TAMPA, Fla. – Jason Kelce walked off the field alone, head down, clutching a helmet he may never wear again.
It was a sight far too melancholy for an image-bearer who identifies so closely with his team’s city, a 13-year center who best represented his franchise’s success while earning his sixth All-Pro selection, a 36-year-old who once looked like he had another run in another Super Bowl.
Instead, Kelce remained on the sidelines, emotionally absorbing the final seconds of the final defeat of what could be his final season. Tampa Bay Buccaneers 32, Philadelphia Eagles 9.
How did it end like this? How could a season that began with such a seismic rise end in such a catastrophic collapse? How did the Eagles, who managed to succeed Kansas City by beating the Chiefs in a 10-1 start, endure the embarrassment of a wild-card elimination after which fans shouted expletives and words? he threw a bucket at them as they left the camp?
Kelce turned the corner into the hallway. There was general manager Howie Roseman at the locker room door. They shook hands. Embraced. Kelce got dressed at his locker, turned to the mass of waiting reporters and shook his head politely.
“No, guys,” Kelce said calmly. “Not today.” She Sorry.”
Eagles’ Jason Kelce is retiring after 13 seasons
The locker room was devoid of any overarching explanation for the conglomeration of issues that confounded them. Some players were too discouraged to speak up. Some, stunned, offered small considerations. Some seemed relieved that the miseries of the season were finally over. But they all expressed a similar sentiment, a disbelief in the sudden direction a once-promising season has taken.
“Things didn’t end the way we wanted,” Jalen Hurts said. “It’s just not our turn.”
The latter seemed fatalistic on the quarterback’s part, as if Hurts believed such a failure was inevitable. By the end of the regular season, it certainly felt that way. An eleven-man powerhouse offense that paired the devastating runs of Hurts and D’Andre Swift with explosive passing by AJ Brown and DeVonta Smith, withered in a constant series of dysfunctions.
First-year offensive coordinator Brian Johnson attempted to give Hurts control over a system that allowed him to come up with a pre-snap checklist on the line, and while there were several moments in 2023 where Hurts thrived, the former MVP candidate regressed late in the season as miscommunications and frequent struggles to manage the blitz persisted.
An offense that seemed to have no real identity in Nick Sirianni’s third year as the team’s head coach often looked disjointed. The Eagles opened the game against the Buccaneers with two Swift runs that gained a total of 11 yards. He carried the ball only twice more in the first half, and the Buccaneers built a seven-point lead with the Eagles instead successfully (and unsuccessfully) forcing the ball to Smith.
The play began with two curious third-and-short scenarios in which Hurts threw incomplete passes downfield. On the first, a third-and-2, it appeared that Smith and tight end Dallas Goedert were in each other’s way as they ran the same route. Smith later said that Hurts did two pre-snap checks before the show, and Smith and Goedert “saw something completely different” than what Hurts intended.
“They were two different signals,” Smith said. “We (saw) one and we didn’t see the other.”
The Bucs end up faltering the Eagles in the wild card game
The fact that such communication failures continued into the playoffs offered a glimpse into how often hiccups turned into heart attacks for the Eagles. There was at least some consistent dissonance between the system the coaching staff and players had in mind and what happened on the field. On a pre-snap check against the Chiefs, Hurts threw a game-changing deep throw to Smith. Against the Seattle Seahawks, Brown acknowledged that a late-game interception was due to their freelance work in the game.
“It’s very frustrating,” Smith said. “Especially when you have the talent, you have the right mentality, you get the right things going. Like I said, it’s just little details that you miss.
Consecutive points early in the game against the Bucs once again put the Eagles in a situation where they had to play from behind. The Buccaneers took a 16-9 halftime lead, which increased after the Eagles’ offense failed to score in the second half. Syrianni and Johnson, who had to construct a game plan without the injured Brown, forcefully funneled the ball to Smith, whose 55-yard catch in the second quarter preceded the team’s only touchdown.
The Eagles seemed too dependent on Smith winning their matchups in coverage. They started the second half with three possessions in which they lost 10 yards in 11 plays, with Hurts penalized in the end zone for intentional grounding, a damaging safety as he attempted to evade defenders while alone under a four-man rush. Two plays later, Baker Mayfield delivered the backbreaker, an open completion to Trey Palmer, who ran past cornerback James Bradberry for a 56-yard touchdown that nearly put the game away, 25-9, with 1:19 left in the game. third quarter.
ELEVEN AGAIN, HOW DO YOU FEEL BUCS FANS?! 😱
—NFL (@NFL) January 16, 2024
An Eagles defense that has too often proven disastrous under de facto defensive coordinator Matt Patricia once again proved incapable of adequately containing its opponent. The Buccaneers outgained the Eagles 426-276 in total offensive yards while recording six plays of 20 yards or more. Mayfield completed 22 of 36 passes for 337 yards and three touchdowns while often targeting linebackers in coverage, finding pass receivers in wide open areas down the middle of the field, or connecting with receivers who broke tackles to make long gains after receptions .
Patricia once again started the game with a series of defensive schemes. The Bucs converted first downs on both passes and runs against Philadelphia’s 3-4 base, running back Rachaad White made a third-and-3 tackle on a swing pass against an Eagles pass-oriented nickel and, at Tampa Bay’s second drive, Mayfield hit David Moore in strides for a 44-yard touchdown against Philly’s six-dime defensive package with three defenders missing Moore on dismal tackle attempts.
Too smooth! David Moore takes it for a 44-yard touchdown 🙌
—NFL (@NFL) January 16, 2024
Sirianni’s midseason decision to demote coordinator Sean Desai exacerbated the team’s defensive problems. The Eagles have given up more yards and points in five games under Patricia (375.8, 24.7 per game) than in the first 13 under Desai (353.9, 22.8). Syrianni acknowledged that his decision did not produce the desired results, but declined to answer when asked whether he would make staff changes at both coordinator positions this offseason.
“I think there were several things that we got on tape and the offenses kind of copied them and it was kind of rinse and repeat at times,” linebacker Nicholas Morrow said. “I think it’s a thing. It’s simply difficult to change your defensive philosophy mid-season. Totally different defense from the point of view of the plays. And it wasn’t for lack of effort. I think everyone tried to make it work. “It was not so.”
Philadelphia’s efforts at a late comeback didn’t work either. On a fateful fourth-and-5 in the fourth quarter, Smith failed to complete a pass from Hurts into the end zone while facing tight coverage from cornerback Carlton Davis III. Smith said he went to Sirianni before the show and “told him to give me the ball.”
“We had the answer to everything,” Smith insisted. “We just didn’t execute consistently.”
“It was almost like we couldn’t get out of the rut we were in,” Sirianni said. “And this affects all of us. We all need to look in the mirror and accept it and just find answers, find solutions. But obviously, when we start 10-1 and you find out what happened to us, obviously the expectations were high. Expectations were even higher when we started 10-1. We fell into a skid. Obviously the game calls. I’ll look at the diagram. I’ll look at the practices. “I’m going to watch everything we’re doing because I think the last couple of years we’ve warmed up a little bit at the end, and this year that hasn’t been the case.”
The future of the franchise’s leadership is now uncertain. Owner Jeffrey Lurie and Roseman must now decide whether the problems that persisted in Philadelphia’s season finale can be resolved in the fourth year under Sirianni.
Firing Syrianni would be a surprising decision. His teams reached the playoffs in each of his three seasons while posting a 34-17 record. But such a sudden departure would not be unprecedented. Only two other coaches in the Super Bowl era were fired during the season after losing the big game. The late Al Davis fired Bill Callahan after the drama-filled 2003 Raiders team finished 4-12. Then in 2015, John Elway fired John Fox after the Denver Broncos went 12-4 and lost to the Indianapolis Colts in the divisional round.
Both cases contained the polarity of potential fallout that would affect the Eagles. The Raiders have made the playoffs just twice under 10 other coaches in the 20 seasons since Callahan’s ouster, and the Broncos won Super Bowl 50 in their first year under Gary Kubiak. Sirianni failed, at least, to delay that decision with the Eagles’ victory Monday night. Asked if he was worried about his job security after the game, Sirianni replied: “I don’t think about it” and instead spoke about his feelings for players whose seasons are over.
“We didn’t end up where we wanted to end up,” Sirianni said.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen for next year,” Bradberry said. “We don’t know who will be here. Who won’t be here. Because, obviously, we didn’t live up to expectations. We had a lot of expectations for this year. When you don’t live up to these, obviously people want to make changes.
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(Photo: Kevin Sabitus/Getty Images)