The Philadelphia Eagles beat the 49ers by staying true to themselves

Late in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s NFC Championship Game, the Jumbotron at Lincoln Financial Field turned to Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts. At first, the Philadelphia Eagles quarterback had a huge smile on his face. Then it caught on. “One more thing,” Hurts mouthed to the camera, returning to his usual serious expression. The crowd erupted.

The Eagles defeated the 49ers on Sunday 31-7 and are headed to the Super Bowl to face the Chiefs. The game itself was a bit of a dud, with the 49ers undone by quarterback injuries. Brock Purdy suffered an elbow injury on San Francisco’s first possession and Josh Johnson suffered a concussion in the third quarter. For a brief period in the first half, it looked like the 49ers would still be able to contend, thanks to their stout defense and a blistering second-quarter performance from Christian McCaffrey. But the defense, pressured by several Eagles touchdown drives, gave the Eagles a 21-7 halftime lead and they never looked back.

The ingredients that have contributed to the Eagles’ success all season were on display again: Hurts showed an understanding of what exactly the moment called for, Nick Sirianni managed the game aggressively and gave the Eagles an advantage with in-game decision-making, the offense grinded and eventually found answers, and the defense took advantage of an inferior opponent.

It wasn’t the Eagles’ cleanest game, and it shouldn’t have been. Hurts threw for a season-low 121 yards, but he didn’t turn the ball over and had to be accounted for in the running game, especially in the second half, and the Eagles improved to 16-1 this season with him as their starter.

After the game, Hurts joined his teammates for a victory cigar at his locker. Smoke filled the room and coughing interrupted players’ sentences as they spoke to reporters. As Hurts told the Linc crowd in the fourth quarter, it wasn’t the last step, but it was certainly worth the celebration.

Siriani approached the defenders, found cornerback Avonte Maddox and defensive end Marcus Epps and hugged them. Siriani coached this game like he has coached every other game this season: without fear. On the Eagles’ first drive of the game, when the offense faced a fourth-and-three, Siriani did. The offense converted (thanks in part to the 49ers not forcing a DeVonta Smith catch) and went on to score a touchdown. Later, with six minutes, 39 seconds left in the second quarter, the Eagles faced a fourth-and-one from their own 34. Siriani again got aggressive, keeping the offense down the field. Hurts converted on a QB fumble and the Eagles would eventually cap that drive with a touchdown to take a 14-7 lead.

“I don’t know how Siriani walks around with the set of cojones he’s got, bro,” Jordan Mailata said after the game. “That’s crazy. How does the guy walk around like that? Fourth in a big playoff game? Dude, good for him. But big cojones, that guy.

Across the locker room from Mailata was Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie, a longtime advocate of incorporating analytics into in-game decision-making. He thinks the data could give the Eagles an edge. In Siriani, he has found a coach who is willing to be aggressive even when the stakes are high.

“He’s outstanding,” Lurie said of Siriani. “Most of the offseason is spent on all those situations, and he’s not surprised by what he has to do. He knows exactly what he’s going to do and he knows it before third down so he can plan for third down. This is a huge advantage. But then again, it’s not something you want to talk about much. Same with Doug [Pederson]. There are certain things that are built into our culture, and Nick is very smart. He’s comfortable being aggressive, and I think that’s the way you have to be in today’s NFL.”

When Lurie hired Siriani two years ago, he told him he was excited about the coach he could become. The message was clear: The Eagles didn’t expect Sirianni to be a finished product. They were willing to ride with a coach who could develop on the job. But now, in his second season, Siriani has the Eagles in the Super Bowl, sooner than anyone would have expected.

The truth is, NFL organizations don’t always know when their championship windows open and close, and that’s understandable. There is so much randomness. You make the decisions that give your team a chance and hope for a little luck. That’s what happened to the Eagles this season. They had all 22 of their regular starters healthy and available Sunday against a Niners team whose quarterback depth was severely tested.

Outside of Hurts, there was perhaps no more important Eagle on Sunday than Haason Reddick. General manager Howie Roseman, the architect of one of the NFL’s most talented rosters, signed Redick in free agency last offseason, following the organizational philosophy of investing in the offensive and defensive lines. Against the 49ers, Redick forced a fumble on the 49ers’ first offensive possession, bringing his season total to 19.5 sacks in 19 games. Redick missed the playoffs in his first five years with Arizona and Carolina and is on his third different team in six NFL seasons. He is now one win away from a Super Bowl ring.

“I would say the biggest thing I’ve preached is just, ‘Enjoy this opportunity. Enjoy this moment,” Redick said of his conversations with younger teammates. “Because it’s very rare. You don’t get them often.”

Offensively, this game was tough for the Eagles. They started the game with a touchdown and then hit a cold spell. But just like they’ve done all season, they eventually found answers. The Eagles finished with 25 first downs, the second-most by an opposing offense against the 49ers in a game this season.

Facing DeMeco Ryans top-ranked defense proved to be a chess match, according to Mailata. The Eagles would return to the sidelines after each of their punts, report what the 49ers were doing and try to come up with solutions. The key, Mailata said, is to rely on the message offensive line coach and running back coordinator Jeff Stoutland consistently preaches.

“How many plays can we face with a view we want?” Mailata asked. “Never run a play in a bad light.”

The Eagles used passing options to achieve this goal, putting the decision-making in Hearts’ hands. The mailman called Stoutland a “hot mess” during the week. Stoutland was even more intense than usual, yelling at players and calling them into meetings. The Eagles knew they were facing a tough defense and Stoutland wanted to make sure the players were prepared. Yet on the sidelines during Sunday’s game, Mailata saw a different person. Stoutland was calm and composed, focused on finding ways to help his players solve problems on the fly.

“He comes in, takes all the information and we change the script, we try to change the technique that we do, we change the calls, man,” Mailata said. “We got a great coach, man. I don’t know what else to say.”

The Eagles ended up running for all four of their touchdowns. Miles Sanders scored from 6 yards and 13 yards. Boston Scott added a 10-yard touchdown run. The Eagles couldn’t count on an explosive game against the 49ers. Instead, they strung together three discs of over 10 plays.

Early in the fourth quarter, the stadium’s big screen scanned the crowd and showed a fan holding a homemade “Talking Cactus” sign, a nod to the team’s next destination, Glendale, Arizona. Eagles fans were unusually confident going into this game. They feel like they know this team well, and the coach and quarterback have earned their trust. The supporting cast always seems to give them a chance.

Next is a trip to the desert to confront the chiefs. The defensive challenge will be different with Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes on the other side, rather than a combination of Josh Johnson and a significantly limited Brock Purdy. But the Eagles will enter this game with the same recipe they’ve used all season. They will rely on their offensive line to control the Chiefs front. They will rely on their pass rush to get to Mahomes. They’ll go in knowing the moment won’t be too much for Hurts. And Sirianni will call the game with a fearless mentality.

If they tick the same boxes they’ve ticked off 16 times in 19 games, they’ll have a good shot at lifting the Lombardi for the second time in five years.

“I know we’re not done yet and these guys are still hungry,” defensive end Brandon Graham said. “Like Jaylen said, we’re starving. We are starving for it.

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