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

Merit Play, or How the Eagles Deserve Every Accolade Being Thrown Their Way

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A scene from the Durso household during the Eagles’ blasting of the Vikings last Sunday.

THEY WEREN’T SUPPOSED to be this good this soon, our Eagles. For all of the promise he showed last year, Carson Wentz was still too green. The secondary still had too many question marks. And Doug Pederson was still Andy Reid lite.

Then, of course, the games began, and Wentz played like an MVP, the secondary somehow tightened up, and Pederson proved himself an unexpectedly accomplished play caller who could manage a game and connect with his players. Our Eagles were this good this soon, and it wasn’t a fluke.

Now, of course, the Birds are prepping for the Super Bowl — but that wasn’t supposed to happen, either, not after Wentz suffered a season-ending injury against the Rams in week 14.

The tear of his anterior cruciate ligament broke our hearts and poured cold water on our feverish playoff dreams. These Eagles were now Nick Foles’s team, and without Chip Kelly’s smoke and mirrors, he’d play like the journeyman he ended up being after leaving Philadelphia a few years ago.

Except somebody forgot to tell Pederson, Foles, and the rest of the team.

Foles was dreadful in finishing the Birds’ regular season, but he was able to take snaps in actual games against defensive starters. On top of that, Pederson had a critical few weeks to adjust his game planning to account for Wentz’s absence.

The results speak for themselves. Foles was competent in the Eagles’ narrow divisional win over the defending NFC champion Falcons, and brilliant in their demolition of Minnesota in the conference championship game. The Birds ran the ball well, Pederson called great games, the special teams were mostly solid, and Jim Schwartz’s defense was simply suffocating.

And so the Eagles will play February 4 for the NFL title, and it’s not a fluke. They’ll be in Minnesota on merit.

Just the way we all called it, right? | DL

Takin’ It to the Streaks, or Why I Already Know What I’m Wearing Next Weekend

I told him that a player on a streak has to respect the streak. … You know why? Because they don’t — they don’t happen very often. … If you believe you’re playing well because you’re getting laid, or because you’re not getting laid, or because you wear women’s underwear, then you are! And you should know that!

Crash Davis, Bull Durham

WHICH MEANS that when the Eagles play next weekend in the NFC championship game, I will have to begin the day wearing my black WINNING IS FOR THE BIRDS short-sleeve t-shirt over my white long-sleeve t-shirt with the team’s name and retro logo on it. I will have to watch the first half. Then I will have to change clothes and go out to dinner and keep tabs on the remainder of the game using my phone.

You have to respect the streak, after all. As I’ve mentioned before. | DL

Reid Option, or Why We Should All Cut Big Red a Break

THE CHIEFS ARE UP by two touchdowns over the Titans as I write, and my Twitter feed is filled with snide comments from Eagles fans about how Andy Reid will manage to blow the lead.

I understand the wisecracking. For all of his success in Philadelphia, Big Red never even approached Dick Vermeil-level adulation. He never seemed to care. He didn’t court fans and he didn’t court the media, and as a result he never seemed like one of “us,” whatever that means. So when his Eagles teams fell victim to their coach’s predictable play calling and dreadful clock management, there was no cache of goodwill that allowed us to see past the flaws.

For all of that, though, Reid was, and is, a good guy. There’s never been Rex Ryan-style bluster, or, even worse, Bill Belichick-like douchery. He’s a football coach who chooses to focus on football coaching, and football coaching only.

That Andy Reid never stopped to kiss the asses of sports talk radio hosts or newspaper columnists surely damaged his image in the eyes of Eagles fans. But that shouldn’t obscure his achievements or his character. If anything, it should make us respect him more. | DL

I’m Thankful That I Have Many Reasons to Give Thanks More Than Once a Year

THE FOLKS who research happiness say that regular reflections on gratitude improve one’s mindset. I wouldn’t mind an improved mindset, so I probably ought to think more often about what I’m thankful for. Many of my Facebook friends have spent each day this month posting about the things for which they’re grateful. But the best I can do right now is to offer this list today, Thanksgiving Day, about my gratitude, as I did last year.

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