The Eagles’ Super Bowl Loss Offers Both Hope and Dread

After Jalen Hurts’ last desperate run didn’t end Sunday night, the Eagles left tackle Jordan Mailat, ran up to his quarterback and hugged him. The two players approached the touchline together before disappearing into a cloud of red and yellow confetti as the Chiefs began their celebration.

“I said I was proud of him,” Mailata later explained from the Eagles locker room. “Everything he has achieved this year, everything he has overcome. … the guy threw over 300 yards, [ran for] three landings. Not bad for a systemic QB, right?”

For Eagles fans, and even those who work for the organization, it’s hard to know whether Sunday’s 38-35 loss in Super Bowl LVII should be called a missed opportunity or the start of something special. Pain is the main reason to take the latter. He went up and down the field, throwing for 304 yards and rushing for 70 more. This is only the fourth time in NFL history that a quarterback has scored 300-plus and rushed for at least 70 in a playoff game. It was the first time in NFL history that a quarterback did it in the Super Bowl.

Hurts’ hallmark was his unflappable demeanor. The Chiefs answered his fumble in the first half with a touchdown. During the Eagles’ next drive, they went 75 yards in 12 plays and scored a touchdown. Hurts converted a key fourth and 5 with a 28-yard run. As it has been throughout the season, one mistake did not mean another was coming. Things never snowball with Hurts.

In the fourth quarter, after the Chiefs went 35–27 up, the Hurts responded again. He led the Eagles in an eight-game 75-yard TD drive. And ran into the end zone, having converted two points and equalized the score. The next time he got the ball, there were only six seconds left and the game was essentially over. Loss is loss. But in his second year as a regular, at age 24, Hurts went head-to-head with Patrick Mahomes in the Super Bowl and more than held his own.

In the locker room after the game, Philadelphia coach Nick Sirianni snuck into the corner where Eagles defensemen were dressing. He gave each player a handshake and a hug. Fox cameras flashed on Sirianni during the playing of the national anthem before kick-off. tears flowed down his face. Emotions seemed to get the better of him again when he subsequently experienced the loss.

In the other corner of the dressing room, running back Miles Sanders approached his offensive linemen and hugged each of them one by one. The room was mostly quiet. There was no music, no cause for celebration. Every little sound—footsteps on carpet, lockers slamming shut, bags being packed—stands out.

Eagles All-Pro center Jason Kelsey stepped in between teammates Isaac Seumalo and Mailata. Andy Reed was Kelsey’s first NFL coach after being drafted in 2011. After that, he played for Chip Kelly, Doug Pederson, and now Sirianni. He saw the highest highs and lowest lows of his 12-year Philadelphia career. Kelsey recognizes a special group when he sees it, and this one had This. They went 16-2 with Hurts as the starter. Had they beat the Chiefs on Sunday, we’d probably be talking about the 2022 Eagles as the best team in franchise history.

But Kelce also knows how different each year is and how much can change from one season to the next.

“I think we all knew before this game this team was going to look very different next year,” Kelsey said after the loss. “I think there will be a lot of young guys from the core here. Let’s see, older guys like me, let’s see what happens.”

Offensively, the Eagles are positioned in such a way as to mostly recoup. The team’s three outstanding pass catchers – DeVonta Smith, A.J. Brown and Dallas Godert – all performed in a big way against Kansas City. They are all in their 20s and have a contract for at least the next two years. This continuity with the Hurts is a good reason for the Eagles to be optimistic about the future.

Up ahead, Seumalo will be a free agent and Kelce must decide if he wants to keep playing or retire. As a running back, Sanders is a free agent. And offensive coordinator Shane Steichen is reportedly on his way to Indianapolis to become head coach of the Colts. There will be changes, that’s for sure. But it’s reasonable to believe that the Eagles’ attack will succeed in 2023 and beyond.

Defense, however, may be another story. The Eagles couldn’t stop in the second half against the Chiefs. Kansas City scored touchdowns on three consecutive possessions and then played 5:07 before scoring the game-winning field goal.

Sirianni likes to show the players clips from movies to reinforce certain themes. At the team meeting before the Super Bowl, he ripped out a clip from the movie Focus with Will Smith. Smith plays a rogue, and the scene shown by Sirianni highlights the character’s attention to detail when setting up one of his targets. But attention to detail was exactly what was lacking in the Eagles’ defense against Mahomes and Reid. They were bewildered by Reed’s intrigues and the use of movement in the red zone. Defenders failed to communicate adequately, resulting in a pair of open touchdowns. Overall, Mahomes and Chiefs moved the ball with ease. Only 7.4 percent of Mahomes’ shots came from narrow windows. according to next generation statistics.

In some ways, the defensive play was reminiscent of the last time the Eagles were in the Super Bowl. Tom Brady had a 505-yard lead that game, but the defense got the ball rolling in the fourth quarter. That’s what they needed against the Chiefs: one game. They had four balls in the second half to find one, but they couldn’t even score a sack.

According to TruMedia, the Chiefs have posted the best success rate of any game this season. This season, they were ranked as the sixth best team in any game. The Chiefs rushed for 158 yards and Mahomes completed 77.8% of his passes, second most among Super Bowl quarterbacks in 20 years.

In the future, turnover in defense could be huge. The Eagles have eight starting or standout role players set to become free agents: linemen Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox and Javon Hargrave; linebackers TJ Edwards and Keezir White; quarterback James Bradbury; and security Chauncey Gardner-Johnson and Marcus Epps. The Eagles may also be looking for a new defensive coordinator if Jonathan Gannon is given the Cardinals head coaching job.

The truth is that any excitement about the future must be balanced by the reality of how difficult it is to return to the Super Bowl. The Eagles have done a lot this season. They faced with the simplest NFL schedule. And they’ve had almost unparalleled luck with injuries. All 22 Eagles regulars have played in the Super Bowl. Their depth will almost certainly be tested next season.

The Eagles have long been chasing sustained success. They won the Super Bowl after the 2017 season and returned after the 2022 season. In the four years between them, they went 31-33-1. After 2017, the Eagles thought their longtime coach and quarterback was Pederson and Carson Wentz. Now it’s Sirianni and Hurts. This version seems to be more stable. But being in Hurts also likely means a new contract worth between $47 million and $50 million a year.

Put it all together and the Eagles are ahead of most teams thanks to their coach, quarterback and young talent. But by the Super Bowl halftime they had a 10-point lead and couldn’t hold on. There is no guarantee that it will be possible to approach this level again in the next few years.

“Not knowing is the sad part,” Mailata said. “This team will not be the same next year and we knew that when we entered the game. We’ve talked a lot about this in our team meetings and just about the brotherhood and relationships that we’ve formed this year up to this point and how special this group, this team is. It’s definitely sad, man. This is out of our control. But we tried to make the most of our time together, and in the end we failed.”


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