PHILADELPHIA — The scent of victory cigars greeted anybody who stepped into the Philadelphia Eagles’ locker room. Players celebrated in NFC Championship T-shirts. Scavengers of confetti remained on their house area, remnants of the trophy presentation following the Eagles’ 31-7 win over the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday to clinch a bid to Super Bowl LVII.
In that very same locker room three weeks earlier, Eagles proprietor Jeffrey Lurie shared a narrative throughout a victory speech. Days earlier than the season commenced, he known as Nick Sirianni and the coaches into his workplace. He expressed that the Eagles solely had one aim within the common season: earn the No. 1 seed.
“That’s the big advantage,” Lurie explained.
It was that benefit that gave the Eagles an opening-round bye and a path to the Super Bowl that included quarterbacks Daniel Jones and Brock Purdy, and no have to board an airplane till after hoisting the NFC Championship trophy. They’ll play towards the Kansas City Chiefs — the opposite No. 1 seed — and coach Andy Reid, who has probably the most wins in Eagles historical past.
Sunday’s victory continued a season stuffed with dominant performances. This one included speeding for 4 scores towards the NFL’s finest protection and limiting the undermanned 49ers offense to 1 landing — all in entrance of a house crowd that turned Lincoln Financial Field (and the town’s streets) into a celebration to have fun the franchise’s fourth Super Bowl look.
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— NFL (@NFL) January 29, 2023
“I think, first of all, a bye helps you rest after a season,” Lurie mentioned Sunday, simply steps from the place he addressed the workforce three weeks in the past. “It doesn’t guarantee you anything — I think the last eight championship games are 4-4 for home and away — but they don’t know Philly. Philly is not an easy place to play. Our fans are the most passionate in sports, I think, and maybe I’m biased. But I always feel like, like last time, we’re gonna play our best.”
The “last time” was the 2017 season, when the Eagles received Super Bowl LII. It was the primary Lombardi trophy in franchise historical past and stays an unforgettable run in Philadelphia. But each workforce has a novel story, and this yr’s model is writing its personal. There have been no canine masks within the Eagles’ locker room on Sunday. The 2017 workforce is legendary due to the improbability of its championship, taking part in with a backup quarterback and spending the postseason as an underdog.
This season, the Eagles have been favorites. They earned a No. 1 seed with one of the best file within the NFC. They’ve been favored in all however one recreation, and that one recreation got here with their backup quarterback beginning on the street. The Eagles open as 2.5-point favorites over the Chiefs within the Super Bowl. They had all 22 starters wholesome for the convention championship. They outscored opponents by 133 factors within the common season and now 55 factors in two playoff video games. They’re a juggernaut. A Super Bowl bid was not inevitable, however it actually isn’t a shock.
“Tale of two different teams,” mentioned All-Pro proper sort out Lane Johnson, who’s one in all seven gamers nonetheless on the lively roster from the 2017 workforce. “We were underdogs in ‘17. This year, we have a heavily loaded roster. Expected to do good things.”
To Johnson’s level, the Eagles have been a sleeper Super Bowl choose after common supervisor Howie Roseman’s masterful offseason that included the high-profile additions of A.J. Brown, Haason Reddick, James Bradberry and C.J. Gardner-Johnson, amongst others.
“Sometimes you gotta go all in,” Johnson mentioned. “I feel like we did this year.”
The Eagles took benefit of beginning quarterback Jalen Hurts taking part in on a reasonable contract and benefited from a deep cabinet of draft picks amassed by the commerce of former franchise quarterback Carson Wentz and buying and selling again within the draft.
“We thought we had an opportunity to be really great,” Lurie mentioned. “It was taking advantage of a perception that we thought we had a chance to be an outstanding team and a mix of veterans in their eighth, 10th, 12th year with a lot of wonderful, young players, including a quarterback who’s that way. We really felt there was a great opportunity. But you got to get the right players. And we have the right players. They’re outstanding.”
Veteran heart Jason Kelce warned the fan base towards overconfidence — ”In this metropolis, it seems like yearly the media thinks we’re actually good, we find yourself being s—ty. And yearly the media thinks we’re going to be s—ty, we find yourself being actually good,” he mentioned throughout coaching camp — and defined earlier than Week 1 that the Eagles wanted to embrace being uncomfortable, regardless that “everybody expects us to be Super Bowl champions in Philadelphia.”
When the season began, they shortly confirmed why. The Eagles received their first eight video games and 13 of their first 14. They beat the 49ers by 24 factors Sunday, regardless that San Francisco had the NFC’s next-best file and restricted opponents to a league-low 16.3 factors per recreation this season — and it was nonetheless removed from Philadelphia’s prime efficiency.
The Eagles confirmed why there’s been a lot optimism about them this season. They opened the sport with an 11-play, 66-yard drive that included a crucial third-down reception by Brown and a giant fourth-down catch by DeVonta Smith (albeit a catch that was helped by 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan protecting a problem flag in his pocket), a large receiver mixture among the many finest within the NFL. Hurts, who has emerged as an MVP candidate, went 5-of-7 on the drive. Miles Sanders rushed for the primary of the workforce’s 4 touchdowns.
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Then when the protection took the sphere, Reddick exploded across the edge and pummeled Purdy to the bottom. Upon evaluate, an incompletion was dominated a fumble and the Eagles recovered. It was the kind of play that’s change into customary for Reddick. He was the workforce’s first high-profile transfer of the offseason, signed to improve the move rush after the Eagles completed No. 31 in sacks in 2021. The Eagles have been No. 1 this season, led by Reddick’s 16 sacks and league-leading 5 pressured fumbles. He now has 3 1/2 sacks within the postseason and lived as much as the workforce’s perception that he’s a game-changing player.
“Those guys’ job is to hit the quarterback, affect the game, and they sure did that today,” Sirianni mentioned.
The fumble was recovered by Linval Joseph, who was one of many workforce’s in-season additions. One of the teachings of Roseman’s roster constructing was that expertise acquisition isn’t restricted to the beginning of free company and the draft. Bradberry got here after the draft to improve at cornerback. The Eagles traded for Gardner-Johnson one week earlier than the season. When the run protection wanted a lift in November, Roseman signed Joseph and Ndamukong Suh in the identical week. That got here after buying and selling for Robert Quinn to bolster the move rush.
Eagles roster construction: 5 thoughts and lessons on Howie Roseman’s approach
“Howie and the front office, and all of those guys do a phenomenal job at trying to figure out which pieces fit, as well as taking in the coach’s perspective,” Kelce mentioned. “I think that is the thing that is very similar between this year and 2017, that all of the guys we have brought in are very important pieces and they are all playing the best football they have played. To make all of those acquisitions, on top of a team that ended the regular season last year on a high note. We have really compounded on it this year.”
Kelce referenced a 2021 workforce that rebounded from a 2-5 begin to make the playoffs. Philadelphia made that push behind an offense that would run on anyone — even the highest run defenses. That’s continued into this season, with Sunday for instance. The 49ers entered the sport ranked No. 2 towards the run. The Eagles rushed for 148 yards — the second-most yards allowed by the 49ers this season.
Hurts is a significant a part of that working recreation, with the specter of his legs altering the maths of how defenses can defend them. He rushed for 39 yards and a rating whereas going 15-of-25 for 121 yards via the air, which is way from a prolific effort. But he didn’t flip the ball over — the 49ers turned it over 3 times — and has now received 16 of 17 video games he’s began this season.
“This is not a time for reflection,” Hurts mentioned of main the Eagles to the Super Bowl. “It’s really hard for me to do that. I try to enjoy the moment, but my joy comes in winning. I know the job isn’t done. I never knew how far we would come, I never knew how far we’d go, but I never said it couldn’t be done.”
And it couldn’t occur with out Sirianni’s teaching, which incorporates aggressive decision-making and a devotion to situational soccer. The Eagles have been 3-of-3 on fourth downs Sunday, with two of these choices resulting in touchdowns. They have been penalized 4 occasions in comparison with the 49ers’ 11. Sirianni efficiently threw the problem flag to power a turnover.
If in-game teaching gives an edge, Sirianni offered it.
“We have confidence,” Sirianni mentioned of his choices. “When you go for it on fourth down, you put yourself in those scenarios all week. We have so many meetings about that, of what we’re going to do in these scenarios, calls we might call, what we would call if we’ve already called that.”
Add these elements, and it’s comprehensible why expectations elevated for the Eagles — and why they earned the No. 1 seed.
Sirianni likes to inform a narrative about his first preseason recreation in Philadelphia in 2021. He was a rookie head coach with a quarterback in his first yr as a full-time starter, and the final thought was that it is likely to be a rebuilding yr. Except when the Eagles have been shedding at halftime of an exhibition recreation — sure, an exhibition recreation — Sirianni heard a serenade of boos. He realized then the requirements in Philadelphia.
When Lurie advised the gamers about his message to the coaches in that assembly, he made certain they knew Sirianni’s response.
“He didn’t blink!” Lurie advised them.
“Want to make sure that I do my best job for a guy that’s giving me everything he’s got,” Sirianni mentioned when requested in regards to the assembly final week.
Both the proprietor and the coach have been on the rostrum of their house stadium on Sunday accepting the NFC Championship trophy. That’s the benefit they earned with the No. 1 seed. That’s been a aim all season. But it was neither the one aim nor the last word one.
“It’s like uno mas. We have one more to go,” Lurie mentioned. “It’s rare to win the NFC Championship. I appreciate it. … But our focus from September on has been winning the Super Bowl.”
(Top picture: Andy Lewis / Icon Sportswire through Getty Images)