With the news that Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin is getting better and better by the hour, NFL teams are turning their focus on what should be another dramatic regular season finale.
For the Eagles, the math is simple: Beat the New York Football Giants (9-6-1) Sunday (4:25 PM, CBS) and the Birds (13-3) clinch the NFC East, the No. 1 seed and the first round bye that comes with it.
But the Eagles have some complicated problems. They lost their last two games with Gardner Minshew under center.
Minshew played against the Dallas Cowboys (40-34 loss) and the New Orleans Saints (20-10 loss) because MVP candidate Jalen Hurts sprained his shoulder against the Chicago Bears three weeks ago.
In those two defeats, the Eagles offense turned the ball five times, resulting in a total of 27 points for their opponents.
The back breaker was a pick-six thrown by Minshew against the Saints with 5:27 left in the fourth quarter, trailing 13-10.
If the Eagles somehow lose to the Giants and the Dallas Cowboys defeat the struggling Washington Commanders, the Eagles could go from the top seed, to a Wild Card team opening the playoffs next week on the road against Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
On Friday, Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni was asked about Hurts playing against the Giants.
“It's trending in the right direction,” Sirianni said. “Again, we’re going to see how today goes. He's trending in the right direction. We feel good about it. We have to see how today goes.”
Sirianni laughed and said he chooses to hold his Friday press conferences before practice so he does not have to disclose his decisions.
“That's why I meet with you guys beforehand, so I don’t have to tell you that answer.”
After practice, the Eagles put out their injury report and listed Hurts as “questionable” for Sunday and that he again had “limited participation” in practice Thursday and Friday.
EARLIER IN THE WEEK, PLAYING FOOTBALL DID NOT SEEM SO IMPORTANT
Just two days earlier, the Eagles locker room was not filled with players who had the Giants on their mind.
Hamlin’s cardiac arrest after what appeared to be a routine tackle of Bengals wide receiver Tee Higgins in the first quarter of the Bills game against the Cincinnati Bengals. Monday night shocked the country.
Hamlin’s collapse was still fresh on everyone’s mind since the 24-year-old had not yet regained consciousness yet.
Players like Eagles pass rusher Brandon Graham talked about how players were dealing with the incident.
“The No. 1 thing is to make sure he’s OK,” Graham said at his locker Wednesday. “With us, as players, that’s our brother. We need to make sure he’s OK before we talk about anything else. We’ve been just listening and waiting on the calls, listening for the updates and see what’s going on.
“We are one play away from something like that happening to us,” Graham continued. “I think for me, it’s putting everything in perspective, to make sure you take care of yourself.”
Graham was asked how he was turning the page to get ready for Sunday.
“Things happen in this life,” said Graham, who lost three relatives to COVID-19. “There are so many things that are going to happen in our lives, we’ve just got to keep pressing. When people pass on in our family, you grieve. But you still have to keep moving forward. We can control what we can. Right now controlling what we can is checking on him and making sure that he’s good. We have to give him that respect, but we’ve got to work while we’re doing it and that’s playing a game.”
Offensive tackle Jack Driscoll said he knows what happened to Hamlin was an accident. That kind of cardiac arrest can happen through collisions on the baseball diamond, car accidents, skiing accidents, etc.
The 6-foot-6, 318-pound fourth round pick in the 2020 draft talked about the process of trying to move on and get ready for the critical game against the Giants.
“It’s hard,” Driscoll said at his locker this week. “You see a guy out there who makes a routine play, takes a few steps and then…”
The former Auburn standout, who is starting at right tackle in place of injured All Pro Lane Johnson, paused for a moment…”It’s not like he was in some crazy collision. Thoughts and prayers with him. For us, it’s tough obviously, but injuries happen …obviously it was an extreme, freak accident, and thought s and prayers with his family, I can only imagine what they’re thinking, just hoping he’s Ok.”
How will the offensive lineman get ready physically and mentally for Sunday’s crucial game against New York?
“I’m going to prepare the same way as always,” Driscoll said on Wednesday. “Focus on meetings, honing in on the game plan, figure out all the points, have a good walk through and meetings. [The Giants] have a great defense over there. It’s a big game and we’ve got to be ready.
“And like every other game, the goal is to win. We know what’s at stake. We want that No. 1 seed, that bye. I know everyone here is doing their best…coaches, players, training staff, equipment staff, are making sure we finish the job on Sunday.”
BY THURSDAY, PLAYERS WERE IN GAME PREPERATION MODE
Eagles cornerback James Bradberry had turned the page by Thursday. He talked about how the Eagles put themselves in this position.
“When you look at the past, we dropped the ball on those two games, we could have locked up our journey,” Bradberry said at his locker Thursday. “We could have locked up the No. 1 seed, we could have locked up a first round bye, but that’s not the case right now. We still have an opportunity to do it, that’s the positive thing about this game. That’s all we got right now…the present…and we got this future…we know we’re going to play this Sunday. We need make sure we take advantage of those snaps and make sure we win.”
Bradberry was asked about their backs being against the wall for the first time this season.
“It’s definitely all about perspective,” He said. “I wouldn’t necessarily say our backs are against the wall. We could have made it a lot easier for ourselves, and we didn’t. That’s the adversity we were talking about. Things didn’t go how we wanted them to go. Right now we have to go out and play this game. I’m sure a lot of people thought we were going to win one of the past two games we would sit out the last two games. We definitely made it harder on ourselves. But we still have everything to gain. We just have to out and play to win.”
WHO IS PLAYING AND WHO IS NOT WON’T BE REVEALED FOR SURE UNTIL SUNDAY—BY EITHER TEAM
Tight end Dallas Goedert gave a little hint about who he thought would be under center. He talked about Hurts’ drive to get ready for the pivotal game against Big Blue.
“It will be a testament to his work ethic and what he can do this week to get ready and I have no doubt he’ll be ready to go,” Goedert said at his locker Thursday.
The former South Dakota State standout was asked if the implications of the Giants game would impact his or his teammates approach to their preparation for Sunday.
“I don’t think we can look into it that way too much and press and try to make plays,” Goedert said. “We just have to go out there and be ourselves. I think we’ve got a very good team. We’re going to do what we do if we don’t hurt ourselves. We just have to go out there and play our best football and take what the defense gives us.”
GIANTS COACH HEDGES ON HIS ORIGINAL PLANS FOR THE EAGLES GAME
At the beginning of the week, Giants first-year head coach Brian Daboll said he planned to play his starters event thought his team was locked into the No. 6 spot in the NFC playoffs.
Friday he was asked if his thought process on playing starters changed at all during the week?
The former Buffalo Bills Offensive Coordinator sounded like his thought process has changed. When asked if his mind was made up to play his starters, he responded…
“No, we talk during the week,” Daboll said. “But we’ll make our final decision after practice, see how it goes and, again, decide what we think is right for our team.” *
Email Al Thompson at email@example.com