The NFL has never seen anything quite like the Eagles’ warp-speed collapse | Bryan Armen Graham

IIt has long been said that the NFL stands for Not For Long. Change happens quickly in a copycat competition where winning strategies are researched, analyzed and imitated and constant innovation is crucial to continued success. But even by that measure, it’s hard to remember a quicker fall from grace than what happened to the Philadelphia Eagles over the past two months.

The Eagles were the envy of the league just seven weeks ago, a winning machine headed by an energetic young coach, an emerging franchise quarterback and one of the most talented football rosters from top to bottom. After storming to the NFC Championship last year and falling three points short of winning the Super Bowl, they had raced to the NFL’s best record on Thanksgiving and appeared on track for a return trip to the biggest stage of sports.

But from that 10-1 start, the Eagles came undone, limping into Monday night’s NFC wild-card playoff having dropped five of six games — a death spiral punctuated by big losses for the 3-12 Cardinals And 5-11 giants. It all came to a merciful, predictable end on a balmy Monday night at Raymond James Stadium, where they were blown out 32-9 by a mediocre Tampa Bay team they had dominated in October — a horror show score that could have been it would have been much worse had the error-prone Buccaneers not dropped about a half-dozen passes. The Eagles couldn’t block. They couldn’t catch. She certainly does could not Intercept. They were unprepared, unmotivated and uninterested. In a key sequence full of unmistakable metaphors, the Tush Push – their signature short-range game once hailed as unstoppable – was stuffed on the goal line.

The Eagles have experienced their share of faceplants in a nine-decade history filled with more heartbreak than glory – 2014 under Chip Kelly, 1994 under Rich Kotite, 1981 under Dick Vermeil and 1961 under Nick Skorich – but none of these collapses compare to the warp speed regression of the past seven weeks. This year’s squad became only the second team in NFL history to fail to win twelve games after starting 10-1. New York jets from 1986. But even those Jets conjured up enough pride during their free fall to earn a playoff victory. Not these Eagles, who suffered their second-worst postseason loss ever, against a bottom-10 offense led by a journeyman quarterback.

Two months ago, it would have been unfathomable to imagine the Eagles parting ways with Nick Sirianni, the 42-year-old prodigy who in two and a half seasons had amassed the best win-loss percentage of any current NFL head coach and emerged on deck for a big contract extension. After the most spectacular midseason unraveling in NFL history, it’s almost harder to imagine the alternative.

So what happened? Let’s start with the obvious. After last year’s Super Bowl run, Philadelphia saw both coordinators poached for head coaching jobs: OC Shane Steichen with the Indianapolis Colts, DC Jonathan Gannon with the Arizona Cardinals. Those vacancies were filled by Brian Johnson and Sean Desai respectively, and it was clear the replacements were in over their heads early on.

The once formidable pass rushed there flirted with the all-time NFL record Last year – and which saw the loss of key players Javon Hargave, CJ Gardner-Johnson and TJ Edwards to free agency – things deteriorated badly despite general manager Howie Roseman’s investment in more capital space and defensive line resources than anywhere else. Those expenditures were intended to cover deficiencies at linebacker, cornerback and safety, holes that proved too big to close schematically, especially when the secondary was hit by injury early in the season.

The Eagles’ stunning defensive collapse reached its nadir with Monday night’s NFC wild-card loss to the Buccaneers. Photo: Kevin Sabitus/Getty Images

Hurts, the MVP runner-up a year ago who played through a dislocated finger Monday night, injured his knee in October and never fully recovered. Johnsons maddening refusal to run the balldespite an offensive line bedeviled with future Hall of Famers and a Pro Bowl-caliber running back in D’Andre Swift, the entire season endured.

In short, they had big problems. And when it came time to solve them, the coaching staff had no idea what to do. When that became clear to the players, it was over.

None of this can directly explain Philadelphia’s golden start to 2023. And it’s true: The Eagles raced to the NFL’s best record over Thanksgiving weekend and the inside track on the No. 1 seed, piling up wins against Tampa Bay, Kansas City, Miami, Buffalo and Dallas, who all ended up in the play-offs. But instead of recognizing that their gaudy record benefited from a luck factor that defied analytical scrutiny — seven of those wins came in one-score games — the coaching staff deluded themselves that winning DNA and organizational culture made them would help through. They knew how to win.

But the house of cards came crashing down in early December when San Francisco hosted a highly anticipated rematch of last year’s NFC title game. The Eagles surrendered touchdowns on six consecutive drives – 85 yards, 90 yards, 75 yards, 77 yards, 75 yards and 48 yards – in a 42-19 loss that signaled their demise. It was a bitter pill for Philadelphia, which had spent months listening to trash talk from San Francisco’s star players about how the Eagles were overrated frauds. But in the end, the Niners were right about everything, completely saw through Sirianni and – unlike most other teams in the NFL up to that point – exposed them poorly.

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Like the champion prizefighter who is never the same after that first knockout loss, the Eagles lost something that afternoon they would never get back. San Francisco laid down a blueprint, but the lack of response from the coaching staff made it far too easy for future opponents to follow. (For example, the Eagles’ inability to plan a blitz response over two months reflects an incompetence rarely seen at the NFL level.) They were blown out the following week in Dallas and headed south from there alone, with their once-strong defense deteriorated. in a haze of failed assignments, failed coverage and foul tackles. In a move that reeked of desperation, Sirianni replaced Desai as defensive coordinator with Matt Patricia, an innovation whose main claim to fame – especially in Philadelphia – was overseeing the Patriots’ defense, which surrendered more than 500 yards to the Eagles in their first and only battle. Super Bowl victory.

There is no shortage of guilt. Some may wonder how the leadership among the players on the team was so poor to allow this outcome to happen. Others may object that the coaches didn’t give the players a chance to win. Either way, Philadelphia’s stunning implosion amounts to a missed opportunity that will haunt this football-mad city for years to come.

The obvious answer is cleaning the house. The entire coaching staff should come along, with the exception of offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland and special teams coordinator Michael Clay, whose once shaky unit showed marked improvement from 2022.

As for Sirianni, it may not be that simple. His win-loss percentage remains the best in club history, even accounting for this year’s catastrophe. No other Eagles coach has ever reached the playoffs in each of his first three seasons, a body of work that suggests he has yet to have a crack at it. It would certainly represent a break in character for team owner Jeffrey Lurie, whose poise and resistance to reactive moves have been a source of pride over his three decades of ownership.

But make no mistake: the Eagles are at a crossroads that not long ago seemed unfathomable.