January 1, 2024   6 MIN READ

Cards On The Table

DiCecco: Non-Risk-Averse Jonathan Gannon Pressed All Right Buttons To Upset Birds


PHILADELPHIA – Returning to Philadelphia for the first time since January’s NFC Championship rout over the San Francisco 49ers, Jonathan Gannon – former Eagles defensive coordinator, current Arizona Cardinals head coach – fully understood the ramifications of supplying a Jalen Hurts-led offense with ample room to maneuver.

That’s why after drawing even at 28-28 with a little over five minutes remaining – an already improbable outcome for a double-digit road underdog – Gannon opted for an element of surprise with an onside kick.

Best case scenario, he figured, the Cardinals regain possession with favorable field possession and deliver a knockout punch.

Worst case and perhaps most likely, he figured,  is that his shrewd tactic shortens the field to combat an obvious clock-draining situation for the Eagles.

Jonathan Gannon, Kyler Murray

Without this call to action, Cards quarterback Kyler Murray and a surprisingly potent offense that had already paraded up and down the field with little resistance, scoring on all four second-half possessions, wouldn’t have been afforded an opportunity to have the final say.

“The reason for that is you don’t want to get bled out,” Gannon confirmed in his postgame press conference. “That team is too good. I trust the defense to get a stop right there and make them kick a field goal, which is what they did.

“But with five minutes left, what they’ve shown is they’re not going to give you the ball back. And I wanted to make sure at all costs Kyler had the ball in his hand at the end of the game, whatever you’re down. And that’s what we did.”

Eagles rookie cornerback Eli Ricks recovered the onside kick and was ruled down at the Philadelphia 44-yard-line, but an offsides on Cardinals cornerback Antonio Hamilton advanced the ball to the Arizona 39.

An 18-yard strike from Hurts to wide receiver A.J. Brown drew the Eagles within striking distance to seize the lead and punch it in for the go-ahead touchdown, but ineptitude manifested in the form of a Jordan Mailata holding penalty and a pair of failed Hurts keepers.

A substitution blunder would then force the Eagles to burn their second timeout.

Facing an impossible 3rd-and-19, Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni curiously appeared to concede, dialing up an ill-fated screen to running back Kenny Gainwell, whom linebacker Victor Dimukeje corralled after a gain of only four.

A chorus of boos erupted throughout the Linc, as another unfathomable loss – their fourth in five games – felt imminent.

Rather than go for the jugular, the Eagles uncharacteristically relented, playing for a field goal.

“I don’t think that’s conservative there if they are blitzing a bunch of gaps there,” Sirianni said. “You’re running a gap scheme that has a chance to hit for big yards that we needed to get back into it. We could have thrown it there, too. We chose to go there.

“Hey, it didn’t hit. But I think that sometimes with the gap scheme stuff that you do, it’s more of, you’ve got to do some different things to cancel out gaps if they are bringing everything out. 

“It didn’t work. The screen, we were third and – what was it? – that’s tough, you’re going to have a hard time converting. We’ve got to get ourselves into range. The wind was blowing into our face a little bit on that side earlier in the game, so we needed to get into better range to make sure we took a three-point lead there. And, hey, they went down and scored and we didn’t win the game.”

But back to Gannon, for a moment.

The late fourth-quarter sequence underscored the first-year head coach’s situational savvy and unwavering belief in his defense.

It also put into perspective the tenacity and perseverance from a 3-12 team boasting perhaps the league’s shallowest roster, while also illustrating how fully invested the team is, both in each other and its new head coach.

Say what you want, but Gannon – still very much a lightning-rod across the Delaware Valley – had his team prepared, for the game and specifically to hit his former team where it hurt.

When Gannon approached an unflappable Murray in the moments prior to the Cardinals’ game-winning drive, the message he delivered was simple: “Go win the game.”

“I felt really good after the two-minute there,” Gannon said. “The look in [Murray’s] eyes … I got on the headset and said, ‘Guys, we’re gonna win the game.’ I could see it in his face. And that’s what he did.”

Juxtapose that sentiment with the overtones and demeanor on the opposite sideline.

It felt like the Cardinals, who entered the Linc with an abysmal 1-7 road record, believed they deserved to be on the same field as a team heralded among the class of the conference.

Perhaps they even took umbrage entering as 12-point underdogs. And they played like it, rising to the level of competition, with palpable optimism radiating across the visiting sideline.

Just like he’d been doing all game, Murray was unflustered and stoic, completing all three of his pass attempts on the game-winning drive.

Role players, such as wide receivers Rondale Moore and Greg Dortch, did most the heavy-lifting on the final sequence, covering 58 of the 70-yard scoring drive that covered 2:01 of the 2:28 that remained.

The 36-yard chunk play from Dortch, who reeled in all seven targets for 82 yards in the game, ultimately set the table for bulldozing running back James Conner, who two plays later surged ahead for the game-winning touchdown.

The Eagles were left with only 32 seconds to essentially save their season from careening downward, and up until the final Hurts pass was plucked out of the air by Cardinals safety Joey Blount in the end zone, the Eagles conceivably had a chance at side-stepping another inexcusable loss for one more week.

But as the Eagles milled off the field and headed to the lockers, maybe, truly, for the first time this season, the pulse of the crowd exuded a largely apathetic vibe despite the team’s 11-5 record and guaranteed spot in the playoffs.

“Obviously, we are not playing the type of football or coaching the type of football we want to be right now at this time,” Sirianni said. “Again, we have to go back to the drawing board and think through everything, what we’re doing. 

“So, concerned? No, I don’t think we think that way. All I think we think is how do we get these things fixed. How do we get these things fixed. How do we put the players in positions to succeed. How do we execute as a team. And so that’s what’s going to be on our minds is how do we get these things fixed. 

“Worry and concern doesn’t get any problems fixed. It doesn’t fix anything. Getting in there, grinding, figuring out what the answers are, that’s what gets things fixed. Worry and concern does not.”

– Andrew DiCecco (@AndrewDiCecco) is a Staff Reporter/Content Producer for InsideTheBirds.com.

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