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Eagles-Buccaneers analysis: Jalen Hurts and Jalen Reagor took steps back as the Birds got bounced

The Eagles ended their season with a 31-15 loss to the Buccaneers, plagued by mistakes that cost them a chance at an upset.

Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts raises his arms with teammate offensive tackle Lane Johnson and guard Sua Opeta against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the second quarter in a NFC Wildcard playoff game on Sunday.
Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts raises his arms with teammate offensive tackle Lane Johnson and guard Sua Opeta against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the second quarter in a NFC Wildcard playoff game on Sunday.Read moreYONG KIM / Staff Photographer

TAMPA, Fla. — The nose of the football slipped past Jalen Reagor’s fingertips and tumbled onto the grass below. After he declined to signal for a fair catch, the former Eagles’ first-round pick then failed to secure the punt, muffing yet another opportunity in the third quarter. An assortment of Buccaneers mobbed Reagor and pounced on the ball. Wild celebration ensued from the defending Super Bowl champions, while disappointment and disbelief swept across the visitors’ sideline.

The Eagles were outcoached, outclassed, and overmatched in an old-fashioned whipping at the hands of the Buccaneers, who ended the Birds’ season in a crushing 31-15 defeat in the NFC wild-card round.

QB breakdown

One of the coaching staff’s main focal points in Jalen Hurts’ development heading into this season was improving his pocket presence and awareness. In his first year as the team’s starting quarterback, Hurts showed positive strides.

But Sunday afternoon was a step backward.

On multiple occasions, Hurts neglected to go through all of his progressions. He missed routine throws. He escaped clean pockets. He didn’t prioritize the team’s No. 1 receiver, DeVonta Smith.

In his playoff debut, Hurts was stymied by a Todd Bowles-led defense that often stacked the box with eight defenders and dared him to throw. Hurts, a Pro Bowl alternate in his second season, completed just 23-of-43 passes for 258 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. Hurts also wasn’t much of a weapon with his legs either — he was less effective on the ground compared to his performance in the first meeting between the two teams in the regular season.

Hurts arrived to his postgame press conference sporting a large walking boot on his left foot. Over the last month of the regular season, Hurts was hobbled by a high ankle sprain that limited his mobility and forced him to miss one game. Asked if the injury required offseason surgery, Hurts replied he didn’t know.

Hurts spoiled the team’s best opportunity to score near the end of the first half when he gifted Bucs safety Mike Edwards an interception on a late, underthrown pass intended for Smith. The Eagles were shut out in the first half. All of their points came in the fourth quarter after the Bucs had built a 31-0 lead.

“I didn’t do my job good enough,” Hurts said. “I could’ve been better, definitely. I take accountability for all of my actions in everything. I know that we will be back. I know the hunger in the locker room and how we feel right now. When I look at this season, nobody expected us to be where we are, and here we are.”

Hurts proceeded to close the book on the 2021-22 season: “This loss doesn’t define us. I know we’ll be hungry. I know we’ll come back better for next year. ....Year 3 starts for me tomorrow.”

Coach Nick Sirianni added: “I felt Jalen grew throughout the year. He got better as a passer. He got better at reading the defense. He developed so much on his ability to extend plays, not only with his feet but downfield on scrambles. I feel really good about what we have in place here at the quarterback position.”

Despite being neglected early, Smith finished with four catches for 60 yards. Tight end Dallas Goedert had a team-high six catches for 92 receiving yards.

“We wanted to get off to a fast start, but we stalled out,” Goedert said. “You don’t want to do that against one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game.”

Grading Sirianni

Ultimately, Sirianni exceeded a lot of expectations in his first season. The Eagles were picked to finish last in the NFC East by a majority of national outlets, and Sirianni was viewed as an unknown candidate who landed the gig following Doug Pederson’s departure.

Nearly a year after his hiring, Sirianni has established a culture he’ll look to build on and grow, following his infamous “roots” analogy. He showed maturity midseason when he switched to a run-heavy offensive scheme, although that specific game plan did not work against the Bucs in the game on Sunday. Running back Miles Sanders finished with seven carries for 16 yards.

“You’re sad because the journey is over,” Sirianni said. “But the foundation is very solid and we’ve continued to grow it. We were confident coming in. Whenever it doesn’t go as planned and your season ends in the playoffs, it’s going to hurt.

“I’ve always appreciated the journey we went through together as a football team. All the things that built us into the 2021 Eagles. I’m sad because it’s over. It hurts and stings. This was a special group of guys.”

Defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon might be a head coaching candidate elsewhere, but there are lingering questions about his unit that allowed way too many easy completions when facing experienced quarterbacks. Brady threw for 271 yards and two passing touchdowns in the game.

Special teams woes

Besides Reagor’s muffs — yes, he had multiple — it was another terrible showing from punter Arryn Siposs, who failed to flip the field on multiple instances.

In windy conditions, Siposs shanked his first two punts, which continued the trend from his last two games. Entering Sunday’s contest, Siposs had the fourth-worst net average among NFL punters.

The Eagles signed Siposs last offseason, but the position might need be addressed again this winter.

Injury report

Linebacker T.J. Edwards, the team’s leading tackler, suffered a forearm injury in the first half and did not return. Wide receiver Greg Ward also sustained a back injury in the second half and didn’t return. Right tackle Lane Johnson suffered a knee injury in the fourth quarter; the two-time All-Pro lineman was replaced by Le’Raven Clark.

The loss of defensive end Josh Sweat also hurt the Eagles. Sweat was ruled inactive after having a life-threatening situation addressed earlier in the week.

Draft capital

Following their early playoff exit, the Eagles know where their three first-round picks in the NFL draft will be: No. 15 (Dolphins), 16 (Colts), and 19.

Time will tell whether general manager Howie Roseman keeps all three first-rounders or utilizes some them as trade bait for future draft capital. There’s also the possibility Roseman tries to move up in the first round if the Eagles lock in on a certain prospect. As of now, improving the defensive personnel — specifically at linebacker and edge rusher — should be the team’s priority.