The Eagles’ Super Bowl Contender Legacy: A Fond Memory

In September, Jalen Carter looked like the next Aaron Donald and the tush push was the most debated offensive play since the double reverse that won a championship in Remember the Titans. After going 10-1 in their first 11 games, the Philadelphia Eagles have won only once since Nov. 26. With an outside chance at an NFC East Championship going into Week 18, they benched their starters after going down 24-0 in the first half during a loss to the lowly New York Giants. In Week 17, they lost 35-31 to the Arizona Cardinals. A team that went blow for blow with the Kansas City Chiefs in the Super Bowl last season has only beaten two teams by more than one score this season. The Eagles have lost five of their last six games and in no way resemble a Super Bowl contender. The result of their struggles is that they have to return to the scene of 2022’s playoff beatdown.

That day their offense was a complete dud in Doug Pederson’s final season as head coach. Jalen Hurts had no answer for the Bucs as his team fell to a 31-0 deficit. Since then, he has played well enough to get one of those $200 million-plus contracts with a nine-figure guarantee. Hurts was outstanding against the Chiefs in the Super Bowl. However, a lingering knee injury has made him less mobile this season than last. Hurts is averaging half a yard less per attempt this season and ran the ball five fewer times. Had the Eagles not thrown in the towel coming out of halftime against the Giants, he might have exceeded last season’s rushing attempt total and still not come close to the yardage. Combine that with Dallas Goedert missing three games, an Eagles offense that had been strong went three consecutive weeks in December without scoring 20 points.

Even with all of the recent offensive struggles, the Eagles’ most significant problem is their defense. They went into Week 18 with sixth-worst defense in the NFL per DVOA. They have dealt with defensive backfield injuries all season. Cornerback Avonte Maddox played against the Giants for the first time since Week 2. Cornerback Darius Slay, who has already missed four games, was held out as precaution during the regular-season finale. His most recent appearance on the inactive list was Week 17. In mid-October, the Eagles had one healthy safety.

Their offense finally got its act together against the Cardinals last week, but the defense ceded three passing touchdowns to Kyler Murray. Going into the final game of the regular season, the Eagles had the fifth-most pressures in the NFL, but still allowed the fifth-most passing yards. During the 2022 season, Philly allowed the fewest passing yards in the league. Maybe the Eagles went into MetLife Stadium with no belief that the Dallas Cowboys were going to lose to the Washington Commanders. Without the real motivation of an NFC East title to buoy them, A.J. Brown going down with a knee injury, and Hurts’ middle finger on his throwing hand “popping out” during the first half maybe they just were never mentally in the game on Sunday. Or, have two more injuries to key players attacked a team that was already reeling? A regular season that began with the Eagles scraping their way to victory has ended with them limping and losing. And the reward for their struggles is they have to return to the place where the roster’s future was put into serious doubt after getting upended by a team that has not won a playoff game since that day.