Jalen Hurts, in a walking boot, determined to close the gap between Eagles and Brady, Bucs

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TAMPA – The Eagles learned their lesson the hard way.

If you're coming after the champion, you better not miss.

The Eagles missed over and over again. So their NFC wildcard playoff game fell apart quickly and embarrassingly in an onslaught of missed throws, mistakes and poor defense in their 31-15 loss Sunday.

Jalen Hurts threw two interceptions. All-Pro center Jason Kelce committed two holding penalties. Jalen Reagor fumbled away one punt and almost lost a second.

And, well, Bucs quarterback Tom Brady doesn't need many extra chances. The Bucs scored the first 31 points of the game before the Eagles scored two late touchdowns.

Brady played in his 46th career playoff game, after winning 7 Super Bowls, and he torched the Eagles by completing 29 of 37 passes for 271 yards and 2 touchdowns. Hurts, DeVonta Smith and many other Eagles were playing in their first.

And it showed.

"We know we can’t make mistakes like that in the playoffs against a really good football team, and we did," Eagles coach Nick Sirianni said. "I don’t want to say the moment got too big for them. I just think we made some mistakes."

The difference, of course, is when the Eagles made those mistakes in recent games against the Giants or Washington Football Team, they were able to overcome them.

That wasn't happening against Brady and the Bucs. And that's why the first playoff experience for Hurts, wide receiver DeVonta Smith and several others ended rather quickly and emphatically.

But there was a lot to learn.

Hurts, for one, came into his post-game interview with a walking boot on his left foot, the result of lingering soreness from when he suffered a high ankle sprain against the Giants on Nov. 28.

He missed just one game (not including the season finale), and refused to say that it limited him Sunday or in any game he played in.

Hurts completed 23 of 43 passes for 258 yards with a touchdown and the two interceptions. He ran for 39 yards on 8 carries.

"I think the sky’s the limit for us if we continue to climb," Hurts said. "Nobody wants to end our season this way. I hate this feeling. You never waste a mistake, and I (usually) do a pretty good job trying not to waste the mistakes.

"Just learn from it."

And while some might question whether Hurts should remain the starter in 2022 after this game, Sirianni would hear nothing of it.

But first, Sirianni admitted: "It’s not gonna come out as his best-graded game, but it’s not going to come out as a lot of guys’ best-graded games."

Then he said this: "You don't take the body of work that he had for 17 games ... and put everything on this game ... I feel really good with what we have in place right here with the quarterback position. I thought he had a great year, and he came a long way."

But there's still a long way to go for Hurts and the rest of the Eagles.

And yet, before the game, it seemed like everything was working in the Eagles' favor.

The windy conditions, with a sustained wind of 18 mph, with higher gusts, seemed conducive to the Eagles' running attack, which led the NFL with an average of 159.7 yards per game.

And the Eagles had their top running back Miles Sanders in the lineup after missing two games with a broken hand.

It didn't work out that way.

Sanders had just 3 yards on 4 carries in the first half, and finished with 16 yards on 7 carries. As a team, the Eagles rushed for 95 yards, again with most coming long after the game was decided.

In addition, Tampa Bay was without four of its top six offensive playmakers. It hardly mattered. Brady picked the Eagles apart anyway.

The Bucs took a 17-0 lead with 9:16 left in the second quarter. Hurts ran for 11 yards on the first play following the kickoff, coming one yard short of the Eagles' total offensive output up until that point.

By then, the Bucs had outgained the Eagles 190-12.

The Eagles twice tried to cut into that lead late in the first half. The first time, they turned the ball over on downs. The second time, and Hurts threw an interception from the Bucs' 21 trying for Smith in the end zone.

The crushing blow, or at least the final crushing blow, came on the first play after Hurts' second interception gave the Bucs the ball at the Eagles' 36 midway through the third quarter.

Brady hit Mike Evans deep down the left side for a touchdown. It was 31-0 with 5:18 left in the third quarter.

The Eagles, however, kept fighting. They scored on Boston Scott's 34-yard touchdown run with 12:08 left in the game and Kenny Gainwell's 16-yard TD reception.

That came from Hurts, as tight end Dallas Goedert, who led the Eagles with 6 catches for 92 yards, pointed out.

"Shoot, having him back there, you never feel like you’re out of the game," Goedert said.

It still wasn't nearly enough to prevent the offseason from beginning.

Fittingly, Hurts limped into that offseason on his walking boot, humbled, but determined to continue improving.

"I think it’s something we all know that I’ve been dealing with, battling with these last stretches of games we’ve played in since I’ve been back," Hurts said. "Regardless of how I feel, we didn’t play good enough. It’s kind of where it is."

Will he need surgery?

"I hope not," Hurts answered.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers free safety Jordan Whitehead (33) celebrates after helping inside linebacker Devin White sack Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts during the first half of an NFL wild-card football game Sunday, Jan. 16, 2022, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark LoMoglio)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers free safety Jordan Whitehead (33) celebrates after helping inside linebacker Devin White sack Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts during the first half of an NFL wild-card football game Sunday, Jan. 16, 2022, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Mark LoMoglio)

Ryan Kerrigan sighting

Josh Sweat was ruled out before the game after he was hospitalized Tuesday with a "life-threatening" situation, an Eagles' spokesman said (more on this below).

That left Ryan Kerrigan, who had been a free-agent disappointment this season, with just 3 tackles and no sacks in the regular season, to replace him.

But Kerrigan had 1.5 sacks and matched his season total with 3 tackles.

Reagor fumbles away punt

Jalen Reagor's struggles continued. And that includes punt returns.

The Eagles had forced a punt from deep in Bucs' territory early in the third quarter, trying to cut into the 17-0 deficit.

Reagor, however, dropped the punt near midfield and Tampa Bay recovered. The Bucs went on to score on Brady's 2-yard pass to Rob Gronkowski.

Just like that, the Eagles' chance to get back into the game was ruined.

Reagor fumbled another punt deep in Eagles' territory in the fourth quarter. He recovered that one. Sirianni said he might have gone to Greg Ward, but Ward left the game with back spasms.

"The muffed punt, the wind messed with him a little bit earlier in the game," Sirianni said. "It just look like he misjudged it."

Eagles' sack leader out with illness

The Eagles announced ruled out defensive end Josh Sweat before the game after he went to the hospital Tuesday night with what a team spokesman called "a life-threatening situation."

Sweat, who tied for the team lead with 7.5 sacks, underwent an "emergency procedure," the spokesman said.

On Friday, Eagles coach Nick Sirianni said Sweat had some "abdominal pain" earlier in the week, but was feeling better, and was listed as questionable for the game.

"In the following days, Josh and our medical team did everything possible to help him return to play," an Eagles spokesman said. "It was determined by the doctors today that he was not quite ready."

Eagles going with 6th starter at RG

In addition, starting right guard Nate Herbig was ruled out with an ankle injury.

Sua Opeta started in his place. Opeta would be the sixth different player to start at right guard this season, behind Brandon Brooks, Landon Dickerson, Herbig, Jack Driscoll and Jack Anderson for the meaningless season finale against Dallas.

RT Lane Johnson left the game in the second half with a knee injury, and LB T.J. Edwards left with a forearm injury.

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Contact Martin Frank at mfrank@delawareonline.com. Follow on Twitter @Mfranknfl.

This article originally appeared on Delaware News Journal: Instant analysis: Eagles eliminated in NFL playoffs by Tom Brady, Bucs

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