Fall Of Duty: Loss Ensures Birds Get Higher Draft Pick
Well, the clock mercifully hit 0:00 on the Eagles’ season just before midnight Sunday night.
This season ended unlike any other season in Doug Pederson’s five years coaching the Eagles but this game ended like so many from 2020, a loss marked by an inconsistent offense, penalties, backups forced into prominent playing time and the Eagles simply falling short.
Needing a win to clinch the NFC East in Ron Rivera’s first year as head coach, Washington scored a 20-14 over the Eagles at the Linc for the franchise’s first division title since 2015. Washington (7-9) will be the division’s lone representative in the playoffs and will welcome the fifth-seeded Tampa Bay Buccaneers to FedEx Field on Saturday night, starting at 8:15 p.m.
Washington had some help, as Pederson made some curious calls, including eschewing an easy field goal when his team trailed by three and pulling Jalen Hurts for Nate Sudfeld in the fourth quarter just because. Defensive tackle T.Y. McGill jumped offside 4th and 1 with 2 minutes left to play to help Washington drain the clock down to 56 seconds when the Eagles got the ball back deep in their own territory.
But there’s some good news – more good news, actually – for the Eagles in defeat. They’ll pick either fifth or sixth in April’s NFL Draft as they tied with the Bengals for the NFL’s fifth-worst record. Also, there appeared to be no major injuries.
This should be a busy week at the NovaCare Complex, as the future of coach Doug Pederson will likely be resolved within the first few days. The team also must deal with its quarterback problem, as an ESPN report stated that Carson Wentz’s relationship with Pederson is “fractured” and that Wentz wants out.
But before we march into the offseason, one final observations column for the season….
1. As expected, this game had the feel of a preseason game – at least from the Eagles’ side, and especially on defense. From the start, they were running guys on and off the field who you’re not used to seeing, such as Blake Countess and Joe Ostman. Jim Schwartz played mostly zone, and Alex Smith had no problem picking it apart with some shallow crosses and a nice screen to Logan Thomas before finishing the drive with a touchdown pass to Terry McLaurin past … Grayland Arnold.
2. And then came the obvious tank. For some reason – well, we know the reason — Doug Pederson removed Jalen Hurts in favor of Nate Sudfeld at the start of the fourth quarter after strangely keeping Hurts and the offense on the field inside the Washington 10 on fourth down of the prior drive with the eagles down 3. Hurts threw a bad pass that fell way short of Quez Watkins in the left side of the end zone as Washington preserved the 17-14 lead. Then came Sudfeld, and an interception, and a fumbled snap. Honestly, at that point, it was hard to tell if the Eagles were trying to throw the game or they were just that lousy.
3. Seriously, though, it’s hard to know what to make of Jalen Hurts after four games. I never thought four games was enough to make any kind of fair judgment, positive or negative. He certainly showed he could play in the league but he was a second-round pick, so it would have been disappointing if you felt after four games that Hurts just couldn’t play at all. The TV broadcast seemed to make a point of showing Hurts’ accuracy, but Hurts completed just 7 of 20 passes (35 percent) and was again picked off again. Hurts was victimized by drops, but that still was easily his lowest completion percentage in his four starts and his trend of lackluster second halves continued. There’s certainly a foundation to work with there, but by no means is the Eagles quarterback situation settled headed into the offseason.
4. If this was Zach Ertz’s last game, it basically went the same way his whole season went – very quietly. Ertz caught just three passes for 16 yards, almost an anonymous game for three-time Pro Bowl tight end. Ertz averaged just fewer than 32 yards per game this year and fewer than four receptions per game, the fewest in both categories since his 2013 rookie season. If he’s gone, Ertz will leave as the franchise’s second all-time leading receiver, with 561 receptions. He’s also fifth all-time in receiving yards and his 116 receptions in 2018 is the most in franchise history for a single season. And, oh yeah, Ertz caught the game-winning touchdown in the Super Bowl (along with a major fourth-down catch in that game). So there’s that.
5. Alex Singleton had seven tackles, five solo, after the first two Washington possessions, including a big third-down stop to hold Washington to a field goal. He also had a first-half sack, also on third down as he shot the A gap, showing very good closing speed to the quarterback. He finished with 14 tackles, eight solo, to lead the defense. Singleton has probably been the best story of development this year, on either side of the ball. I used to say he’s a good “Eagles linebacker,” but he could play for most FL teams. He obviously brought stability to a below-average linebacking group. It doesn’t mean the Eagles shouldn’t try to improve the position this offseason but Singleton should be back next year.
6. The more I watch Nate Herbig, the more I’m convinced he could possibly be an option next year if he can work on his pass pro and clean up his technique. Herbig moves well laterally and can be an asset i the run game. The Eagles might have an opening if center Jason Kelce opts to retire this offseason, or if the Eagles decide to move on and save some money. Herbig, who started his career in 2019 as an undrafted free agent from Stanford, was a backup center for his rookie year before injuries tossed him into the mix at starting right guard at training camp. If Kelce retires, the Eagles can either look at Herbig as the starting center or move Issac Seumalo to center and open left guard into a competition between Herbig, Jack Driscoll and others. At very least, Herbig can be the top interior offensive line backup next season.
7. On the Eagles’ third possession, Hurts had the chance to hit Jalen Reagor down the left seam but underthrew the rookie receiver, forcing Hurts to reach back just to get his hands on the ball. Reagor had put a nice move on Kamren Curl to get open, too. I feel like I’ve written that sentence at least one in each of the past three observations columns. People keep killing Reagor, but he’s getting open and Hurts keeps missing him. It’s probably just a timing thing, as the connections are only off a little. I was hoping to see Reagor get a lot of touches in this final showcase but he suffered an injury right before halftime and was taken to the locker room.
8. I don’t know that the Eagles need to use their first-round pick on Ja’marr Chase or Devonta Smith. It all depends on how they view the futures of Reagor and Travis Fulgham. It’s doubtful that J.J. Arcega-Whiteside will be back. No way DeSean Jackson and Alshon Jeffery are back. So they’ve basically got Reagor, Fulgham and Greg Ward – and perhaps Quez Watkins – to feel somewhat good about for next year, but that shouldn’t stop them from taking Smith or Chase if one of those guys is their top-rated guy on the board. Still, the Eagles also shouldn’t rule out a top corner, like Patrick Surtain II, top offensive lineman or top pass rusher.
9. Washington has the chance to be a real thorn in the Eagles’ side for years to come. That collection of pass-rushing talent is really special, sort of the same blueprint the 49ers followed as they stacked up Arik Armstead, DeForest Buckner, Nick Bosa and Solomon Thomas. The Niners got Jimmy Garropolo and then went to the Super Bowl. Washington still needs a quarterback solution but Alex Smith coming back one more year could buy the franchise some time.
10. Speaking of, what else can you say about Alex Smith? Guy had 17 surgeries. Shouldn’t even be on the field. Took over a team that started 1-4 and fell to 1-5 when he replaced Kyle Allen, who had replaced Dwayne Haskins, and then helped it win six of its final 10 to win the division. It’s a pretty cool story, regardless of how you might feel about that franchise.
– Geoff Mosher (@geoffmoshernfl) is co-host of the “Inside the Birds” podcast and staff writer for InsideTheBirds.com.