Deja Vu? The Philadelphia Eagles Meet a Familiar Foe in the Playoffs
February 4th, 2018: Super Bowl 52. The Philadelphia Eagles hold a 41-33 lead over the New England Patriots, just one play away from their first championship in franchise history. The man standing in their way? Tom Brady. Just the sound of the name sends a chill down the spine of Eagles fans. No one wants to be standing opposite Brady in moments like these. It seems almost inevitable that Brady will find a way to win “against all odds”—just like he’s done time and time again.
Yet, the Eagles have kept pace all night. An incredibly versatile offense coupled with a suffocating defense allowed them to get to where they are right now, just one play away. Brady calls for a Hail Mary, takes the snap, and fires towards the endzone. The ball bounces off Philly cornerback Patrick Robinson’s hand and, just for one short moment as it hovers in the air, it seems that Pats tight end Rob Gronkowski might just make the catch, undoing all of the work the Birds had done up to that point. Then, reality struck. The ball fell straight to the floor. Game. The Eagles were Super Bowl champions! They did it! No longer would the Eagles be taken as a joke. Doubt around the league would turn into fear. This was only the start too. This team is gonna keep on winning rings until the league makes a rule that they can’t have anymore! Move over Brady, there’s a new dynasty in town!
Let’s just say things didn’t go as some had hoped. After the thrill ride that was the 2017-18 season, the team would enter head-first into a downward spiral straight to the basement of the NFL. Slowly but surely, that 2017-18 championship team would deteriorate from the inside out. The team only ended their spiral after truly falling apart in the 2020-21 season. Quarterback Carson Wentz, who felt like an MVP in that championship season, often looked like a fan who had snuck onto the field and pretended to be the Eagles’ quarterback. Coach Doug Pederson consistently made foolish decisions that further pushed the team down the hole they were in. All of these factors led to a disastrous 4-11-1 record. Wentz? Gone. Pederson? Gone. Team morale? Don’t even ask. Rock bottom. And yet, just one year later, the Eagles are preparing for a playoff matchup with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. How is that even possible?
There’s one good thing about hitting rock bottom: you can only go up. So the Eagles did. Second- year quarterback Jalen Hurts would be the starter for the team this season. The Birds also brought in a new coach in Nick Sirianni. Slowly, the team built back up and filled in the cracks from their prior season. Things looked up when the season began. Hurts, who many doubted could fill the role of a starting quarterback, seemed to adjust pretty well all things considered. Coach Sirianni, who looked like an absolute idiot in pre-season interviews (no offense Nick), turned out to be a pretty good leader and positive influence on the players. Still, the team was far from perfect.
On October 14th, the Eagles suffered an excruciating loss to the same Bucs team they will face in just a few days. This was a chance to get a great win against a great team, and they just couldn’t. The team played incredibly poorly, and yet they were still so close to a victory. Philly would fall 28-22, only worsening the pain of the loss. The team dropped to a 2-5 record in what would be the most frustrating loss of the season. Fans were specifically perplexed as to why the Eagles simply refused to run the ball, especially with such a deadly ground attack. It seemed the team was headed right back to where it was before the season started.
However, Sirianni and the Birds made an important decision that would change the trajectory of their season. That decision? TO RUN THE BALL! That game was the turning point for the Eagles’ season. Since that brisk Thursday night in Philadelphia, the Birds have rattled off 7 wins in their last 10 games, pushing the team to a 9-8 record and straight into the playoffs. The team that was notorious for its refusal to run the ball was now the best rushing offense in the NFL. The coach that most thought should be fired midway through the season now captures the hearts of Eagles players and fans alike. The team that most thought wouldn’t eclipse four wins was now in the big dance. Now that they’ve gotten in, it’s time to meet their opponent.
While the Birds had the best rushing offense in the league, it was the Tampa Bay Buccaneers who had the best passing offense. The team was stacked with receivers to throw to, but the true x-factor was the man that was throwing the ball to them. The Bucs were led by quarterback… Tom….. Brady. Really? This guy’s still around? Well, as it turns out, since Super Bowl 52, “this guy” won himself another two championship rings, one of those coming just last season, his first with Tampa. That’s right, they’re not just the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They’re the defending champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and they’re looking for a repeat of last year. The odds seem almost insurmountable for the Eagles to overcome, and yet still, fans have hope, keeping the underdog spirit from 2018 alive.
One thing that has always seemed to ring true about the Philadelphia Eagles is that they seem to play their best when no one believes in them. Something about the fight that this team has when the odds are stacked against them, along with their ability to embrace the underdog role, has kept the Birds alive countless times when their backs were against the wall. Additionally, many veteran Eagles players (along with almost all Eagles fans) are not too fond of Tom Brady. Ever since that fateful Super Bowl, every meeting with Brady just feels a bit more personal than any other game. Maybe that added incentive of being able to knock the “GOAT” out of the playoffs might just give the Birds the edge they need. Lastly, if we look back to the game between the two teams earlier this season, it was not much of a blowout at all. At one point in the game, the Bucs led 28-7, yet the Eagles fought back as they do so well, scoring 15 straight and coming oh so close to stealing that win right out of Brady’s hands.
The team that played Brady that night is a different team than the one that will face him this Sunday. Hurts has become a more comfortable and refined passer, and Sirianni has found the key to unlocking the team’s multifaceted offense. At the beginning of the season, most football fans expected Philly to simply lie down and give up, and yet the Eagles stand today, taller than ever. On Sunday, the Eagles will face their biggest challenge this year, and fans expect exactly what they did in September. So who knows, because maybe, just maybe, they might stand tall again.
January 16, 2022: Unfortunately the Eagles were unable to overcome the odds. It wasn’t particularly close either, as the Buccaneers manhandled the Birds for all 60 minutes on their way to a 31-15 victory. Jalen Hurts looked lost, throwing two costly interceptions while receivers could create a little separation. The game was a total failure on all fronts.
However, this should not take away how impressive this season was for the team. In a “rebuilding year” were some expected the Eagles to not win a single game, the team managed to have more wins than losses. Through new players and a new coach, moving parts all around, constant doubt, injuries, and just about everything that could’ve gone wrong, they still made it work. That, to me, shows the true fight of Philly. To never give up, never waiver, never quit. That is more impressive than any ring.