The Eagles Saved Their Biggest Humiliation For Last
9:16 AM EST on January 16, 2024
If nothing else, the 2023–24 Eagles are a reminder that sports can sometimes actually be predictable. Some realized the truth a lot sooner than others, but anyone who was paying close attention to this team could have foreseen Philadelphia's season ending more or less as it did last night: in a dispiriting 32-9 wild-card loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
This game was a lot of things, but most of all it was a fitting conclusion. This Eagles team started 10-1, and reached that record with three straight wins against the Cowboys, Chiefs, and Bills during November. At that point, Philly's record, personnel, and pedigree said that the Eagles were the favorites to win the division and likely to return to the Super Bowl. But the details of that 10-1 record told a different story, which started to unfold throughout the Eagles' 1-5 finish to the regular season. Jalen Hurts stopped playing like an MVP candidate, Nick Sirianni couldn't stop throwing sideline tantrums, the ostensibly ferocious defensive line ran out of juice, and the defense got so bad that Matt Patricia was asked to save it, at which point it got worse. By the time the Eagles rolled into Tampa for a playoff game, they were a curdled team attempting to play without their best receiver and with their star QB dealing with a finger injury on his throwing hand.
Things only got worse once the game started. The Bucs scored their first touchdown of the game on a 44-yard catch-and-run by David Moore, who found himself all alone in the middle of the field because two Eagles defensive backs slammed into each other like cartoon characters. A few evaded and broken tackles later, and Moore was in the end zone.
The Bucs' second touchdown of the night, which came in the third quarter and put the game away for good, came as the result of the Eagles once again undoing themselves with some slapdick tackling. Trey Palmer caught a ball on the sideline, turned upfield just in time for James Bradberry to hit him like a splash of water, and then sprinted 50 yards into the end zone, untouched.
The final score gives the impression that this game was a blowout, but to describe it that way would actually let the Eagles off the hook. Philadelphia scored their only touchdown at the end of the second quarter, making it a 16-9 game after a failed tush-push on the two-point conversion attempt. Suddenly it was a one-score game, and it stayed that way for the next six drives. The Eagles' defense finally managed to make some tackles and hit Baker Mayfield a few times, but all the offense could do with that opportunity was continue punting the ball away. When Hurts committed an intentional grounding penalty in his own end zone to make it 18-9 and a two-score game, it felt like the Bucs were up by 30.
That portion of the game, in which the Eagles had multiple opportunities to tie it up while the Buccaneers swooned, defines this punchless Eagles season more than any of the missed tackles can. In the middle of their nightmare, the Eagles were given a chance to wake up. All it would have taken was one good drive, one touchdown, one memory of how this team played when it started the season 5-0, and the story could have changed. Sports are usually hard to predict because people are hard to predict; a team can go from looking defeated and stepped-on in one moment to triumphant in the next for no other reason than the players on the field changed things. The Eagles didn't do that. They came into this game looking like a defeated team, played like one, and then left like one.
And now they get to enjoy being perhaps the first team in history to start a season 10-1 and then go into the offseason in total crisis. On Monday morning, ESPN published a report on the Eagles' late-season slide into mediocrity, and it hits all the usual beats describing a team that is coming undone. A lot of finger-pointing inside the locker room, a coach losing his influence over his players, a star quarterback who is unhappy with the play-calling. Similar reports will follow, and the mess that needs to be cleaned up before the end of the summer will just get bigger.
Will Sirianni be canned? Will Hurts throw his weight around and get a preferred offensive coordinator in the door? Will Matt Patricia finally be tied to a barge and sent out to sea, never to return? Any team can start 10-1 and still have its season end in disappointment, but a 10-1 team that ends the year with these sorts of organizational questions being asked is a special brand of sad. There's your 2023–24 Philadelphia Eagles: defeated and pathetic.
Correction: This post originally stated that the Buccaneers' second touchdown came in the fourth quarter.