PHILADELPHIA — Eagles fans will never forget the Super Bowl LVII loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, one in which their team begged Jerrick McKinnon to cruise into the end zone, only to watch the enemy running back take a knee at the 2-yard line with 1:36 left.
The game was tied, and the Eagles wanted the Chiefs to score to give Jalen Hurts and the offense a shot at winning it. Instead, the Chiefs ran down the clock and kicked the field goal for a 38-35 win. Guess what? The Eagles were victimized by the same strategy in a stunning 35-31 loss to the Cardinals Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field.
First-year Cardinals head coach and former Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon, who presided over the Philly D in the Super Bowl ordered an onside kick immediately after his squad tied the game at 28 with 5:26 remaining. Heavily criticized by many for being too bold of a move, the strategy turned out to be a stroke of brilliance.
The Eagles recovered but could get only a 43-yard field goal from Jake Elliott to take a 31-28 lead with 2:33 remaining.
Kyler Murray then marched the Cardinals 70 yards for the winning points, James Conner capping a 128-yard rushing effort with a two-yard run with 32 ticks left. The Eagles then couldn’t get past their 49-yard line, the game ending when Joey Blount intercepted Hurts in the end zone.
Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni, a close friend of Gannon’s, echoed to boos. Gannon was left to describe why he rolled with the onside kick.
“It worked,” Gannon said. “That’s what we talked about. That’s what I’m talking about. The reason for that is you don’t want to get bled out. That team is too good. I trust the defense to get a stop right there and make them kick a field goal, which is what they did, but with five minutes left, what they’ve shown is they are not going to give you the ball back. And I wanted to make sure at all costs (that) Kyler had the ball in his hand at the end of the game. So, it’s just funny how it came up, but no, I thought the defense did excellent.”
The defeat damaged the Eagles (11-5), who thus ceded the top seed in the NFC to the San Francisco 49ers, and have their fingers crossed that they beat the Giants next Sunday at the Meadowlands and the Cowboys lose next week in Landover, Md. to the Commanders. That would make the Eagles NFC East champions and guarantee a home game. Otherwise, the Birds start the playoffs on the road.
The Giants, you may recall, pushed the Eagles to the last play of the game before succumbing last week. Something has to change in a hurry for the Eagles to get through the lull in which they finished 1-4 in December, which is supposed to be their money month. Switching the defensive playcalling from coordinator-in-name-only Sean Desai to de facto coordinator Matt Patricia hasn’t seemed to matter.
“We just didn’t play well defensively,” veteran cornerback James Bradberry said. “I feel like we had the game. I think it was 21-6. And we didn’t make stops when we needed to as a defense. I would say it’s frustrating. We knew at the end of the day before they made a (coordinator) change, it was on us as players. We’ve got to go out there and make a difference. And it’s still on us as players. We’ve got to figure this out.”