Nick Sirianni’s Eagles Are So Bad They Remind Me Of Rich Kotite
12:34 PM EST on January 8, 2024
Forty days ago, the Eagles were shaky. It both was and was not obvious. They kept winning in ways that infuriated Eagles fans—that infuriated me! But also they kept winning, and 40 days ago they were 10-1 and Jalen Hurts was MVP favorite. Vintage Eagles Starter jackets were going for hundreds of dollars. The close wins were annoying. The Eagles had also lost to Zach Wilson, which was ominous. But, between and maybe even during fits of panic, fans were still pretty psyched. As the team entered the tough stretch of the season, some important things seemed to have worked themselves out. The defense was not good, but it held Miami and Kansas City scoreless in the second half. They had a thrilling comeback win over the Bills. If you can’t be dominant, it helps to be clutch.
That’s when things went from annoying to atrocious. The Eagles were routed by San Francisco and Dallas. The Cowboys game was the first with new defensive play-caller Matt Patricia, who took over after the team demoted Sean Desai. The Eagles defense looked better in the next game, then allowed a 92-yard touchdown drive in the fourth and lost to Seattle. A win over the Giants was closer than it should have been. The defense could not stop the Cardinals. Yesterday the Eagles played most of their starters, in case the Cowboys might lose and hand Philadelphia a home playoff game. Those starters were down 24-0 to the Giants before Nick Sirianni gave up. The Eagles went on to lose 27-10, which means the backups beat the Giants 10-3. The Eagles are a second half team again!
You will not be surprised to learn that people are not happy, and not just the people who are never happy where the Eagles are concerned. My infant son wouldn’t go to bed right away last night, doubtless upset about the nonsense the Eagles had pulled since the moment he was born. People at the supermarket this morning were talking about what movie they’d switched to at halftime. Local media has written some depressing columns about the team. “They seem to get worse by the week,” Zach Berman wrote. “The defense continues to offer little resistance. The offense joined the futility, particularly struggling against the Giants’ blitz.” Jeff McLane says the team has clearly lost faith in Nick Sirianni. A headline on a Marcus Hayes column reads: “Fire Nick Sirianni and all his coaches after this Eagles humiliation against the Giants? OK.” Longtime Eagles beat guy Les Bowen, who isn’t around the team this year, says it’s a real possibility: “I’ve never seen an Eagles team play this way down the stretch WITHOUT the coach getting fired.”
The Eagles have been here before. The Eagles lost Super Bowl 15 to the Raiders, and were fourth-best (+600) in Super Bowl odds the next year. They opened that next season 6-0, but Dick Vermeil wasn’t happy. He berated his team on the sideline in that sixth game, a 31-14 win over the Saints. “I know we’re 6-0,” Vermeil said. “But we’re striving to be the No. 1 team in the country. When we have those kind of breakdowns, it really hisses me off.” (I checked; two sources have Vermeil saying “hisses me off.” I like it!)
Those Eagles, too, went on a late-season swoon—falling from 9-2 to 9-6, before a 38-0 win over the Cardinals in the regular season finale. By then the fans were angry. They booed QB Ron Jaworski in warmups, which led Vermeil to get hissed off at the fans. “For each one of those people that have been booing him, hope they stick it,” he said. “You can quote me on that. Don’t ever give up on good people. He has more character than any one of ’em that ever booed him.”
The Eagles did lose their first playoff game that year, at home to the Giants, but the comparison is not quite equivalent. The 1981 Eagles led the league in point differential with +147; that was 30 points more than the next closest team. That number was buoyed by 42- and 38-point wins over the Cardinals, but St. Louis was 7-9 that year. The Eagles won eight games by double digits. The 2023 Eagles won two. The Eagles’ point differential this year was +5, behind right behind Jacksonville (another team with a late-season collapse).
A better comparison might be the 1994 Eagles. That team, led by Rich Kotite, started 7-2 before losing its final seven games to miss the playoffs. It was not a Super Bowl contender, but the 7-2 start included a 40-8 win on the road over the 49ers. People were excited. The final games put any end to that optimism. The offense hit an embarrassingly bad stretch and the team was barely in any of their games in the losing streak. Randall Cunningham was benched. The Eagles were eliminated in the next-to-last week of the season after the Giants scored the final 13 points in a 16-13 win. The Eagles’ Eddie Murray missed a 44-yard field goal on the game’s final play. “The wind was not a factor—I just blew it,” he said. “The game was representative of the entire unhappy season,” the Inquirer headlined one story.
The final game of that year, while meaningless, was one of the funniest Eagles losses ever. They blew a 10-point fourth-quarter lead to the Bengals, at one point allowing Jeff Blake to convert a fourth-and-16 run. The game looked headed to overtime after a Doug Pelfrey field goal with three seconds left. But the Eagles couldn’t handle the squib kick and the Bengals recovered with a second left, and then Pelfrey’s 54-yarder won the game in regulation. Yes, the Eagles lost the game on two field goals in the final three seconds. Jeffrey Lurie, in his first season as owner, fired Rich Kotite not long after. Most of the post-game chatter was about whether Dick Vermeil would return to coach the team.
This Eagles team made the playoffs, and so are not quite as embarrassing as that 1994 squad. But over the last 40 days, they have absolutely been embarrassing enough to warrant the comparison. A season with so much promise is ending with a thud. They are 2.5-point favorites against the Buccaneers in Tampa on Monday night. I think I see easy money.
Correction: The Eagles lost their last seven games of the 1994 season, not their last nine.