In a way, this was the game everyone was waiting for. In others, it was the game no one predicted. All that matters in the end is that the Eagles beat the 49ers to win the NFC Championship Game and advance to the Super Bowl, the franchise’s second appearance in five years and third of the century.
Parts of Sunday’s win were beautiful. Others were… well, a bit careless!
But the Bird’s talent prevailed over a 49ers team struggling to stay afloat with its fourth QB, and now Philadelphia is one win away from a second championship parade down Broad Street.
It’s an emotional night in Philadelphia, so let’s overreact to a win we’ll all remember for a while:
1. The Eagles defense won this game
It seems a little impossible for a unit that racked up 70 sacks, but the Eagles defense has gone a bit under the radar this season. I heard many national analysts remark last week that they were shocked to see the numbers from Jonathan Gannon’s department.
They are not a perfect defense, but in the divisional round and again on Sunday afternoon, the defense came ready to attack and succeeded. The Giants were not a remarkable challenge. The 49ers, with weapons like Deebo Samuel and Christian McCaffrey and the best left tackle in football in Trent Williams, were much more.
It certainly helped that Brock Purdy left the game in the first quarter, and for much of Sunday’s game the Birds went against QB Josh Johnson. You hate to see guys get hurt, but the fact is the Eagles defense was tearing up San Fran’s O-line and chasing the quarterback all game long. When your QB is under fire like that, that’s what happens.
And it’s a good thing the defense was so locked down, because the Eagles’ offense was often uninspiring.
Consider how absurd this stat is from the Eagles’ second touchdown of the day:
The Eagles offense hasn’t looked much like the explosive unit that has been near the top of the league in nearly every key statistic this year. Jalen Hurts was a little behind in the passing game, the ground game was under 4.0 yards/attempt in the first half and things felt…constipated.
As the Eagles defense continued to chase him and harass the Niners offense out of the backfield, the Eagles held the ball until 19:00 in the first half. The 49ers defense was clearly gassed as a result and continued to commit bad penalties because they were just plain exhausted. It wasn’t luck, and it wasn’t just “getting a break”: it was a result of the defense cooking Kyle Shanahan’s guys when they had the ball. San Fran’s longest first half at 2:52 and ended with a turnover; The Eagles had two touchdowns with 5:00 left before halftime.
The offense has regularly been the focus of fan appreciation this year, but on Sunday the defense was clearly up for the challenge — and at just the right time.
2. Bird decision making is elite
Nick Siriani continues to make Eagles fans extremely happy to be their head coach.
It’s possible that Sunday’s entire NFC Championship game will be distilled into a crucial pair of fourth down plays in the first half.
One came on the first drive of the game when DeVonta Smith made the drop look like a catch on fourth down. Kyle Shanahan wasn’t quick enough on a challenge and the Eagles scored just a few plays later; a successful challenge on the next drive by Nick Siriani showed us how crucial challenges in big places can be.
The other play was Siriani’s decision to go for it on fourth down, midway through the second quarter. The Eagles were at their own 34-yard line and had to gain one yard. Sirianni wasn’t afraid of the moment, paid the QB sneak and got the first down. Ten plays later, the Eagles scored their second touchdown of the game — huge momentum on both sides:
Kyle Shanahan is a widely beloved offensive guru in the football world, and for good reason: He created an offensive system that helped redefine NFL offense, and he’s clearly a brilliant mind.
But week in and week out, Eagles fans have to feel great about the man leading their team. He knows his strengths and weaknesses, is fearless when it matters, and is a big part of the reason the Eagles returned to the Super Bowl in just his second season at the helm.
As I wrote earlier this month, the numbers show Siriani has been the NFL’s best decision-making head coach. Football fans always talk about offensive coaches or defensive coaches when their team is hiring, but what about plain old smart coaches? Here’s what the Eagles found here.
What a hire by Jeffrey Lurie and what a job by Siriani who made the most of this opportunity.
3. Don’t worry about the “easy way out”
You’re likely to hear some heated opinions on the ol’ internet over the next two weeks about how the Eagles got a free pass to the Super Bowl. Their path was through Daniel Jones and a combination of Brock Purdy and Josh Johnson.
It’s true: it’s been an extremely easy road, all things considered.
And the Eagles deserved it.
That’s what happens when you’re the best team in football for an entire season. This is the way the system is set up.
The Eagles smoked the league for 18 weeks and earned a first-round bye. They crushed almost everyone in their path for the chance to play weaker teams in the postseason. And when they arrived in the playoffs and started playing games, they outscored their opponents by a combined score of 69-14 en route to the final game of the season.
That’s right, folks! It’s a meritocracy. The Eagles are headed to the Super Bowl because they appeared all season, including the playoffs, and the rest of the NFC largely did not. If the 49ers weren’t so bad early in the season, they might have had a shot at that No. 1 pick, but they weren’t. Put up or shut up.
The Eagles now have one shot at immortality, against one of the two best teams in the AFC. That’s how the game works. Well done to the Birds for making the most of this opportunity.
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