started their third-string quarterback and backups at almost every position. But the Eagles weren’t concerned about style points from their 22-16 victory.
It was, in the words of quarterback Jalen Hurts, “Good enough.”
They’ll find out in two weeks, when their playoff run begins, whether that is really true.
“Winning pretty is not a priority,” said Eagles coach Nick Sirianni. “You’re going to win some ugly. You’re going to lose some. We know the last two weeks weren’t up to our standards. Even today (wasn’t). But winning in this league is hard to do, and we won’t apologize for that.”
They shouldn’t apologize for it, of course, especially considering how badly they needed this win. The Eagles (14-3) were in complete control of everything three weeks ago, when Hurts hurt his right shoulder during their win in Chicago. But two straight losses turned the division and conference races into squeakers and forced them to rush Hurts back for this game.
They got desperate, which is why all they rightfully cared about this week was winning and getting themselves that extra week of rest. So as far as they were concerned, it was mission accomplished.
But their performance still left plenty of questions about just how playoff ready they are. Hurts may have been back, but the offense scored just one touchdown against a Giants defense that didn’t use a single starter. And even though the five field goals they got from Jake Elliott helped them build a big lead, the Giants’ offense — led by third-string quarterback Davis Webb — just kept coming back.
Even Hurts looked out of synch. He completed 20 of 35 passes for 229 yards and threw his third interception in his last two starts after throwing only three in his first 13. He hardly ran except when he was flushed from the pocket, which seemed to be by design to protect his sprained right shoulder.
Of course, the fact that his shoulder still needed protecting three weeks after the injury is a bit concerning, too.
“Him fighting through what he’s fought through to get back … It’s not like he was perfect out there as far as what he felt like,” Sirianni said. “We didn’t feel like there was more risk, but I know he was hurting. He was hurting bad.”
Hurts clearly wouldn’t have played in this game if it hadn’t become a must-win. Even he admitted “I was really pushing myself beyond measures to be available. It wasn’t an easy thing.” But it was a necessary thing because of the slump that pushed them to the edge and cost them some of the mojo and maybe even the confidence they had after looking like the NFC’s best team for most of the year.
Sirianni wanted them to remember that feeling. It’s why he made the theme of the week “Confidence”. He stressed that they didn’t need to win on style points to regain the confidence they had lost. They just had to win, so they could remember who they really are and what they’ve already done.
“We talked a lot this week about how we should be confident,” he said. “Do we feel like we played a great game today? No. Not by any means. But this team should be confident. That doesn’t mean cocky. It means confident with all the things we accomplished this year. And I wanted them to know that even after the two loses in a row that they have a reason to be confident.”
Clearly, they’ve got some work to do over the next two weeks. They had what Sirianni described as “uncharacteristic” red-zone issues. Four trips inside the Giants’ 20 netted them just the one touchdown, plus two field goals and a goal-line interception. They had trouble adjusting to an offense where Hurts wasn’t carrying them with his legs, running (mostly scrambling) just 9 times for 13 yards. That’s quite a change from his first 14 starts when he ran on 16.8 percent of the Eagles plays (156 times) for 13.5 percent of their total yards (747). And just the threat of him running opened up so much more.
Who knows if he’ll be his old, multidimensional self in two weeks, even though Sirianni has long insisted that his quarterback has mystical healing powers? Even if he is, by the time they play again it will have been more than a month since the Eagles had Hurts running their offense at full strength with his full capabilities.
If this game against the Giants was any indication, there will surely be rust.
“There were some things where we were all just a little rusty with Jalen being back in,” Sirianni admitted. “That was important for us to be able to get some of that out of us and fight through some of that.”
Sirianni is convinced the extra week will be “big” for his team, to get healthy, to self-scout and work on their problems, and to get their Hurst-led offense back looking the machine it always seemed to be. He seemed to know all that would take a little time. That’s why none of that was what this game was about.
This was about the win, which is why he was dancing in the locker room afterward with a victory cigar in his hand. He wanted his players to celebrate their accomplishment — the entire accomplishment. It wasn’t about how they finished. It was just about what they did.
And he wanted them to remember that “we have bigger things on our mind”, that everything they want to accomplish — including a trip to the Super Bowl — is still there for the taking. They looked and felt like that Super Bowl was inevitable three weeks ago, because they were really that good.
They didn’t look it on Sunday, but they seemed to remember that they still could be that good again. It was a reminder that this was just the first step in a much bigger goal.
That’s why Hurts wasn’t smiling at his post-game press conference. It wasn’t the pain or his performance. It was just that his focus was on something else.
“You won’t see my smile until the job is finished,” he said. “The job is not done.”
In fact, in some ways, it’s only just begun.
Ralph Vacchiano is the NFC East reporter for FOX Sports, covering the Washington Commanders, Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants. He spent the previous six years covering the Giants and Jets for SNY TV in New York, and before that, 16 years covering the Giants and the NFL for the New York Daily News. Follow him Twitter at @RalphVacchiano.
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