What the heck was that?
It was a disaster.
And now the Eagles have painted themselves into a corner where they’ve blown two of their three chances to lock up the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoff bracket, and if they blow the last one … well, we won’t even go there.
Here’s our 10 Instant Observations from the Eagles’ pitiful 20-10 loss to the Saints at the Linc.
1. The most concerning thing to me wasn’t the loss as much as the fact that right from the start of the game the Saints were the more prepared team, the more intense team, the more physical team. Not the better team, but it didn’t matter. They played like they were the ones chasing a No. 1 seed, and the Eagles played like a 6-9 team desperate to make the playoffs. This is a Saints team that was 2-5 on the road, and they were the aggressor on offense and defense. Late in the second quarter, the Saints had outgained the Eagles 252-21, they led 13-0, Andy Dalton still hadn’t thrown an incomplete pass and the Eagles didn’t have any first downs. What the hell is that? You can’t talk like you’re a Super Bowl contender and then let a 6-9 team come into your building and jump you like that. Yeah, injuries, I get that. But we’re talking effort here, and the Eagles didn’t have it in the first half, and that’s squarely on Nick Sirianni and his coaching staff. Unacceptable. Inexcusable. Sure, they woke up in the second half and started to make some plays and made it close for a while. Who cares. It’s a 60-minute game and if you don’t bother to bring it for half of those 60 minutes, you’re not going to win many games. This team is damn lucky it has one more chance to lock up No. 1 seed, and obviously they’re a different team with Jalen Hurts behind center. But I don’t care who the quarterback is. If they come out and play like this again, they’re not beating anybody.
2. I said this week I had a lot of faith in Gardner Minshew and that I consider him one of the two or three best backups in the NFL. I was wrong. I was really wrong. He was terrible. He didn’t handle pressure well, he held onto the ball too long, he didn’t take checkdowns when they were there, he didn’t see receivers wide open and when he had a chance to pull off a dramatic rally, he couldn’t get a few inches on 4th-and-1, and then he gave away any chance the Eagles had to come back and win with that ridiculous pick-6 he threw to Marshon Lattimore. He’s here for one reason. To win this game. To hold it down until Jalen Hurts is healthy. This? This was awful. This was Mike McMahon kind of stuff. I thought Minshew was decent. I was dead wrong.
3. By beating the Colts Sunday at the Meadowlands, the Giants locked up the No. 6 seed, so next week’s game doesn’t mean anything to them. Will be interesting to see what Brian Daboll does. I’m sure he’d like to rest his starters given the opportunity for an unexpected bye, but considering the Eagles’ 48-22 win last month, would he want to get his team primed for the postseason by trying to avenge that 26-point loss? Probably the former. If you’re the Eagles, I guess you’d love the opportunity to lock up a No. 1 seed by beating a bunch of Giants backups. You can’t ask for an easier path to a first-round bye. It does seem kind of cheesy. But if you’re the Eagles, at this point you take it and run.
4. Jalen Hurts should be ready to play next week – he better be – but this is not an ideal situation. Because now it’s not a matter of just maybe getting him a series or two so he’s not rusty after a two-week layoff. Now it’s you’ve got to lean on this kid to win a game or the Eagles are going to blow what not too long ago was a 98 percent chance to earn the No. 1 seed in the NFC. There’s no doubt in my mind Hurts will rise to the occasion, but it’s also a little scary because this is a kid coming off a fairly serious injury and the last thing you want is to put him at undue risk out there. But I’ll tell you what. If you told me in August all the Eagles would have to do to lock up the No. 1 seed is beat a Giants team probably playing its backups, you would have signed up for that. That’s not a whole lot of consolation right now.
5. That wasn’t holding on Landon Dickerson. That’s called a pancake block. It’s legal. That absurd call, which wiped out a 28-yard Kenny Gainwell touchdown run in the third quarter, was a disgrace. That would have cut the Saints’ lead to 13-7. There was nothing in that block that even resembled holding. How do you make that call?
6. One thing you’ve got to really appreciate about this team is the pass pressure they generate on a consistent basis. Dalton rarely gets sacked. He had been sacked 18 times in 12 games coming into this game, but the Eagles got him six times, and they added a seventh on Taysom Hill. Last week, they sacked Dak Prescott six times after he had been sacked just 12 times in nine games. That’s 68 sacks this year for the Eagles, 4th-most in NFL history and most since the 1989 Vikings had 71. Five more breaks the NFL record of 72, set by the 1984 Bears. Whatever else is going on with this team, this front generates ferocious pressure that keeps them in games. The Eagles will obviously miss Josh Sweat as long as he’s out, but they are so deep and so versatile and so productive. They’ve been particularly effective lately, with an absurd 32 sacks in the last five games. That’s three more than they had in 17 games all last year. Last week they became the first team in NFL history with six sacks in four straight games. That’s five straight now. An incredible group.
7. It’s hard to believe neither Darius Slay or James Bradberry has an interception in the last eight games. The first eight, they each had three. Slay’s last INT was in Week 6 off Cooper Rush. Bradberry’s last INT was in Week 8 in Houston. After picking off 13 passes in their first nine games, the Eagles have four in the last seven – two by Josiah Scott and one each by Reed Blankenship and Sweat. With the pressure this front generates, the opportunities are there, but lately when they’ve gotten chances, they haven’t capitalized. Slay has been scuffling. Bradberry gave up a 58-yarder Sunday. With the injuries they have in the secondary, the Eagles need Slay and Bradberry to both be more consistent and more productive.
8. Nobody was in the mood to celebrate, but it was nice to see Brandon Graham finally hit double digits in sacks in his 13th season. He recorded two sacks Sunday to give him 11 with one game left. That sack made the Eagles the first team since sacks became an official stat in 1982 with four players with double-digit sacks. With Josh Sweat’s status unknown after that scary neck injury, the Eagles are going to need B.G. more than ever, and the way he’s playing he’ll be up to the task. Honestly, we all figured this would be a farewell season for Graham, but if Howie Roseman can make the numbers work, there’s no reason not to bring him back for a 14th season. The dude is having his best season ever at 34 coming off a blown out Achilles. Incredible.
9. Maybe this isn’t a huge deal in the big scheme, but on their first possession, the Saints had a 2nd-and-6 on the Eagles’ 13-yard-line. Andy Dalton threw incomplete and the Saints were called for an illegal man downfield. In that situation, you’d rather have a 3rd-and-6 than a 2nd-and-11, but Sirianni took the penalty, the Saints converted and quickly took a 7-0 lead with what turned out to be their only offensive touchdown.
10. First half of the season, it was hard to imagine better cornerback play than the Eagles were getting from Darius Slay and James Bradberry. Eight games in, they were the only corners in the league holding opposing quarterbacks to a passer rating below 50 when targeting them – Slay was at 37.2 and Bradberry 35.9. They each had three interceptions and a combined 18 pass knockdowns. Last eight games they have no interceptions and 10 knockdowns. Slay hasn’t looked the same in a while. QBs have a 134.2 passer rating targeting him since Week 9 going into Sunday, and Bradberry had dropped off to 69.7 – still good but not where he was. And Sunday, once again they just didn’t make an impact. Dalton had his way – 18-for-22? – against the Eagles’ secondary, and Bradberry give up a 58-yarder to Rashid Shaheed. The Eagles are going to face some elite QBs in the playoffs, and Slay and Bradberry have to be better.