Eagles drop to the fifth seed in the NFC playoffs after dropping a game they were heavily favored to win
All the Eagles needed to do on New Year’s Eve was to take care of business against the three-win Arizona Cardinals and the NFC East title was all but theirs and the home playoff games that came with the title.
As it turns out, it was the Cardinals, led by former Eagles Defensive Coordinator Jonathon Gannon, who showed up ready to take care of business.
Arizona’s offense, led by quarterback Kyler Murray, running backs James Conner and a stout, punishing offensive line, dished out a pounding that may have been worse than the 49ers game en route to a 35-31 win that put serious doubts in the Birds aspirations to repeat as division champions.
The Cardinals rushed for a net 221 yards, and held the ball literally nearly twice as long as the Eagles (39:39 to 20:21).
“Obviously they controlled the game by running the football,” Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni said after the game “We weren't good enough there stopping the run and they were able to take a lot of chunks off the clock. I think they did a good job executing. But we know we have to be better putting the guys in positions to succeed and also executing.”
The Cardinals scored on every drive but their second one.
That drive reached the Eagles’ 24-yard line when, on third-and-seven Murray threw and ill-placed ball deep left toward the end zone where it was picked off at the one-yard line by safety Sidney Brown who returned the ball 99 yards for a touchdown.
The exciting play made the score 14-3. Things were going as planned at the time.
The Eagles scored their first touchdown on their second drive going 75 yards on nine plays ending with a 12-yard pass to Julio Jones.
The Birds took a 21-6 lead into the locker room at halftime on another nine-play,75-yard drive that ended with a 22-yard strike from Hurts to Jones.
It became obvious that the Matt Patricia-led defense was not stopping Gannon and his troops on this Sunday. The players on defense look powerless.
In fact, when the Cardinals tied the score 28-28 Gannon opted to boot an on-sides kick with 9:34 left in the fourth quarter, he wasn’t banking on getting the ball at that time…he just didn’t want the Eagles to run out the clock with their big offensive line.
He’s rather let the Eagles score quickly and get the ball back knowing the Eagles would not be able to stop the Cardinals offense.
Gannon caught a break when the Eagle drive stalled at the Arizona 25-yard line and were forced to kick a 43-yard field goal to make the score 31-28 with 2:53 left on the clock.
Gannon confirmed his strategy after the game.
“It worked,” he said after the game. “That’s what we talked about. That’s what I’m talking about. The reason for that is you don't want to get bled out. That team is too good. I trust the defense to get a stop right there and make them kick a field goal, which is what they did, but with five minutes left, what they've shown is they're not going to give you the ball back.
“And I wanted to make sure at all costs Kyler had the ball in his hand. At the end of the game, whatever you're down, and that's what we did. So it’s just funny how it came up, but no, I thought the defense did excellent, held them to a field goal there. Kyler went down, (WR, Greg) Dortch had a big play. We had a couple of runs in there. And then we pounded it in. James will not be denied. So it's good job.”
With a stunned crowd of 69,879 watching, Murray marched the Cardinals 70 yards on seven plays in just 2:01 finishing the drive – and the Eagles day – with a two-yard run by Conner.
Arizona never punted. Eagles punt returner Britain Covey, who had a breakout game of sorts against the Giants, was listed as active for the coach to put in the game; but was also listed in the “Did Not Play” Game Summary.
CARDINALS O-LINEMAN SAID HE KNEW THE EAGLES COULD NOT STOP THEM
Starting Right guard Will Hernandez laughed when he heard there were fans posting online that the onside kick was made because Gannon wanted to give the Eagles a short field. He was OK if the Eagles scored because he knew the Birds could not stop the Cardinals that day.
The fans were on target. And the seven-year veteran selected in the second round (34th overall) of the 2018 NFL Draft by the New York Giants out of UTEP said Gannon has their back on that kind f strategy.
“Anytime that…Coach Gannon knows we had his back,” Hernandez said at his locker after the game. “Our offensive line is going to play hard for him, play hard for ourselves. So whenever he show that kind of support and believes in us, we’re going to deliver.”
Hernandez was asked if they new early the Eagles were struggling to stop their running game.
“That’s exactly what happened,” Hernandez said. “We’re going to keep doing the same s**t until you do stop it. Then we’re going to find another way. And that’s just how O-line works. Why try to fix something that’s just not broken. We’re going to throw the same s**t back at you. I don’t know how many times we ran counters…how many times we ran double…until they stop it, we’re not going to stop running the same thing.”
STATS AND MORE QUOTES
Hurts finished 18 of 23 for 167 yards and three touchdown passes. He was intercepted on the final play of the game. He was not sacked according to the Game Summary.
Hurts was asked what has been missing the last couple of games when they are normally a good team of finishing and closing games.
“I don't think we've done that all year, Hurts said. “I think a lot of the games we've lost have been because of the lack of finishing in those situations and so it's another learning opportunity for us and we still have everything in front of us to do what we want to do. We still got to clean things up. There's still a sense of urgency to do that. You know, in the end, it's about us having all hands on deck to do so.”
D’Andre Swift rushed 13 times for 61 yards.
Dallas Goedert caught five passes for 47 yards and a touchdown in the fourth quarter to put the Eagles up 28-21.
A.J. Brown caught four passes for 53 yards.
DeVonta Smith caught three passes for 30 yards. He could have added to that total but he dropped a long pass on a third-and-five from the Eagles 30-yard line in the third quarter.
Murray finished 25 of 31 for 232 yards, three touchdown passes and an interception. He was sacked once.
Conner torched the Eagles defense for 128 yards on 26 carries and a touchdown. He also caught a five yard touchdown pass in the third quarter.
Eagles pass rusher Haason Reddick, said that despite the awful performance by the Eagles they can still regroup to have a successful season.
“We have to take it one game at a time, one week at a time and go from there,” said Reddick, who was credited with just one assist on a tackle. “It’s not what we wanted, but the season ain’t over. We’ve still got playoffs no matter what. So, we need to get everything right, starting with this game next week and get ready for the playoffs.” *
Email Al Thompson at email@example.com