It was a game the Eagles could have won, but injury and idiocy are a toxic combination. Late hits and head shots in close games against good teams make for too tall a mountain to climb. There should be consequences
It wasn’t just the cascade of bad play calls from coach Nick Sirianni that followed the 91-yard hookup from Jalen Hurts to Quez Watkins in the middle of the second quarter. The I’m-smarter-than-you-are interlude from Nick the Lesser only provided a centerpiece for a series of gut punches that doomed them to a 17-11 loss to a vulnerable 49ers team.
It wasn’t just the gutting injuries, either. First, Pro Bowl defensive end Brandon Graham left, his left Achilles blown. Oof. Then, Pro Bowl right guard Brandon Brooks left, with a left pectoral strain. Oof.
Amid all that bad luck and bad coaching, two plays stood out — plays that needn’t have happened at all: Derek Barnett’s late hit and K’Von Wallace’s head shot, on consecutive plays, trailing by 11. Those flipped the field late in the game. Those gave the 49ers a field goal. Those killed the Eagles’ momentum.
“I’ve got to hold them accountable for what they did,” Sirianni said Monday. “Sometimes it’s a hand over the shoulder and you correct it that way. Sometimes it’s a yell and scream. Sometimes it’s just very matter of fact.”
Wallace, not content to incur the fine that will surely accompany the head shot, took to Instagram to criticize the official, which will, of course, earn him another fine; he called it the “Worst call I’ve ever been a part of ... ”
“I don’t ever want any player criticizing the referees,” Sirianni said, sounding like an exhausted parent.
Barnett has committed five such penalties in the last three seasons. No player has committed more. Does that make Barnett’s transgressions worse?
“I can’t speak to anything that is in the past,” Sirianni said.
Wrong answer, Coach.
Bench his butt. Bench Wallace, too.
You teach accountability? Hold them accountable. Take away a start from Barnett. Take away some plays from Wallace. Sirianni can’t sit them much of the game -- injuries preclude that measure -- but he can take away some time. Make it matter. Otherwise, it will happen again and again and again.
The price you pay
Graham is 33. Brooks is 32. Old guys break down.
The Eagles hired Sirianni in part because, like general manager Howie Roseman and owner Jeffrey Lurie, he worships analytics. Properly used, analytics advise coaches on the best practices for favorable outcomes. Improperly viewed, analytics becomes a cult, and when you belong to a cult then you give it your soul, and the Lurie/Roseman/Sirianni triumvirate wear the cowl, and the cowled generally hate quarterback sneaks. Sirianni actually told WIP on Monday that he only likes to use quarterback sneaks from 18 inches or shorter; that 36 inches, also known as the 1-yard line, is too far. The half-yard line? Sure.
Get used to fourth-and-duh, folks.
The arrogance of analytics and the inevitability of injuries to oldsters are the costs of doing business in the NFL. Good teams display discipline. Sunday, the Eagles had little.
With less than six minutes left in the game, the Eagles were flagged for unnecessary roughness on back-to-back plays. “Dirty” Derek Barnett committed one of them. He clobbered Jamycal Hasty from behind, 10 yards away from the play, after a 49ers fumble went out of bounds.
This was not unexpected. Barnett has committed five unnecessary-roughness penalties in his last 27 games. No player has more since 2019.
As a result, instead of the 49ers facing third-and-15 from their 27, Barnett’s latest 15-yard penalty gave them first-and-10 from their 42.
On the next play, Wallace, a safety, lowered his head and knocked helmets with Trey Sermon, which was an unfortunate penalty. Why? Because Wallace expected to hit Sermon with his shoulder. Wallace hit Sermon helmet-to-helmet mainly because safety Anthony Harris hit Sermon with a forearm shiver, which forced Sermon’s head down. But none of that matters. Wallace’s head needed to be up. Period.
That penalty gave the 49ers first-and-10 from the Eagles’ 35; 8 yards later, the 49ers made it 17-3 with slightly more than five minutes to play.
Reckless acts like these, combined with bad luck and bad coaching decisions, are too much for any team to overcome.
The 49ers converted 6-of-14 third downs, which isn’t a bad performance from the Eagles’ defense. However, the 49ers converted 6-of-9 third downs in the last 33 minutes of the game, which is horrible. That included a 5-of-8 demonstration after Graham left with his ruptured left Achilles tendon, with 1:51 to play in the first half. The 49ers scored a touchdown seven plays after Graham’s exit. They never trailed again.
They never trailed, in part, because Brooks didn’t play after that point, either. In fact, the Eagles essentially did nothing after Brooks left, and rookie Landon Dickerson replaced him. It wasn’t Dickerson’s fault the Eagles didn’t score again until the 49ers let Hurts run wild late in the fourth quarter, but the drop-off from Brooks to Dickerson is almost immeasurable.
Beating a team that’s as fast, as defensively sound, and as well-coached as the 49ers is always a challenge. Two crushing injuries and four awful play calls make it nearly impossible.
Add in two inexcusable penalties, and the Eagles had no chance.