The Eagles are so close to the NFL playoffs as Jason Kelce inspires, defense shines, Lane Johnson (!?) scores | Marcus Hayes
Johnson caught a TD pass straight out of East Texas, Kelce fired up the troops with a Saturday night "Press on!" speech, and DeVonta Smith toe-dragged for a score. The team is pretty good.
If the season ended today, the Eagles would be a winning team that has qualified for the NFL playoffs, and Jason Kelce would be Time magazine’s Person of the Year.
The Eagles stand one win from effectively landing a playoff spot. If they win at Washington in a week, in their finale they likely will face a Cowboys team more intent on resting its players for the following week’s playoffs than winning a winter game in Philadelphia on Jan. 9. That would give the Eagles 10 wins, as someone predicted.
» READ MORE: The Eagles can still win 10 games | Marcus Hayes
Anything can happen, and veterans know that — even a loss to a talent-challenged, COVID-addled Giants team playing for nothing. Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts wouldn’t consider the Big Picture:
“If we control the things that we can control, we should be all right,” he said ... but then he predicted bigger, better things: ”We know as a football team, and I know in my heart, we have yet to play our best game.”
Sunday was not their best game. The Eagles knew it wouldn’t be.
They’d beaten COVID-addled Washington just 4½ days prior — a game postponed two days due to Washington’s lousy protocol obedience and the NFL’s insatiable prime-time greed — and Kelce knew Sunday afternoon would be difficult, especially for 30-somethings like him.
That’s why, at the team hotel Saturday night, Kelce, the inspirational, emotive, Pro Bowl center who is given to impassioned speeches and one day should be president, delivered this message: “Press on.”
But it proved to not be too difficult. Not against a depleted, talent-challenged Giants ball club. Not for a good team, anyway. And, as we’ve preached for months, these Eagles are a good team.
So good, they won by 24 points after scoring just 3 in the first half. They’re 8-7 after starting 2-5. Not bad.
So good that veteran safety Rodney McLeod, lately reduced to part-time play, snagged his first interception in 21 games and flipped the fortunes of his franchise. With the teams tied at 3, McLeod intercepted Jake Fromm on the Giants’ second play of the second half and set up the go-ahead touchdown.
“That was everything, right?” coach Nick Sirianni said. “You end up going up seven, defense feels like they are not going to [give up] any more points.”
So good that journeyman linebacker Alex Singleton returned an interception 29 yards for the clinching score that made it 34-3.
“The pick-six, obviously, that was huge,” Sirianni said. “Put the game out of reach.”
The defense has now allowed just 17 points in the opposition’s last 19 drives.
“We’re playing very well right now,” McLeod said. “It’s hard to play the way we did and dominate a team the way that we did today.”
So good that their right tackle caught a touchdown pass. Lane Johnson, a junior-college tight end, snagged a tackle-eligible 5-yarder in the third quarter to make it 27-3, a play named after Johnson’s home region: “East Texas.” He donned a Santa hat afterward. Ho-ho-ho.
So good that a first half of poor play-calling from Sirianni, who cleared COVID-19 protocols just 24 hours before, and worse quarterbacking from Hurts could not bury them beyond hope. Hurts had his worst game a month prior against the Giants, with three interceptions and a 17.5 passer rating in a stunning, upset loss, engineered by Sirianni’s abandonment of the running game that had saved the Eagles’ season.
Sirianni made the same mistakes early Sunday. Six of the first seven plays called were passes. One was nearly intercepted. Another spawned a sack. The most productive play was the lone run, which went for 11 yards.
Regardless, Sirianni wised up, Hurts sharpened up, they pressed on, and they won, 34-10.
It was so, so good.
So, so ... bad?
Admittedly, the Eagles’ wins lack some luster.
The half-empty perspective: As of Sunday afternoon they hadn’t beaten a winning team and they hadn’t beaten any other team that had currently qualified for the playoffs.
The half-full view: Good teams have to beat the bad teams. The Birds have just one bad loss, to these Giants. They evened that account Sunday.
The 2021 Eagles always were going to be a decent NFL team ... by comparison. Between the too-old quarterbacks and the too-young quarterbacks and the remarkably poor coaching, mainly from the fashionable under-50 set, NFL football, today, stinks. Football in Philadelphia on Sunday stunk, even when played by the good team. At least, it stunk early.
The Eagles were sloppy. Sluggish. Sapped.
“I think you could really feel the effects of the short turnaround in the first half,” said left tackle Jordan Mailata. “The rhythm was off.”
They pressed on.