With a Mid-Season Change in Approach and a Late-Season Kiss from the Football Gods, the Eagles Are In

Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

SHOW OF HANDS: Who had the Eagles in the playoffs when the season began?

Okay, all of you with your hands in the air, put ’em down. We all know you’re lying.

With a rookie head coach, a new coaching staff, an untested second-year quarterback, and the frenzied turmoil that came with the firing of the franchise’s only Super Bowl winner and the trade of its disgruntled shoulda-been franchise QB, the Birds were a mess before a down had even been played. Things only got worse as the team nose-dived to a 2-5 start that included much-derided remarks by the new coach that compared his players to … plants.

Give Nick Sirianni credit, though. He held onto his locker room during those dark days and, just as important, was willing to change his gameplans to play to the team’s strengths. Out went the throw-at-all-costs scheme and in came a run-the-ball-down-your throat approach that paid huge dividends. The Eagles pounded and pounded and pounded the ball for several games, giving their defense a break and opening up more space for Jalen Hurts to take advantage of run-pass opportunities. Over the last few games, Hurts, hobbled by an ankle sprain, has thrown more, and has looked better doing it. Even then, the run game has been solid, despite Miles Sanders’s absence.

The Eagles have won seven of their last nine and, thanks to help from the 49ers and Packers, clinched a wild-card spot without even having to defeat the hated Cowboys this weekend. Has it helped that the Birds’ second-half schedule has been cotton-candy soft? Of course. But how many Eagles teams have we seen over the years roll over on cupcakes they should have devoured? Sirianni’s club is taking care of business, and that’s no small thing.

Even the news that the news that a dozen players were placed in the NFL’s COVID-19 protocol earlier today lacks its expected sting. With the playoffs a lock, it’s hardly the worst situation for the likes of Jason Kelce, Dallas Goedert, Fletcher Cox, and Rodney McLeod to get a week’s rest ahead of the postseason. Sure, they and the others could be back in time for Saturday night’s tilt against Dallas, but if not, no biggie.

Surprise successes are the sweetest kind, and this Eagles season is ending like a brownie sundae. Yes, a loss in the wild-card round is likely. Spotting good teams 10 first-quarter points is not how you win playoff games, and whatever QB the Eagles’ soft-coverage defense faces will be exponentially better than the second- and third-stringers it has feasted on recently. No matter. The Eagles are a playoff team in a year when no one thought they had a chance.

No, not even you. | DL