At the end of the fourth quarter of Sunday’s NFC Championship Game, the Jumbotron at Lincoln Financial Field focused on Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts. At first, the Philadelphia Eagles quarterback had a giant smile on his face. Then he caught up. “One more,” Hurts said to the camera, returning to his usual serious expression. The crowd erupted.
The Eagles beat the 49ers on Sunday 31-7 and are heading to the Super Bowl to face the Chiefs. The game itself was a bit of a mess, with the 49ers ruled out by quarterback injuries. Brock Purdy hurt his elbow on San Francisco’s first possession and Josh Johnson suffered a concussion in the third quarter. For a brief stretch in the first half, it looked like the 49ers would still be able to fight back, thanks to their solid defense and a spirited second quarter performance from Christian McCaffrey. But a defensive takeaway sandwiched by a few Eagles touchdowns gave the Eagles a 21-7 halftime lead, and they never looked back.
The ingredients that contributed to the Eagles’ success throughout the season were again in evidence: Hurts showed an exact understanding of what the moment was waiting for, Nick Sirianni handled the game aggressively and gave the Eagles an advantage with his decision-making in the game. , the attack ran out of steam and finally found answers, and the defense took advantage of an inferior opponent.
It wasn’t the Eagles’ cleanest game, and it didn’t have to be. Hurts threw for a season-low 121 yards, but he didn’t return the ball and had to be considered in the running game, especially in the second half, and the Eagles improved to 16 -1 this season with him as their starter.
After the game, Hurts joined his teammates for a victory cigar at his locker. Smoke filled the room and coughing interrupted the players’ sentences as they spoke to reporters. As Hurts told the crowd at Linc in the fourth quarter, it wasn’t the last step, but it was certainly worth celebrating.
Sirianni walked over to the defensive backs, found cornerback Avonte Maddox and safety Marcus Epps, and gave them hugs. Sirianni coached this game like he’s coached every other game this season: fearless. On the Eagles’ first practice of the game, with the offense facing a fourth and a 3, Sirianni went for the shot. The offense converted (due in part to the 49ers not contesting a DeVonta Smith catch) and then scored a touchdown. Later, with six minutes and 39 seconds left in the second quarter, the Eagles faced a fourth-and-one of their 34. Sirianni turned aggressive again, keeping the offense on the field. Hurts converted on a QB sneak, and the Eagles would eventually finish that drive with a touchdown to take a 14-7 lead.
“I don’t know how Sirianni walks around with the set of cojones he has, bro,” left tackle Jordan Mailata said after the game. “That’s crazy. How does the man walk around like that? Fourth in a big playoff game? Man, kudos to him. But big cojones, that guy.
On the other side of the Mailata locker room stood Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie, who has long advocated incorporating analytics into in-game decision-making. He believes data can give the Eagles an edge . In Sirianni, he found a coach willing to be aggressive, even when the stakes are high.
“He’s outstanding,” Lurie said of Sirianni. “A lot of the offseason is all about all these situations, and he’s not surprised by what he has to do. He knows exactly what he’s going to do, and he knows it before third down so that “he can plan the third down. That’s a huge advantage. But again, that’s not the kind of stuff you want to talk about a lot. It’s the same with Doug [Pederson]. There are certain things that are part of our culture, and Nick is very intelligent. He’s comfortable being aggressive, and I think that’s how it should be in today’s NFL.
When Lurie hired Sirianni two years ago, he told him he was excited about the manager he could become. The message was clear: the Eagles did not expect Sirianni to be a finished product. They were ready to ride with a coach who could grow on the job. But now, in his second season, Sirianni has the Eagles in the Super Bowl, sooner than anyone might have expected.
The truth is, NFL organizations don’t always know when their championship windows open and close, and that’s understandable. There’s so much chance involved. You make the decisions that give your team a chance and you hope for some luck. It happened for the Eagles this season. They had all 22 of their regular starters healthy and available on Sunday against a Niners team whose depth at quarterback was put to the test.
Outside of Hurts, there may have been no more significant Eagle on Sunday than Haason Reddick. General manager Howie Roseman, the architect of one of the NFL’s most talented rosters, signed Reddick in free agency last offseason, following the organizational philosophy of investing in the offensive and defensive lines. Against the 49ers, Reddick forced a sack fumble on the 49ers’ first offensive possession, bringing his season total to 19.5 sacks in 19 games. Reddick did not make the playoffs in his first five years with Arizona and Carolina and is on his third different team in six NFL seasons. He is now one ring away from the Super Bowl.
“I would say the most important thing I preached was just, ‘Take this opportunity. Enjoy this moment,” Reddick said of his conversations with his younger teammates. “Because it’s very rare. You don’t get them often.
Offensively, this game was a drag for the Eagles. They opened the game with a touchdown drive, then hit a cold snap. But as they have done all season, they finally found answers. The Eagles finished with 25 first downs, the second on an opposing offense against the 49ers in a game this season.
Going up against the top-ranked DeMeco Ryans defense turned out to be a game of chess, according to Mailata. The Eagles came back to the sidelines after each of their practices, communicated what the 49ers were doing and tried to come up with solutions. The key, Mailata said, was building on the message that offensive line coach and running game coordinator Jeff Stoutland constantly preaches.
“How many games can we meet a look we want?” Mailata asked. “Never toss a coin into the wrong look.”
The Eagles used run-pass options to achieve that goal, putting the decision-making in the hands of Hurts. Mailata called Stoutland a “hot mess” during the week. Stoutland was even more intense than usual, yelling at players and calling them out in meetings. The Eagles knew they were facing a tough defense and Stoutland wanted to make sure the players were prepared. Yet on the sidelines in Sunday’s game, Mailata saw another guy. Stoutland was calm and composed, focused on finding ways to help his players solve problems on the fly.
“He comes in, takes all the information, and we change the script, try to change the technique that we do, change the calls, man,” Mailata said. “We have one hell of a coach, man. I don’t know what else to say.
The Eagles ended up running for their four touchdowns. Miles Sanders scored from 6 yards and 13 yards. Boston Scott added a 10-yard touchdown. The Eagles couldn’t rely on explosive plays against the 49ers. Instead, they chained together three discs of over 10 games.
As the fourth quarter began, the stadium’s big screen swept through the crowd and showed a fan holding up a homemade ‘We’re talking cactus’ sign, a nod to the team’s next destination, Glendale, in Arizona. Eagles fans were unusually confident for this game. They feel like they know this team well, and the coach and quarterback have earned their trust. The supporting cast always seems to give them a chance.
Next up is a trip to the desert to take on the Chiefs. The challenge on defense will be different with Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes on the other side – not a combination of Josh Johnson and a significantly limited Brock Purdy. But the Eagles will come into this game with the same recipe they’ve used all season. They will rely on their offensive line to control the Chiefs’ front. They will rely on their pass rush to get to Mahomes. They’ll go knowing the moment won’t be too big for Hurts. And Sirianni will call the game with a fearless mentality.
If they tick the same boxes they’ve ticked 16 times in 19 games, they’ll have a good chance of hoisting the Lombardi up for the second time in five years.
“I know we’re not done yet, and those boys are still hungry,” defensive end Brandon Graham said. “As Jalen said, we are starving. We are hungry for it.