Eagles overreactions: The 49ers got smoked, not just bad-lucked
Eagles overreactions: Don't let the narratives fool you originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia
In some ways it was the game everyone expected. In others it was the game no one predicted. All that matters in the end is that the Eagles beat the 49ers to win the NFC Championship Game and advance to the Super Bowl, the franchise's second appearance in five years and third of the century.
Parts of Sunday's win were beautiful. Others were... well, a little sloppy!
But the Birds' talent prevailed over a 49ers squad struggling to stay afloat with its fourth-string QB, and now Philadelphia is one win away from a second championship parade down Broad Street.
It's an emotional night in Philadelphia, so let's overreact to a win we'll all remember for a while:
1. The Eagles' defense won this game
It seems a bit impossible for a unit that racked up 70 sacks, but the Eagles' defense flew a bit under the radar this season. I heard multiple national analysts remark this past week that they were shocked to look at the numbers from Jonathan Gannon's unit.
They're not a perfect defense, but in the Divisional Round and again on Sunday afternoon the defense came ready to attack and succeeded. The Giants weren't a remarkable challenge. The 49ers, with weapons like Deebo Samuel and Christian McCaffrey and the best left tackle in football in Trent Williams, were much more so.
It certainly helped that Brock Purdy left the game in the first quarter and for a large chunk of Sunday's game the Birds were facing off with journeyman QB Josh Johnson. You hate to see guys get injured, but the fact is that the Eagles' defense was mauling San Fran's O-line and getting after the quarterback all game long. When your QB is under that kind of fire, that's what happens.
And it's a good thing the defense was so locked in, because the Eagles' offense was often uninspiring.
Consider how absurd this stat is, from the Eagles' second touchdown drive of the day:
The Eagles' offense didn't look much like the explosive unit that sat near the top of the league in basically every key stat this year. Jalen Hurts was just a bit off in the passing game, the ground game was held under 4.0 yards/attempt in the first half, and things felt... constipated.
Because the Eagles' defense kept getting after it and bullying the Niners' offense off the field, the Eagles wound up holding the ball for 19:00 in the first half. The 49ers' defense was clearly gassed as a result, and kept taking bad penalties because they were just straight-up exhausted. That's not luck, and it's not simply "getting breaks": it was a result of the defense cooking Kyle Shanahan's guys when they had the ball. San Fran's longest first-half drive of 2:52, and it ended in a turnover; the Eagles had two 5:00-plus minute touchdown drives before halftime.
The offense has regularly been the focal point of fans' appreciation this year, but on Sunday the defense was clearly up for the challenge - and at just the right time.
2. The Birds' decision-making is elite
Nick Sirianni continues to make Eagles fans extremely happy he's their head coach.
It's possible the entirety of Sunday's NFC Championship Game can be distilled into a crucial pair of fourth down plays in the first half.
One came on the first drive of the game when DeVonta Smith made a drop look like a catch on a fourth down. Kyle Shanahan wasn't fast enough with a challenge and the Eagles scored just a few plays later; a successful challenge on the very next drive by Nick Sirianni showed us just how crucial challenges in big spots can be.
The other play was Sirianni's decision to go for it on fourth down, midway through the second quarter. The Eagles were on their own 34-yard line and needed to gain one yard. Sirianni wasn't afraid of the moment, called a QB sneak, and got the first down. Ten plays later, the Eagles scored their second touchdown of the game - a huge momentum point on both sidelines:
Nick Sirianni went for it on his own 34-yard line.
10 plays later, the Eagles scored this TD.
— NBC Sports Philadelphia (@NBCSPhilly) January 29, 2023
Kyle Shanahan is a widely-beloved offensive guru in the football world, and for good reason: he's created an offensive system that has helped redefine offense in the NFL and is clearly a brilliant mind.
But week after week, Eagles fans have to feel great about the guy in charge of their team. He knows his strengths and weaknesses, he's fearless when it counts, and he's a big part of why the Eagles are headed back to the Super Bowl in just his second season at the helm.
As I wrote earlier this month, the numbers show that Sirianni has been the best decision-making head coach in the NFL. Football fans always talk about offensive coaches or defensive coaches when their team is hiring, but what about plain old smart coaches? That's what the Eagles have found here.
What a hire from Jeffrey Lurie, and what a job by Sirianni making the absolute most of this opportunity.
3. Don't worry about "the easy path"
You'll probably hear some hot takes on the ol' Internet over the next two weeks about how the Eagles got a free pass to the Super Bowl. Their path was through Daniel Jones and a combination of Brock Purdy and Josh Johnson.
That's true: it was an extremely easy path, all things considered.
And the Eagles earned it.
This is what happens when you're the best team in football for an entire season. This is the way the system is set up.
The Eagles smoked the league for 18 weeks and earned the first-round bye. They crushed basically everyone in their path for the chance to play lesser teams in the postseason. And when they arrived in the playoffs and started playing games, they blew away their opponents by a combined score of 69-14 en route to the last game of the season.
That's how it works, folks! It's a meritocracy. The Eagles are headed to the Super Bowl because they showed up for an entire season, including in the playoffs, and the rest of the NFC largely didn't. If the 49ers hadn't been so bad at the beginning of the season they might've had a chance at that No. 1 seed, but they weren't. Put up or shut up.
Now the Eagles have one shot at immortality, against one of the two best teams in the AFC. That's how the game works. Good on the Birds for making the most of this opportunity.
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