NFC East Reporter
The Philadelphia Eagles didn’t look ready for a Super Bowl rematch in the first half Monday night. They looked more like they were suffering a Super Bowl hangover. They were being dominated on both sides of the line of scrimmage. Their quarterback was struggling. They were lucky the game was even close.
But then came the second half, and in the words of Jalen Hurts, “We showed up when it mattered the most.”
Indeed, they did. The defending NFC champions completely turned the game around after halftime, getting their offense in gear while their defense pitched a shutout. And yeah, they got some big help from Kansas City’s drop-prone receivers. But it was all enough for them to come back and win the Super Bowl LVII rematch, beating the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium, 21-17.
“It wasn’t pretty,” said Eagles coach Nick Sirianni. “There was a lot of ugly moments in it. Shoot, they just kept fighting and kept staying together. It was a good team win where everybody stayed together.”
That’s what Sirianni will remember about this game, but what the Chiefs will remember is this: They had the ball in their hands in the final minute and were driving at midfield. That’s when receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling took off down the middle of the field and breezed past Eagles corner Bradley Roby. The deep pass from Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes was perfect. It landed right in Valdes Scantling’s hands.
Then it bounced right out as he fell into the end zone for what would have been the game-winning score.
That was the difference between these two teams, who sure seem to be on a collision course for a real rematch in Super Bowl LVIII. The result is reversed if the ball stays in Valdes-Scantling’s hands.
But as huge as that break was for the Eagles (9-1), there was much more to the game —especially considering how badly things went for them in the first half. They were dominated in the trenches for those first 30 minutes. Hurts was sacked five times. He was under constant pressure. And on defense, the Eagles gave up 121 rushing yards in the first two quarters — an obscene amount considering they entered the game as the NFL’s No. 1 rushing defense, giving up just 66.3 rushing yards per game.
“But we didn’t flinch,” said Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham. “Not at all.”
They didn’t flinch because they knew what happened in the first half never happens to this team, which is built on the core belief that nothing is more important than controlling the line of scrimmage. They have, inarguably, one of the sport’s best offensive and defensive lines. They never get pushed around on either side.
But that’s exactly what the Chiefs were doing to them. In fact, they were doing it so well that if it weren’t for a leaping end-zone interception by Eagles safety Kevin Byard late in the second quarter, the Chiefs might have turned the game into a rout.
The second half was so much different, though. Hurts — who completed 14 of 22 passes for 15 yards, threw one interception and ran for two touchdowns — wasn’t sacked again. He led two long touchdown drives. Meanwhile, the Eagles defense forced the Chiefs to punt on four of their first five second-half drives. On the one they didn’t, the Chiefs got all the way to Eagles 14-yard line. That’s when Roby punched the ball out of the hands of Travis Kelce and linebacker Nick Morrow recovered to stop the drive.
“Our guys were resilient,” Sirianni said. “The defense just kept making plays, waiting for the offense to start making plays.”
It took a while for that to happen because the offense was still scrambling. If Hurts wasn’t rattled by the Chiefs defense, it was clear that Eagles offensive coordinator Brian Johnson was. In the fourth quarter, he was calling a series of quick and dangerous short passes — wide receiver screens or dumps over the middle in heavy traffic. It was as if he didn’t think his offense was capable of moving the ball downfield.
Until they suddenly were. One play after Hurts missed a wide-open DeVonta Smith (six catches, 99 yards) over the middle, he found him in coverage for 13 yards and a key third-down conversion. And on the next play, Sirianni said Hurts checked into a deep pass and fired a perfect, deep strike to him for a 41-yard gain to the Chiefs’ one-yard line — setting the stage for the Tush Push touchdown play that never fails.
“All I can say,” Hurts said, “is you make those plays when you need to make those plays.”
Those plays gave the Eagles their first lead of the game with 6:20 remaining. And then the Eagles defense did what it couldn’t do in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl. It stopped Mahomes and the Chiefs. In fact, it stopped them twice.
“When it was time to get off the field, we got off,” Graham said. “That’s all you want from the D.”
Even though they got that key assist from Valdes-Scantling, not to mention an earlier drop from the usually sure-handed Kelce, they’ll take it. It was, in the words of Sirianni, a “gritty, grimy, nasty” win, but it was still a big win.
Not big enough, of course, to avenge their 38-35 loss to the Chiefs in Super Bowl LVII back in February, but big enough to make a statement that they’re well-equipped to make a run at a Super Bowl championship again. They just beat arguably the best team in the AFC even though the Eagles didn’t come close to playing their best football.
“The guys just stayed together and kept grinding it out,” Sirianni said. “What I like about our team is they find ways to win and they’re resilient.”
“In the end,” Hurts added, “it’s just about finding a way to win.”
Ralph Vacchiano is the NFC East reporter for FOX Sports, covering the Washington Commanders, Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants. He spent the previous six years covering the Giants and Jets for SNY TV in New York, and before that, 16 years covering the Giants and the NFL for the New York Daily News. Follow him Twitter at @RalphVacchiano.
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