If Eagles fans are looking for reasons to be hopeful for a first round playoff win this Sunday against No. 2 seed and defending Super Bowl Champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers, there is reason for hope.
The Eagles hosted Tom Brady and the Bucs on October 14, 2021.
The result was a somewhat respectable 28-22 loss that dropped the Birds to 2-4 on the still young season.
The Eagles outscored the Buccaneers 15-7 in the second half, erasing a 28-7 lead.
With less than six minutes left in the fourth, trailing 28-22, the Eagles had the wind at their backs.
All they needed was one more stop and the Birds would have a legitimate chance to upset Brady and crew.
But Eagles defensive end Genard Avery tackled Leonard Fournette on first down after limiting the running play to just two yards. The fourth-year veteran out of Memphis got up and said something to him. It seemed like a bit of harmless trash talk. Football is a passionate sport.
But Avery was called for taunting. It was 15 yards and a first down.
The Eagles never saw the ball again. Brady ran the Bucs offense down to the Eagles six-yard-line and took a knee to end it.
Tampa Bay had all its stars that game except Pro Bowl tight end Rob Gronkowski.
His backup O.J. Howard was solid recording six catches for 49 yards.
Fournette rushed for 81 yards on 22 carries and two touchdowns. Wide receiver Chris Godwin caught five passes for 49 yards and Antonio Brown turned in Pro Bowl caliber day with nine catches for 93 yards and a touchdown.
While Gronkowski and Fournette will play Sunday, Godwin is out with an injury and Brown has been released for disciplinary reasons.
Since that game in October, the Bucs have lost key players and, like the Eagles, were aided by a soft schedule.
Tampa Bay was embarrassed on December 19, losing to New Orleans 9-0. The Bucs then went on a three-game win streak blowing out a bad Carolina team twice and barely getting out of MetLife Stadium with a 28-24 win over the hapless New York Jets.
The Eagles rushed for 100 yards against the Buccaneers in October using just Miles Sanders (56 yards on nine carries. Hurts rushed 10 times for 44 yards and two touchdowns.
Since October, the Birds went on to lead the NFL in rushing while setting a club record for that stat.
The Birds hope their prolific running game can be the difference. Keeping Brady on the sideline will obviously be key.
Head coach Nick Sirianni, who has been mentioned on several Coach Of The Year lists, said on Monday he hopes to have Sanders and the entire running back corps back in time for Sunday.
Sanders has been sidelined for the past several weeks with a broken hand, Jordan Howard and Boston Scott just came off the COVID list.
“We're hopeful for Miles this week,” Sirianni said. “Again, that's why we didn't put him on IR way back when he did have the hand injury. So, we're hopeful for him.
“We’re hopeful for Jordan this week and Boston and Kenny (Gainwell). So, I think we'll have our full stable of backs and really excited about where our backfield is. I think a lot of teams in this league would like the depth we have at this position.”
EAGLES DEFENSE CAN’T LET BRADY SIT IN THE POCKET AND SHRED THEM AGAIN
While the game ended up being relatively close, Brady was not sacked and hit on 34 of his 42 passes for 297 yards. He threw two touchdown passes and was intercepted once.
Eagles Defensive Coordinator Jonathan Gannon admits his defense must do better against Brady if the Birds are going to advance.
“Yeah, we've been looking,” Gannon said Tuesday. “When we were came out of that game after we evaluated it on that Friday, we looked and saw things that we could have done a better job with.
“After game planning these last couple days here, we know that it’s very hard to get to him, but feel like we're up for the challenge and got some things that we're going to try to do.”
GANNON IS UP FOR THE HEAD COACHING JOB IN DENVER
Gannon was asked about a report out there that Denver wants to talk to him. He was asked to you confirm the interview request, and when it comes to Tampa, how much have they changed offensively without Godwin?
“I appreciate the question,” Gannon said. “I can confirm that, but my sole focus is on Tampa Bay.
“What you've seen when Chris (Godwin) got injured, they do a really good job of filling his spot in different ways. The production that he had throughout the year, they're filling that up with different people and deploying people in certain ways that they really didn't miss a beat too much.
“Obviously, we understand he's a really good player, but they're doing a heck of a job of really not missing a beat.”
Some may say the interest in Gannon is a distraction. Eagles fans hope it motivation to show he can lead a defense to greatness. *
Follow Al Thompson on Twitter @thompsoniii