The Eagles’ season is over. When Saints kicker Shayne Graham split the uprights as time expired, it knocked the Eagles out of the playoffs, and extends the franchise’s championship-less streak to 53 seasons.
The scene felt familiar. The Eagles had a one-possession lead, and their opponent had the ball with the clock winding down. The Eagles had been in similar situations multiple times in the regular season, and every time the defense had managed to come away with a big play to seal the victory.
Unfortunately, this time, the opposing quarterback wasn’t Robert Griffin III, Carson Palmer, or Kyle Orton. This time, Drew Brees – with a big assist from the Saints’ special teams and running backs – didn’t make a mistake. This time, the Saints were able to drive into field goal range and score the decisive points as time expired.
Why it Happened
Coming into the game, the popular thinking was that the Eagles would fare better in the cold weather because they had the superior running attack. The Eagles had been stout against the run all season, while the Saints rushing defense was thought to be shaky. However, it was the Saints who controlled the game on the ground. Running backs Mark Ingram and Khyrie Robinson consistently chewed up large chunks of yardage, while LeSean McCoy couldn’t seem to find much space to maneuver.
McCoy has sometimes drawn criticism for “dancing” too much behind the line of scrimmage, but that didn’t seem to be the problem last night. It looked like McCoy was decisive, but there simply was nowhere for him to go. Because of that, the Eagles’ offense was slow to get started, resulting in only seven first half points.
Perhaps that is why the Eagles came out throwing the ball to start the second half. Unfortunately, they didn’t throw the ball successfully, going three-and-out on their first two series. As a result, the Saints had good field position both times, resulting in two touchdowns.
The Eagles were able to rebound and eventually take the lead. But as we saw, that lead wasn’t quite enough to win.
In his first playoff game, Nick Foles performed admirably. It wasn’t his finest game of the season, and he certainly didn’t carry the team to victory, but there were plenty of reasons to be encouraged. He avoided turnovers, continued to play well in the red zone, and he appeared to get stronger as the game went on. It’s notable that the last time he touched the ball, he threw a touchdown pass to give the team the lead.
He didn’t definitively prove that he was the franchise’s long-term answer at quarterback, but he has given plenty of reason to believe that he cold be.
So What’s Next?
While Eagles fans are understandably disappointed that the team let a winnable game slip away, the disappointment is tempered by a feeling of optimism. Barring a major offseason shakeup, the Eagles will be the favorites in the NFC East heading into next season, and they’ll probably have more than a few pundits declaring them to be a dark horse Super Bowl contender. The assumption is that Chip Kelly will learn from his rookie mistakes and be an even better coach next season. Many people believe that Foles and the other young Eagles will continue to show improvement.
Unfortunately, as I mentioned before, absolutely nothing is promised to them. The Eagles caught a fair share of breaks this season. They were relatively injury-free, and their schedule turned out to be favorable. It would be a mistake to count on those things happening again next year.
The Eagles also caught some teams by surprise this season, but that won’t be the case in 2014. Opponents will have had an entire offseason to study Chip Kelly’s offense. If there’s a way to consistently stop it, it is a pretty safe bet that someone will figure it out. Also, the NFL is a notorious copycat league, so after seeing how well Kelly’s “sports science” techniques worked, it’s a decent bet that other teams will adopt similar practices.
Most importantly, while they seem to have plenty of young players with promise, that doesn’t mean that they’ll get any better. What you have seen from them might be the best that we’ll ever see.
So yes, Eagles fans should feel good about the direction that the team seems to be headed in. But that doesn’t mean that we should expect a Super Bowl in the next few seasons.
The Week in Andy
Dorsey: *Sniff* Hey, coach.
Dorsey: How are you doing?
Reid: I’m fine.
Dorsey: You’re not upset?
Reid: Nah. Why would I be?
Dorsey: (Stares blankly for a few seconds) We- we just suffered one of the worst collapses in playoff history.
Reid: Yeah, that one’s on me.
Dorsey: How can you be so calm about this? Why aren’t you upset? Don’t you have a soul???
Reid: At first I was a little peeved. But then, I came back to my office, and someone left me a box of donuts. (Gestures to a half-full box of donuts sitting on the desk behind him.) I realized that in a world where someone cared enough to leave me a box of donuts, then it wasn’t worth it to get too upset about some football game.
Reid: (Gestures to the box again) You want one? Nothing cheers me up like a good Boston creme.
Reid: Better decide soon. Donuts don’t last too long around me.
Dorsey: …Sure. I’ll have a donut. (Takes the donut from Reid and takes a bite)
Reid: See? Don’t you feel better now?
Dorsey: Yeah. Yeah, I do. Thanks, coach.
Reid: No problem. So I don’t have my binders handy. Who do we have next?
Reid: Next week. Who do we play?
Dorsey: (Shakes his head) Coach, this was the playoffs. The season’s over. There is no next week.
Reid: Oh. Oh. Damn. (Frowns and then grabs another donut) Oh well. There’s always next year, right.
Dorsey: Yeah, coach. We’ll get ‘em next year.
I should be used to the Eagles’ season ending in disappointment. It’s happened every year that I’ve followed the team. Heck, it’s happened every year that I’ve been alive. And yet, last night’s loss was still saddening. I still can’t shake the feeling that despite their youth and inexperience, the Eagles had a decent shot to win it all this season.
I’m sure that I’ll get over the disappointment soon. I’ll soon be able to look back at the season and consider it to be a success. Coming into the season, I would have been thrilled with an 8-8 season in which the Eagles showed improvement. I certainly didn’t expect an NFC East title and a playoff game.
And hey, it could have been worse. The Eagles could have suffered a meltdown that was partially due to questionable decision making by Andy Reid. At least we were spared that fate!
So I guess there’s nothing left to say but congratulations to the 2013 NFC East champion Eagles, and here’s to a fun and enjoyable season!