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    Eagles experience wake-up call in humiliating loss to 49ers, grip on top spot becoming less secure

    Zach Berman Avatar
    December 4, 2023

    Dom DiSandro greeted players and coaches when they filed into the locker room after the Eagles’ second loss of the season — one in which DiSandro, the popular vice president of the team security, had been dismissed from the sideline following a third-quarter kerfuffle. The team returned to their lockers sharing the sentiment that they might see the San Francisco 49ers again.

    It’s a reasonable belief. They’re two of the league’s best teams, and Sunday’s 42-19 humiliation to San Francisco could be rationalized as a tune-up for what’s to come in the postseason. 

    But that should not be the Eagles’ takeaway after they were outplayed and outcoached. They cannot view Sunday as a blip. 

    It should be a wake-up call.

    “We didn’t coach good enough, didn’t play good enough,” coach Nick Sirianni said. “Simple as that.”

    For the past month, the Eagles have clung to a mystique that they’re imbued with a stardust of knowing how to win — a notion emboldened by come-from-behind victories over Dallas, Kansas City, and Buffalo. Their resilience was celebrated, and it made it seem as if deficits were merely obstacles on the Eagles’ way to eventual comebacks. But that intangible quality is not foolproof. Deficits will eventually catch up to you. And that was the case against the 49ers. 

    The necessary qualifiers are applicable. The 49ers might be the NFL’s best team, and there’s a reason why they were favored on the road. They also had extended rest while the Eagles played their third game in 13 days. The Eagles’ injury report was more crowded — especially at linebacker, where the Eagles started two players meant to be reserves.

    But this was barely a contest. Even if San Francisco seemed to approach the game as if it was their Super Bowl after they were on the embarrassing end of a defeat in the NFC Championship Game in January, the Eagles matched the intensity from the start. They reached the red zone on their first two drives and held San Francisco to a three-and-out on the 49ers’ first two drives. 

    When framed that way, the expectation should be a 14-0 lead. At the least, a 10-0 lead. Instead, the Eagles settled for two field goals — a vexing reality that cost them a chance to force the 49ers to play from behind.  

    “We just kind of weren’t able to connect and execute like we wanted to in the red zone,” said Jalen Hurts, who briefly left the game in the second half to get evaluated for a concussion. “When you’re playing a good team like that, every little thing matters. That’s a credit to them and the way they played today and how they executed. I think for us we just have to do a better job — a better job of controlling things we can and play cleaner.”

    One of those red zone trips was set back by Hurts tripping on the turf while trying to buy time, pushing the Eagles back from second-and-manageable to third-and-long. The difference between 14-0 and 6-0 set in when San Francisco took the lead on their third drive…and they never stopped scoring.

    The 49ers scored touchdowns on six consecutive drives. Kyle Shanahan’s play design and scheming hoodwinked the Eagles, whose personnel issues at linebacker were exploited by the 49ers’ skill-position players. Brock Purdy avoided third-and-longs and knew where to go with the ball, and when the Eagles had chances to bring the 49ers to the ground, their attempts at tackling made it seem like it was the first preseason game and not early December. The 49ers’ seven longest plays were characterized as short passes on the official play-by-play. Those became large gains because the Eagles could not bring them down.

    “We take pride in our tackling. I think we’ve been pretty good this year. We’re in the top 10 as far as missed tackle rate,” Sirianni said. “But we didn’t do a good enough job today. Again, that’s us putting the guys in positions to be able to tackle and then also doing it. A little bit uncharacteristic day on our part as far as the tackling. You saw that lead to some big plays, and part of that is, too, they broke tackles. So they played really well and we didn’t play well enough and they coached really well and we didn’t coach well enough.”

    And when the 49ers had chances to score, they didn’t settle for three points. They went 4 of 4 on the red zone, bringing to light an under-the-radar issue for Sean Desai’s unit. The Eagles entered the game No. 28 in the NFL in red zone defense, which will look even worse this week. The 49ers were also 8 of 11 on third downs, allowing them to extend drives. Three of San Francisco’s touchdown drives were at least 10 plays. So the Eagles could not get them off the field or stop them when they were near the end zone. That’s a recipe for one of the most lopsided defeats of the Sirianni era.

    “It’s really tough to play this team (man-to-man) across the board (because) they can have mismatches against linebackers and safeties,” cornerback James Bradberry said. “It’s just a tough team to play. I hope we see them again.”

    Dec 3, 2023; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; San Francisco 49ers running back Christian McCaffrey (23) runs with the ball against the Philadelphia Eagles during the third quarter at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

    A home crowd that had been let down for most of the night seemed energized in the second half when a sideline interaction between 49ers linebacker Dre Greenlaw and DiSandro, led to Greenlaw’s ejection and DiSandro also being sent to the locker room. DiSandro was seen by officials initiating contact with Greenlaw after a personal foul, and Greenlaw swiped at DiSandro’s face. Only the 49ers were levied a penalty; the officiating staff in New York cannot penalize a non-player. DiSandro’s walk to the locker room was a striking visual considering he’s usually escorting somebody instead of being escorted, but the South Philly crowd gave DiSandro a hero’s ovation.

    That momentum was short-lived. Even when the Eagles scored, the 49ers answered. The inability to stop San Francisco made it even more bewildering when Sirianni sent his punting unit onto the field on a fourth-and-3 from the 32-yard line in the third quarter. Sirianni defended the decision, which was similar to a punt in the second half in the Super Bowl against Kansas City. It seemed an odd choice to play for field position in a game when they needed points.

    “To me there was a lot of football left to play in the third and fourth quarter,” Sirianni said. “So I don’t regret that decision. To me, with that much time where that ball is right there, yeah, I did what I felt like I needed to do in that particular time.”

    Hurts had been identified by a concussion spotter one play earlier and required evaluation, although Sirianni said Hurts’ status did not factor into his decision to punt. Hurts did not explicitly question his coach’s decision after the game, although he acknowledged a preference to be aggressive.

    That decision did not tilt the game, of course. It was shellacking throughout three quarters. But the punt not make the Eagles look like the ever-confident, try-to-stop-us heavyweight that pummeled the 49ers in the championship game and has barely lost in the past two years.

    The 2023 campaign was never going to look like last season, when the Eagles spent most of their fourth quarters nursing double-digit leads. It’s nonetheless hard for it to keep looking like it has in recent weeks. Sunday marked the fifth consecutive game when they trailed at halftime. It was another week with a double-digit deficit. Winning that way seemed unsustainable, even if it signaled the team’s resilience.

    “I mean, we’re still winning games,” Jason Kelce said. “Obviously, nothing’s perfect. Very rarely is it perfect — especially when you’re playing good teams. We played the Kansas City Chiefs. Buffalo Bills. …I think that, largely, we played really really well when it matters most. But yeah, we need to be more consistent. That’s the biggest thing.”

    One message in the locker room was making sure the Eagles don’t fracture, although one loss should not do that to a team that remains the only 10-win group in the NFL. The problems are less mental and messaging, and more related to personnel. Linebacker Shaq Leonard will choose between the Eagles and the Cowboys early this week, and he could factor into the team’s approach to fixing the middle of the defense. Dallas Goedert is also close to returning.

    The path was never going to be easy. Not with the gauntlet that is this portion of their schedule, and not with the team’s inconsistencies. And they’re going to have to beat more top teams if they expect the season to stretch as long as it did last season.

    The schedule does not get easier. They now have back-to-back road games, including next week’s rematch with the Dallas Cowboys in a venue where the Cowboys have won 14 consecutive games. The Eagles still control their path to the top seed, although that looks less secure. They were humiliated by the 49ers and they were without their security chief. 

    Maybe the Eagles see San Francisco again. There’s much they must secure first.

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