Simple question: Would the Eagles’ season be considered a success if they lose the NFC title game to San Francisco on Sunday?
Simple answer: No.
More complex answer: Absolutely not.
You can’t have a season as great as the Eagles have enjoyed and be satisfied with an NFC title game appearance.
In August, you would have been thrilled getting to the NFC title game — and especially hosting it. But when the Eagles hit their bye week at 6-0, victories over the Vikings, Cardinals and Cowboys ramped up expectations.
It was during their bye, when other NFC teams already were fading, that it became apparent the Eagles had something special going and had the opportunity for a historic and exceptional season.
Believe this: Not one player or coach would consider the season a success with a loss on Sunday. Not one. Based on my informal polling of fans, most would be disappointed, too. The pain from a loss to the Niners would burn until Memorial Day Weekend.
Participation trophies for making the playoffs are fine for some teams. The Jaguars’ season was made by winning six of their final seven games to qualify for the postseason. Defeating the Chargers in the wild-card game validated Doug Pederson’s first year as coach.
Sorry, but a 15-3 Eagles team — or any 15-3 team — would never be happy just getting to the conference title game.
- Take a look at the current Eagles Super Bowl betting odds.
I remember the angst and disappointment when the Eagles lost home title games, as the favorites, to Tampa Bay and Carolina in 2002 and 2003. The Eagles will be the favorite Sunday against the Niners.
Great things happened in those Donovan McNabb and Brian Dawkins seasons but what fans dwelled on were the harsh memories — the Bucs’ Ronde Barber returning a pick-six in the Vet’s final game. Bucs wide receiver Joe Jurevicius take a 5-yard pass from Brad Johnson, of all people, and turning it into a 71-yard gain.
Or the Eagles only scoring three points and losing to Jake Delhomme and the Panthers.
Those seasons weren’t considered successful, folks. Nor would this one.
LOSING TO BROCK PURDY?
The notion of losing the NFC title game to 23-year-old quarterback Brock Purdy, who has made seven career starts, is unfathomable. Can you imagine *those* conversations over the offseason?
- “We lost to a guy who doesn’t look old enough to shave.”
- “We lost to Mr. Irrelevant.”
Professional sports are a business and competition, entertainment and fun. In Philly, they are personal. When the Eagles win, everybody wins. When the Eagles lose, despair envelops the city — especially at this point in the season.
Fans *expect* the Eagles to win Sunday. That’s why losing would be so painful.
Deeming the season a lost one without a victory on Sunday isn’t meant to take anything away from this remarkable Eagles team. They are 15-3 and two of the losses were when quarterback Jalen Hurts was injured. They demolished the Giants in the divisional round.
ON THE PLUS SIDE …
- The Eagles arguably have the NFL’s best roster.
- Their all-world offensive line mostly stayed intact. Lane Johnson missed two games and held off groin surgery for a chance to participate in the playoffs.
- Eagles fans live for running the ball. Besides Hurts’ 760 yards on the ground, Miles Sanders ran for 1,269 yards as the Eagles ranked fifth.
- The defense was a combination fans love — leading the league in sacks and tied for fourth with 17 interceptions.
- The Eagles received contributions from their free-agent acquisitions — many of whom solidified the defense.
- The A.J. Brown trade made the receiving corps elite.
- If Howie Roseman isn’t executive of the year, they should retire the award.
- Nick Sirianni’s coaching staff is among the league’s best. Look at the head-coaching nibbles his coordinators receive.
- The draft class shows promise, if not that much actual playing time other than nose tackle Jordan Davis.
Most importantly, Hurts’ development was unprecedented. He went from uncertainty to All-Pro second team. With Hurts, the Eagles can realistically expect to be in the playoff mix every year.
IT’S A MARATHON
Teams with everything on paper don’t always win championships. You need leadership, good luck, good health, great coaching and talent.
But you need something else — that intangible bond and tightness that many winning teams develop and nurture. Players who genuinely care for each other and want to play for each other and the common goal.
The NFL is an 18-week slog through the regular season. Players get injured every week. Players are bruised all season.
The Eagles apparently survived their potentially most devastating injury. Hurts missed two games, played blah in his first game back, then looked like an All-Pro in the divisional playoff game. If he’s close to full health Sunday, the Eagles are living right.
The Eagles should take the field against the 49ers with 21 of their 22 opening day starters. That alone is remarkable … and special.
The way the season played out, this is an all-the-marbles enterprise. Lose to the Niners and it will be a long and bitter offseason, filled with the emptiness of knowing what might have been.