That Super Feeling
Birds Regain Championship Form, Blast Giants In Divisional Playoff Game
PHILADELPHIA – The vibes permeating the streets surrounding the South Philadelphia Sports Complex area Saturday afternoon resembled a powder keg of boundless energy as fans eagerly awaited a prime-time kickoff between the hometown Eagles and NFC East-rival Giants for a bid to reach the conference championship.
Jalen Hurts played the role of maestro on the Eagles’ opening offensive possession, orchestrating an eight-play, 75-yard scoring drive that covered just under five minutes, essentially setting the table for the team’s 38-7 destruction over their divisional rivals.
On the opposing side, a seemingly urgent Daniel Jones – fresh off a 300-yard passing outing in a Wild Card upset of the Vikings – struggled to navigate a reeling Giants offense, which only mustered a paltry 64 yards at intermission.
Running back Saquon Barkley, who averaged nearly six yards a carry in last week’s win, was held to just seven yards on four carries.
The Eagles are back in the NFC Championship and one win from the Super Bowl. They await the winner of Sunday’s other NFC Divisional game between the 49ers and Cowboys, one of which will travel to the Linc on Sunday to face the top-seeded Birds at the Linc.
Hurts, who completed 12-of-17 pass attempts for 118 yards and two touchdowns by the break, added an additional 31 yards and a score as a runner. He finished with 154 passing yards and two touchdowns (112.2 quarterback rating) before giving way to backup Gardner Minshew in the waning moments.
Running backs Miles Sanders and Kenneth Gainwell combined for 202 rushing yards and a touchdown on 29 carries while wide receiver DeVonta Smith led all pass-catchers with 61 yards and a touchdown.
A ferocious Eagles defense was unrelenting in pursuit of Jones, registering five sacks and a forced fumble, including 1.5 sacks apiece from Haason Reddick and Josh Sweat.
Let’s go ahead with the observations.
1. The Eagles’ offense made a resounding statement on its opening drive, marching 75 yards on eight plays in 4:54. Any concern over Hurts’ injured throwing shoulder was rendered obsolete on the second play, when he launched a perfectly placed deep shot into Smith’s arms for 40 yards. On the ensuing play, Dallas Goedert delivered a violent stiff arm to safety Xavier McKinney, and the drive culminated in a 16-yard touchdown toss to Goedert five plays later. Encouraging to see the offense dialed in following a two-week layoff.
2. Given Jones’ propensity to churn out yards with his legs, I was interested to see the looks defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon showed early. As expected, the Eagles went heavy zone – Jones completed his first three passes for 30 yards with little resistance – but the ferocious Eagles pass rush awakened to derail their opening drive. Reddick, who finished second in the NFL with 16 sacks, collected three tackles, 1.5 sacks, and two quarterback hits on the drive. The pass rush that rolled up seven sacks in Week 14 showed up and set the tone early.
3. When former Giants cornerback James Bradberry stepped in front of an ill-advised Jones pass on 1st-and-10 at the Eagles’ 49-yard line, he incredulously secured his first interception from an Eagles cornerback since the team’s Week 9 win over the Houston Texans – when Bradberry picked off Davis Mills. I’ve been effusive in my praise of Bradberry this season, as the 29-year-old has been the team’s most consistent of a formidable cornerback duo this season. The second-team All-Pro continues to presumably price himself out of the Eagles’ budget.
4. A steep first-half deficit forced the Giants’ hand, but I thought the Eagles’ coaching staff unveiled an exceptional game plan to effectively extinguish an inferior team before the break while largely keeping Hurts and his ailing right shoulder out of harm’s way. Complementary football unlocked a run-heavy game script early and allowed Gannon to unleash the hounds on a scattershot Jones, who appeared less inspired with each drop back.
5. Hurts is back in action, folks. The MVP-contending signal caller answered the bell in his second playoff start, completing 12-of-17 pass attempts for 118 yards and two touchdowns (129.0 rating) and carrying seven times for 31 yards and a score at the break, notching first playoff win. While the better part of the past two weeks was spent dissecting the quarterback’s health and his long-term viability throughout the playoffs, Hurts checked off every box. Speaking of injury concerns to key players, Lane Johnson held up well while battling through an adductor injury sustained in Week 16 on Christmas Eve.
6. Nursing a 28-point lead coming out of the break, I was curious to see if the Eagles exhibited the requisite killer instinct or flipped into cruise control toward the finish line. The defense came out curiously passive, allowing a 10-play, 88-yard scoring drive that covered 6:01 for the Giants’ first score. Wildcat quarterback Saquon Barkley handed off to fellow running back Matt Breida for an 8-yard touchdown run. Against teams better equipped to mount a comeback, the Eagles can ill-afford lapses.
7. The offensive game script made best use of the Eagles’ top intermediary options in Smith and Goedert, who combined for 11 receptions, 119 yards, and two touchdowns on 15 targets. In an effort to combat an aggressive defensive play-caller in Wink Martindale and preserve Hurts’ health, the coaches leaned on a quick-hitting passing game as an effective remedy.
8. One of the more under-discussed storylines of the second half of the season has been the development of rookie free agent safety Reed Blankenship. The Middle Tennessee State product, who became the first-ever undrafted rookie defensive player to start a postseason game for the Eagles, continues to come up big, particularly around the line of scrimmage, where he effectively serves as a heat-seeking missile against the run. Blankenship’s development has allowed Gannon to deploy C.J. Gardner-Johnson in the slot while Avonte Maddox remains on the mend.
9. Dominant performance from the Eagles’ offensive line, which paved the way for 268 rushing yards and allowed just one sack. Jeff Stoutland’s unit – the unsung heroes of this game – blew a disruptive Giants defensive line off the ball, wearing the front down as the second-half clock dwindled. In particular, Jason Kelce was tremendous in his game-long tussle with All-Pro defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence.
10. It appears that the Eagles were simply preserving Miles Sanders for the postseason when they limited his carries in the final weeks of the regular season. The Pro Bowl running back, who sported a brace on his left knee merely a few weeks ago, showed no signs of wear-and-tear, knifing his way through the Giants’ defense en route to 90 yards on 17 carries. A healthy Sanders is vital for a high-octane offense that harbors Super Bowl aspirations.
– Andrew DiCecco (@ADiCeccoNFL) is a Staff Reporter/Content Producer for InsideTheBirds.com.
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