The Eagles were cooked from the beginning.
The offense ushered in the new year with lousy play-calling and subpar decision-making from spot starter Gardner Minshew. During the first half of Sunday’s contest against the New Orleans Saints, the Eagles were scoreless and managed just two meaningless first downs across five drives. The Saints compiled the perfect mix of intermediate completions, gut-wrenching rushes, and clock-eating possessions.
Entering halftime, Minshew and Co. were booed by the crowd at Lincoln Financial Field. The Eagles mustered a slightly better effort in the second half, but an assortment of penalties and Marshon Lattimore’s pick-six off Minshew sealed the home team’s fate: an embarrassing 20-10 defeat to an underwhelming Saints team that left Philadelphia with just its seventh victory.
For the Eagles (13-3), they’ll need to wait until the regular-season finale vs. the visiting New York Giants next weekend to determine their playoff destiny. The Eagles have yet to lock up home-field advantage and the division title, with other contenders still looming.
“The mindset is everything we want is right in front of us,” tight end Dallas Goedert said. “Everything we set out to do at the beginning of the season – win the division, No. 1 seed, home field throughout the playoffs — we’ve got an opportunity to get that next week.
“We have to come out next week with a little bit of revenge.”
Over the next couple of months, offensive coordinator and play-caller Shane Steichen will likely garner attention for several expected head-coaching vacancies. But Steichen’s script on Sunday — specifically his calls in the first half — was arguably his worst outing since he took over play-calling responsibilities last season. Part of the blame falls on Minshew, who took a handful of avoidable sacks, six in total. The Eagles are also missing franchise right tackle and Pro Bowler Lane Johnson. But eight days after putting up 34 points with the backup quarterback against Dallas, Steichen failed to prioritize his top offensive weapons.
The trio of AJ Brown, DeVonta Smith, and Goedert went without a single goal until there were eight minutes left in the second quarter. The NFL’s No. 1 offense — averaging a league-high 29.7 points per game — folded with four consecutive three-and-outs to begin the Week 17 contest. Smith paced the offense with nine catches for 115 yards and Brown had a 78-yard touchdown reception, but that was essentially all the Eagles managed in what was an overall disappointing, forgettable performance against a mid-tier opponent.
“You’ve got to find a way to stop the bleeding,” Smith said. “Right now, we’re not playing our best ball, so we’ve got to find a way to stop all the downpour, find a way to get back on track.”
Running back Miles Sanders, who missed one of three practices last week with a knee injury, struggled to get much going on the ground, although a portion of that slow-paced offense was due to Steichen and Minshew’s combined misfires. Sanders, while wearing a large knee brace on his left leg, rushed 12 times for 61 yards. Tailback Kenneth Gainwell didn’t record a carry, as he had a would-be rushing touchdown negated by a controversial holding penalty called on left guard Landon Dickerson. On the play, Dickerson appeared to pancake his defender.
Minshew completed 18 of 32 passes for 274 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
“We just couldn’t get rolling,” he said. “We kept shooting ourselves in the foot and getting in our own way. They are a good defense, too. There is not much room for error when you play a team like that. We didn’t do enough to win. … It is not [a sense of] panic. We never panic or stress. We believed in the plan and believed in the guys.
“Just couldn’t make it happen.”
The Eagles became the first NFL team to clinch a playoff appearance almost a month ago. But since then, they’ve suffered two losses in three weeks, including consecutive defeats to the Cowboys and Saints. It became even more evident that the health of starting quarterback Jalen Hurts remains a top priority.
Ahead of this weekend, Hurts returned to the practice field for the first time since sustaining his shoulder injury Dec. 18 in Chicago. While the 24-year-old pushed to make his return, the Eagles decided against Hurts and sidelined him for another week. With the loss falling largely on Minshew’s shoulders, the pressure is turning up immensely on the coaching staff ahead of Week 18. The Eagles go as Hurts goes — despite missing the last two games, he has already tied a franchise record with 35 touchdowns — and the Eagles will face tough decisions this week with home-field advantage still up for grabs.
Throughout the afternoon, Hurts was shown multiple times on the Fox broadcast with a distraught look on his face. Minshew has proven he’s capable when he, Steichen, and his pass-catchers are on the same page. But that wasn’t the case for a majority of Sunday’s game, and now the call for Hurts grows louder with the postseason looming.
“He was close this week,” coach Nick Sirianni said of Hurts’ status. Hurts was listed as inactive on game day, with Ian Book suited up as Minshew’s reserve. “We will take it one day at a time. For me to say right now that, ‘Yeah, Jalen is playing’ or, ‘No, he is not playing,’ I don’t think it’s fair to anybody, because so many things can happen in a week.
“We’re going to have to evaluate and see where he is. Nothing changes in that aspect of it. His health is the No. 1 priority and [we’re] not putting him in a position that is going to risk his health. We’ll evaluate that as the week goes. If he’s ready to go, he’ll play. … Jalen has been playing really good football the entire year, he is a leader of our football team. … We’ll see what happens.”
Brandon Graham sacked Saints quarterback Andy Dalton twice, setting a new career high with 11 sacks. Collectively, the Eagles had seven sacks on Dalton and Taysom Hill. The defense needs just six more to set an NFL single-season record (1984 Chicago Bears, 72 sacks).
Haason Reddick also had two sacks, raising his career high to 16, which ranks second in the NFL. Reddick sported a blank face after the game while he discussed his personal achievements.
“It’s a testament to the guys I have around me,” the Temple alumnus and Camden native said. “But it means nothing if we don’t get this next one. While the stats are all good, I’m focused on something much bigger right now.
“We lost to the [Commanders] and the Cowboys the second time we played them. It goes to show that it’s hard to beat the same team twice. We need to be laser-focused. Our guys are going to lay it out on the line next week because this is the one, this is the biggest game of the year. We’ve got playoffs, we know that. But as far as getting the No. 1 seed, locking up the first-round bye, and having everybody come through the Linc and play us — this next game is the most important one.”
The secondary forced just four incompletions with Dalton and Hill combining for 20 completions across 24 total pass attempts with 228 yards and one touchdown. But all told, the defense buckled down, allowing just 13 points in addition to Minshew’s interception that was returned for a Saints defensive touchdown.
It’s evident the upset falls largely on the offense, which went a combined 3-for-14 on third and fourth down.
“Obviously, we didn’t put the players in good enough positions to succeed,” Sirianni said. “We didn’t execute well enough. It’s always going to be those two things. I’m going to have to watch the tape and see what’s going on, but we didn’t really have a rhythm going in that first half. When you’re not converting on third down and not getting sustained drives, it’s hard to get in a rhythm, and that’s exactly what happened when we didn’t get [first downs].”
During the game’s opening drive, Eagles defensive end Josh Sweat was seriously injured while trying to make a tackle, and was carted off the field on a stretcher. It was a scary moment as Sweat lay flat on the grass while nearby teammates dropped to one knee in front of a silent crowd. Sweat was carted off at an extremely slow pace, and he tried to give a thumbs up before the cart exited into the tunnel.
The team said that Sweat suffered a neck injury and was transported via ambulance to a hospital with movement in all of his extremities. It remains to be seen how much time Sweat might miss; he was expected to be released from the hospital on Sunday evening. The 25-year-old edge rusher is enjoying the best season of his five-year career. He has registered career highs of 15 tackles for losses, 11 sacks, 23 quarterback hits, and 47 pressures.
“The first thing I thought was ‘Damn!'” Graham said of Sweat. “Because I know his goals, his aspirations, his dreams for this season. For him, he works his butt off every day. But we got the message that everything came back good. I just want to make sure it’s nothing serious because in this game we take a lot of hits. To see Sweaty go down and not move like that, it was serious. Because that’s something you don’t want to see anybody go through.”