Philadelphia's trajectory remains unchanged after Monday's loss to the Commanders. Now Nick Sirianni can fine-tune his club without the inevitable pressures of an undefeated season.
The Eagles are no longer the lone undefeated team in the NFL. And while this may come as unwelcome news to some, it may be a season-altering blessing in disguise for Philadelphia.
On a micro level, a team that came into the day with a league-best +15 turnover margin got a bunch of completely uncharacteristic mishaps out of the way, eviscerating them from the cosmos before they cost them a playoff game.
Dallas Goedert got his facemask tugged severely enough to cause a fumble. Quez Watkins sprinted toward the goal line before regaining equilibrium and spilling the ball to the turf. Brandon Graham, a 13-year veteran, shoved Washington’s quarterback to the turf with the game on the line after the quarterback had clearly surrendered himself, which handed his opponent a fresh set of downs to kneel out the clock.
These hideous moments were bound to happen, they all happened at once, and the Eagles (8-1) were still trailing by just a score with less than two minutes remaining (not to mention they were certainly not the team benefitting from a majority of the officiating Monday evening).
This loss happened against a divisional opponent, the Washington Commanders, who pose absolutely no threat to the Eagles’ postseason aspirations. According to FiveThirtyEight, their odds of winning a Super Bowl decreased from 22% to 14%. Their odds of making the playoffs decreased from 99.9% to, something very slightly less than 99.9% by a tenth of a decimal point we don’t have the patience to track down.
The game will be a more realistic and practical wake-up call than any self-scout, presenting the Eagles with their minor flaws on a serving tray, allowing them to come to terms with the idea that they can and will get shoved around by a good running game if they allow it to be. They will double down on ball security drills. They will all sit up a little straighter when Nick Sirianni drills situational football. This is a coach who, in an ode to a bygone era, still plans his practices down to the millisecond. There is no doubt he can squeeze a lesson plan out of this.
On a macro level, the Eagles are avoiding the absolute nightmare-inducing scenario of potentially executing an undefeated season in the most delirious sports town in America. We have seen the kind of unnecessary narrative strain that can put on even the best coaches in the sport. Ask Ron Rivera, the coach who downed the Eagles Monday, how it felt to be every team’s measuring stick for the better part of 16 games in 2015. Ask Bill Belichick about how Super Bowl XLII would have been different if New England wasn’t built into some kind of fallible Goliath. The team becomes an amalgam of everything every coach and fan and cynical sportswriter hate, and the only thing they want to see is the whole operation torn down under the brightest of lights. There is a reason the 1972 Miami Dolphins still annoy the daylights out of all of us once the final undefeated team falls each year. It’s the absolute hardest way to win a Super Bowl.
Neither of these teams played in Philadelphia, a fanbase that booed the Eagles at various points Monday night, by the way. It is safe to say that the acidity of hype would erode them before they were able to make any legitimate run at the Super Bowl.
Now, they find themselves comfortably resting on a plateau with the Buffalo Bills, who lost an uncharacteristic game to the New York Jets this year, and the Kansas City Chiefs, who lost to the coach who was fired to make way for Jeff Saturday in Indianapolis (no offense to Frank Reich, who will be a head coach in the NFL in 2023 if he wants to be). While we celebrated the Jets' victory, neither loss was a situation that raised any serious alarm bells with the Chiefs or the Bills. These were the kind of forgettable, slumpy, middle-of-June baseball losses that we’re not going to remotely consider when telling the story of the 2022 season.
Now, the Eagles are in good company, not without company. And that’s more than okay.
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