Photo courtesy of Philadelphia Eagles
The buses, six of them, rolled in together from Philadelphia International Airport the day after Super Bowl LVII, largely in silence for those making the ride to the NovaCare Complex. Handfuls of fans gathered outside to welcome back the Philadelphia Eagles from the 38-35 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, a stark contrast to five years earlier when the streets were lined with celebrators after the team’s Super Bowl LII victory.
This was the reality for the Eagles, whose outstanding 2022 season – a 14-3 record in the regular season to earn the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs, two dominating wins in the conference postseason – came to a sudden end in Glendale, AZ at the hands of Chiefs’ quarterback Patrick Mahomes, head coach Andy Reid, and a myriad of mistakes made by the Eagles that ultimately cost them Super Bowl glory.
“When you play in the Super Bowl, you have to play your best game and we didn’t do that,” All-Pro center Jason Kelce said after the team’s fourth-ever Super Bowl appearance. “Give them credit. The Chiefs played their game and we expected them to do that.
In that sense, then, it was a team effort in falling just short of their second Lombardi Trophy in five seasons. A 10-point halftime lead disappeared as Kansas City pushed back in the second half, and the Chiefs were dominating in the critical fourth quarter.
But the mistakes started early for the Eagles, and they added up in the loss …
• Quarterback Jalen Hurts, otherwise brilliant, lost control of the football on a third-and-5 run and, to make matters worse, inadvertently kicked the ball into an open part of the field, where Chiefs’ cornerback Nick Bolton scooped it up and returned it 36 yards for a touchdown. The ensuing extra point tied the game, 14-14, a sequence that came back to haunt the Eagles. The Eagles, just one play before, had a third-and-1 opportunity, but right guard Isaac Seumalo was penalized for a false start, putting the Eagles in the third-and-5 squeeze.
“That’s on me,” said Hurts, who accounted for 374 yards and four touchdowns of total offense in a power-packed performance. “I always hold myself to a very high standard with everything that I do. Obviously, I try to control the things that I can. I touch the ball every play. Obviously, you want to protect it. It did hurt us, it hurt us. You never know what play it will be.”
• Philadelphia’s defense held Mahomes and the Kansas City offense in check in the first half, allowing just 128 total net yards and six first downs. But the second half was a different story. The Chiefs opened the third quarter with a 10-play, 75-yard touchdown drive and then followed it up with a 9-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to edge ahead, 28-27 early in the fourth quarter.
• After the offense had a three-plays-and-out series, Arryn Siposs got off a poor 38-yard punt that Kadarius Toney returned 65 yards to the Philadelphia 5-yard line. Three plays later, on third-and-goal from the 4-yard line, Mahomes threw his third touchdown pass of the night and Kansas City went ahead, 35-27.
• Hurts led the offense on a final drive and capped the possession with a 1-yard touchdown run, followed by a rugged two-point conversion run. Tie game, 35-35. Five minutes, 15 seconds remaining. All the defense needed was one stop and Hurts would have another chance.
But that didn’t happen. Kansas City gained three first downs in those final moments of a magnificent game and then, on a third-and-8 play from the Philadelphia 15-yard line, Eagles cornerback James Bradberry grabbed the jersey of Chiefs wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, was penalized for defensive holding and Kansas City had another first down and a chance to run out the clock.
That’s exactly what the Chiefs did, setting up placekicker Harrison Butker for a 27-yard field goal with 11 second remaining to provide the winning points.
And so, the Eagles, one day later, rode in silence from the Philadelphia International Airport, up I-95 North, exiting onto Broad Street and finally taking a left onto Pattison Avenue and then a right into the NovaCare Complex.
One day later, the players cleaned out their lockers and moved into an uncertain offseason. They learned in the 2022 season that Hurts is one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL now heading into his fourth year as a dynamic, multiple-threat player who is a natural leader. They gained more faith in head coach Nick Sirianni, who has taken the Eagles to a pair of postseason appearances in his two years at the helm.
The roster is ripe with young talent that will continue to mature as the Eagles look in 2023 to do what no team has done since 2003-2004: repeat as NFC East champions. It’s not going to be easy, not by any means. The coaching staff has two new coordinators. Free agency, which begins in mid-March, will be challenging as a large handful of key veterans are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents. Hurts is eligible for a second contract, which should be among the most lucrative in the league and that falls on general manager Howie Roseman, who has so much on his plate – including the 10th and the 30th overall selections in the 2023 NFL Draft – to handle in the weeks ahead.
There are going to be salary-cap concerns and hard decisions ahead – and that’s all part of the task of returning to greatness after such a tough loss at the summit of the NFL season.
“We were close. And all that does to me is make me hungrier to get back and that’s about the last time you’ll hear me say get back because what you’re going to hear me say is we’re going to do it one day at a time, one day at a time, because that’s the right mindset,” Sirianni said a few days after the season ended. “But that doesn’t stop you from when you see the red and yellow confetti fall or you have a piece of it stuck on your shirt, that you don’t think to yourself, ‘I have to do everything I can to help our guys get back to this moment.’
“Maybe that’s not a wisdom thing, maybe that’s more of my drive and I know our players’ drive and I know Howie’s drive to be like, ‘Oh, my God, we were there.’ We talk about climbing the mountain. We climbed the mountain. We’d look one step at a time, one step at a time, one step at a time, and then we slip right before we were able to put our flag at the top of the mountain. All that does is make you more determined, driven, to make that climb again, to get back to the top and hopefully stand at the top.”