A playoff flop by reeling Eagles could seal Sirianni’s fate in Philly

Just seven weeks ago for Nick Sirianni, it was rolling.

The Philadelphia Eagles head coach was at the controls of a team that was exiting “Monday Night Football” with a road win over the Kansas City Chiefs and an NFL-best 9-1 record and looking like the NFC’s clear-cut Super Bowl favorite, despite a few shaky wins along the way. That night, as Sirianni walked off the field into a tunnel at Arrowhead Stadium, a camera caught him in a weapons-free emotional release. For nine seconds, he let loose.

“Hey!” Sirianni screamed. “I don’t hear s*** anymore, Chiefs fans!”

Sirianni took a few strides deeper into the tunnel, then stared straight into the camera and rejoiced one last time.

“Seeeee yaaaaaaaa!” he screamed.

It felt like a peak moment with many to follow. Instead, it was the precursor to a Grand Canyon-esque valley. Yes, the Eagles would go on to win a tight overtime game against a struggling Buffalo Bills team the next week — moving Philadelphia’s record to 10-1 — but all of it was a preamble to the unthinkable. Over the next six weeks, Sirianni and his team fell into an inexplicable 1-5 slide to end the 2023 regular season. The lowest of lows came Sunday when the Eagles, albeit playing shorthanded, effectively waved the white flag against a bad New York Giants team in what was pegged as a “get right” game for Philadelphia.

Nothing was gotten right in the 27-10 loss. Instead, more went wrong: From a hand injury to Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts, to a leg injury to star wideout A.J. Brown, to a lingering feeling that Sirianni’s job security is continuing to sustain some massive body blows down the stretch.

Nick Sirianni's Eagles started 10-1 this season and finished 11-6, failing to repeat as NFC East champion. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger)

“When you get hit in life, when you get hit in football, you’ve got two options,” Sirianni said after the loss. “You can stay down, or you can get the eff up. And I know this group as fighters. I know this group will get up. I know that we’ve all been through things in our life that we’ve all had to deal with s***. [We] know how to get up and that’s why we’re all sitting in this room.”

Therein lies the problem. The “get up” speech. The past three weeks of the season were billed as the “get up” weeks, with the Eagles playing dramatically less talented franchises that they should have dominated. In mid-December, after a 20-17 loss to Seattle, the popular presumption was something along the lines of “At least the Eagles have three easy wins left to get themselves on track. That’s where they’ll get up.” Instead, the Eagles went 1-2 in that window, squeaking one victory out over the Giants, then losing Sunday to the same Giants team, sandwiched around a bad home defeat to the Arizona Cardinals.

Falling down has defined this franchise for the better part of six weeks. Getting up … well, everyone is still waiting.

Along the way, the three pillars of the coaching staff have been rocked. Offensive coordinator Brian Johnson has gone from a likely head coaching hire in the next cycle to someone who could be replaced in the offseason. Defensive coordinator Sean Desai was effectively demoted, with his play-calling duties — but weirdly, not his title — transferred to Matt Patricia. And then there is Sirianni, whose chief skill since late December has been repetitively talking about how the Eagles are the types of fighters who will bounce back and respond.

Yet, they haven’t. And with this roster, that’s concerning.

Despite the changeover at the coordinator positions this season and some retooling on defense, the Eagles are still stacked with leaders in the locker room. Among them: Hurts; center Jason Kelce; offensive tackle Lane Johnson; defensive end Brandon Graham; defensive tackle Fletcher Cox; cornerback Darius Slay. While a handful of those players sat out Sunday’s finale against the Giants, that group has been riding along for the Eagles’ sustained and unexpected journey to the middle. They’re a proven, battle-tested spine. And most certainly, not quitters.

All of which raises a question about Sirianni that now must be asked. Was he the chief architect of the 2022 success, or was he also buoyed by a pair of coordinators in Shane Steichen and Jonathan Gannon? In their own ways, Steichen and Gannon have shined in 2023 since departing. Steichen took a rebuilding Colts team to the doorstep of the playoffs despite significant quarterback issues, while Gannon won four games and was competitive in several others with a Cardinals roster that very realistically could have gone 0-17 this season.

Left without them, Sirianni has struggled most of this season. The defense has been remarkably soft against the run at times, paired with play-calling inconsistency. The offense has seen Hurts take a step backward with turnover and consistency issues, leaving some to wonder if he might be playing with some kind of injury that isn’t being reported. And hovering over all of it, Sirianni has yet to find a way to both galvanize his coaching staff and locker room to respond in a chaotic fall.

So who is safe at this point? It’s a fair question.

Offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland is probably the least fireable coach on the roster. He has mastered the element of transforming college offensive linemen into NFL offensive linemen — one of the rarest and most coveted commodities in the league right now — which makes him worth his weight in gold, platinum, diamonds, enriched uranium, you name it. After that? Given the history of this franchise, who really can say. Especially if the Eagles fall flat against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the first round of the playoffs. And you can include Sirianni on the assembly line of hot seats, too.

While most will point to his record — three straight years of making the playoffs and one Super Bowl appearance after the 2022 season — there is something else to consider. Or more to the point, someone else to consider: team owner Jeffrey Lurie. The guy who fired Andy Reid. Also the guy who fired Doug Pederson, only three seasons after Pederson won the Eagles a Super Bowl. It’s worth remembering that in the three years following that title, Pederson had only one losing season and a significant amount of quarterback chaos. Yet, when he finished 4-11-1 in 2020 and finally refused to make ownership-dictated changes to his coaching staff, Lurie threw up the deuces and Pederson was out.

Keep that in mind as we head into the first round of the playoffs. If there’s one thing Lurie cares about most with his head coaches, it’s that they have a plan and a strong concept of how to transform a team into a Super Bowl winner. In the absence of that — especially in the presence of a small regression of a franchise quarterback — no coach is really safe. Not even one with the résumé of Sirianni.

For six weeks, he’s had the opportunity to dictate some kind of vision on the field and in the locker room. And for six weeks, he’s largely failed. If that extends into a first-round playoff exit, everyone on the Eagles’ coaching staff should hang on tight. Because it’s going to get very bumpy, very fast. And the next guy in the organization screaming “Seeeee yaaaaaaaa!” could be the team owner.

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