When December began, the Philadelphia Eagles very much resembled a team that was headed back to the Super Bowl.
They had an NFL-best record of 10-1. They had just beaten the Dallas Cowboys, Kansas City Chiefs and Buffalo Bills in consecutive games. They had the San Francisco 49ers coming to Philadelphia for the rematch of last season’s NFC championship game, giving the Eagles a chance to reaffirm their conference supremacy and take another step toward the Super Bowl title that barely eluded them in February. No other NFL team had fewer than three losses at that point.
That seems like such a long time ago.
It is only a little over a month later, but these Eagles most decidedly are not those Eagles. Their season has unraveled. The Eagles were overrun by the 49ers in that Dec. 3 game at Lincoln Financial Field. They lost the game decisively, and they lost their composure when their chief security officer, Dom DiSandro, was involved in a sideline confrontation with Niners linebacker Dre Greenlaw, leading the NFL to ban DiSandro from the Eagles’ sideline for the rest of the regular season.
And the Eagles have kept losing. The defeat to the 49ers began a 1-4 stretch that has dropped Philadelphia not only out of the NFC’s No. 1 seed but out of first place in the NFC East. The Cowboys have taken over the division lead and can clinch the title with a victory over the Washington Commanders on Sunday at FedEx Field. The Eagles, to overtake the Cowboys, must beat the New York Giants on the road and root for a Commanders triumph.
Coach Nick Sirianni turned over the defense last month to Matt Patricia, making the former Detroit Lions head coach the defensive play-caller and de facto coordinator over Sean Desai, who still has the coordinator title but not the accompanying authority. It has not helped. If anything, the defensive results have been worse. The Eagles squandered a 21-6 lead and lost, 35-31, at home Sunday to the Arizona Cardinals. The Cardinals amassed 221 rushing yards and picked up only their fourth victory of the season for their first-year head coach, former Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon.
The Eagles continue to express the belief that things can be fixed.
“I think it’s as simple as taking ownership for the things that you can control,” quarterback Jalen Hurts said at a midweek news conference, “and committing to giving your best self and being your best self.”
Sirianni said at his news conference the same day that “there’s no magic to this” while stressing the “daily, repetitive processes” that lead to everyday gains.
“If we knew exactly what it was these last couple weeks, we would have done that,” Sirianni said. “It’s about going to work every single day and being locked into the details of the meeting and being locked into the walk-through and … having a high-intensity practice and to be committed to our core values.”
Sirianni has acknowledged that he must do a better job projecting calm to his players than he did during a Christmas Day victory over the Giants in Philadelphia, saying he was “too tense” that day. Wideout A.J. Brown — who has topped 100 receiving yards only once in the past eight games after six straight with more than 125 — told reporters this week that he had no issues with Sirianni or the offensive play-calling. The comments came after Brown’s on-field displays of frustration became a topic of public scrutiny and conversation. Tensions are running high indeed.
The Eagles’ reduced chances of winning the NFC East raised the possibility that Sirianni could sit Hurts and other key starters Sunday. But the Eagles still can win the division and, even if they don’t, those players might need to be on the field to get things headed back in a positive direction.
They are attempting to become only the fourth team to win the Super Bowl a season after losing the Super Bowl. Even with their downward spiral, the Eagles insist that still could happen.
“I’ve got the same hunger,” Hurts said. “Maybe a different hunger to achieve what’s in front of us.”
Jets’ woes: A calamitous season for the New York Jets will come to a merciful close with Sunday’s game against the New England Patriots in Foxborough, Mass.
The question now is whether next season will be any better.
Jets owner Woody Johnson has said he will retain Robert Saleh as coach and Joe Douglas as general manager. Johnson made that declaration before the Jets’ pitiable first-half performance in their Week 17 loss to the Cleveland Browns. Saleh and Douglas were fortunate in that regard.
But Johnson had little choice, given that quarterback Aaron Rodgers already had endorsed the current decision-making regime. Rodgers undoubtedly wants to see offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett retained as well.
The competitive portion of the Jets’ season essentially ended on the season’s fourth offensive play, when Rodgers suffered his torn Achilles’ tendon in his left leg. He kept talking about returning to play late this season, but the Jets’ inability to remain in the playoff race made such discussion moot.
Rodgers will turn 41 next season. He has not played at an elite level since the 2021 season, when he won his fourth league MVP award with the Green Bay Packers. He was only the NFL’s 16th-rated passer last year with the Packers. It remains to be seen whether he can return to being a top-tier quarterback, at his age and coming off his injury.
The Jets will have a few good pieces around him on offense next season, in wide receiver Garrett Wilson and tailback Breece Hall. But they need more playmakers, and the offensive line is a major issue. Meanwhile, the Jets like to say they have a championship-caliber defense. Indeed, they are ranked fifth in the NFL in total defense this season. But will that defense maintain its level next season, particularly if the offense does not improve as much as the Jets hope?
The Jets and their fans again will have high hopes with Rodgers back on the field. But there are no guarantees that things will go as planned in 2024. They certainly didn’t this year.
What’s at stake? The Baltimore Ravens have clinched the AFC’s top seed. The 49ers have locked up the NFC’s No. 1 seed. But plenty remains undecided entering the Week 18 games. Four division titles are unsettled. Five playoff spots remain up for grabs, and 20 teams remain in postseason contention.
The Bills and Miami Dolphins will play Sunday night in Miami Gardens, Fla., for the AFC East title and the No. 2 seed in the AFC. But the Bills have not even clinched a playoff spot yet.
Those teams with their postseason slots secured have the luxury of resting key starters, including their quarterbacks. Lamar Jackson is scheduled to sit out the Ravens’ game Saturday against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Baltimore. Brock Purdy is being rested for the 49ers’ game Sunday against the Los Angeles Rams in Santa Clara, Calif. With the Rams also sitting Matthew Stafford, that game features a quarterback matchup of the Niners’ Sam Darnold against the Rams’ Carson Wentz.
The Browns are resting Joe Flacco and using Jeff Driskel — their fifth starting quarterback of the season — Sunday at Cincinnati. They’re locked into the AFC’s fifth seed.
“Year of the backup QB”?
Believe it or not, we had MORE @NFL quarterbacks start last season.@NFLResearch counts 66 different QB projected to start in 2023.
And while there’s nothing at stake for the Jets-Patriots game in Foxborough, Bill Belichick’s uncertain status raises the possibility that it could be the final game for New England’s six-time Super Bowl-winning coach.
Some within the league are convinced that Belichick and Patriots owner Robert Kraft will part ways. Others wonder if Belichick could stay, with changes to the front office and coaching staff. A resolution to Belichick’s status won’t necessarily come quickly, since Kraft could want draft-pick compensation from another team interested in hiring Belichick.
NFLPA coordinator survey: The NFL Players Association named Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn, Dolphins offensive coordinator Frank Smith and Cowboys special teams coordinator John Fassel the best at their jobs, based on a survey of players released this week.
The NFLPA announced only the top five for each position.
According to the survey, the 49ers’ Steve Wilks, the Cowboys’ Dan Quinn, the Minnesota Vikings’ Brian Flores and the Rams’ Raheem Morris ranked behind Glenn among defensive coordinators. The Carolina Panthers’ Thomas Brown, the Cowboys’ Brian Schottenheimer, the Bengals’ Brian Callahan and the Los Angeles Chargers’ Kellen Moore followed Smith among offensive coordinators.
Chris Tabor, promoted to Carolina’s interim head coach following the firing of Frank Reich, ranked second among special teams coordinators, followed by the Vikings’ Matt Daniels, the Lions’ Dave Fipp and the New Orleans Saints’ Darren Rizzi.