The Best Team
Breaking down the season, and the loss
By Sal Paolantonio

Sal Paolantonio is a senior national correspondent at ESPN. This is his 30th season covering the Eagles. He lives in Cherry Hill.


The best Eagles team of all time suffered the worst Eagles defeat of all time. That’s the bottom line. 

The Eagles were favored in Super Bowl LVII. They had a double-digit lead at halftime against the Kansas City Chiefs. Up to that point, in 56 previous Super Bowls, teams that had a double-digit lead at halftime were 26-1. Only the Atlanta Falcons, leading Tom Brady and the Patriots 28-3 at halftime in Super Bowl LI – 6 years ago – had watched such a big lead evaporate and lost the big game. Now the record is 26-2. In the annals of all-time Super Bowl collapses, the Philadelphia Eagles have joined the Falcons. Not good.

The Eagles should have won Super Bowl LVII. Jalen Hurts, their magnificent young quarterback, put up record-breaking numbers and brought the Eagles back in the fourth quarter after Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs had taken the lead. Hurts was tough, resilient and creative – everything you want from your quarterback. He did have a fumble recovered for a scoop and score in the first half, but overall he played a nearly perfect game. Unfortunately, Hurts and the Eagles offense were let down by the Eagles misbegotten defensive game plan against Andy Reid, who out-coached his former team, and Mahomes, the league MVP.

“The way he stepped up on this stage, ran and threw the ball and did whatever the team needed to win – that was a special performance, one for the ages,” Mahomes said of the Eagles quarterback. 

But when it counted most, in the fourth quarter, even Philadelphia’s special teams came up short. Eagles punter Arryn Siposs shanked a punt to the wrong side of the field – a mistake the Chiefs took advantage of.

“I got a bad punt and made a play,” said Chiefs receiver Kadarius Toney, who returned the punt 45 yards – a Super Bowl record.

“You decide if you want to learn from it,” Hurts said after the game. “I know I do.”

Before we get to what the Eagles learned from this 38-35 loss, let’s explain why this was the worst loss in franchise history and why this team was the best Eagles team of all time – with an emphasis on “was.” This team has many question marks going into 2023, and the answers can only be addressed if there is an honest accounting of what happened on Feb. 13 at State Farm Stadium. 

The loss in Super Bowl LVII stung. It was the third most-watched television program in history. A record 50 million Americans wagered a record $16 billion on the game. This was a high-stakes loss for all the world to see. After the game, Eagles fans were walking around Arizona – from the hotels to the airport – like zombies. In total shock.  

The Eagles had never been favored in a Super Bowl before – and lost. In 1980, the Eagles lost to the Raiders in the Super Bowl. It was a bitter defeat. But that Dick Vermeil team was down big early on and never really in it. The long wait until the next trip ended in 2004, when Andy Reid brought Donovan McNabb to Jacksonville, where the Eagles lost to Tom Brady and the Patriots. It was a sour defeat, especially considering that McNabb threw 3 interceptions and unresolved allegations were made that the Patriots cheated in the game. (See: Spygate.) Another rancid loss: The NFC Championship Game when the Tampa Bay Bucs closed down Veterans Stadium in 2002. As bad as they come.



It was the third most-watched television program in history. A record 50 million Americans wagered a record $16 billion on the game. This was a high-stakes loss for all the world to see.

But this team losing to the Chiefs has to be considered more difficult to accept – to be up that big at halftime in a Super Bowl and lose? Tough to recover from that. 

How tough?

Hurts is the only quarterback to produce 4 touchdowns in a Super Bowl loss. Entering Super Bowl LVII, teams were 39-0 with 35 or more points in a conference championship game or Super Bowl. Thus, trying to duplicate that feat in another critical game is very unlikely. This historic performance was squandered. 

How? Well, for starters, Mahomes was mostly untouched in the game. He was not sacked and hardly pressured, especially in the second half, when the Chiefs collected 15 first downs. In one half. Of a Super Bowl. Against a defense that had led the league in sacks most of the year (exclamation points optional!).

The Chiefs offensive line, particularly Andrew Wylie, eliminated the Eagles defensive front, especially left edge rusher Haason Reddick, Philadelphia’s best quarterback tormentor, and Brandon Graham, who was completely neutralized. 

After the game, Graham, who won Super Bowl LII with Doug Pederson, addressed the team, apologizing that the defense could not get a single stop of Mahomes in the second half. 

Remember, it was Graham who strip-sacked Brady in the fourth quarter 5 years ago, which led to the Eagles sealing the victory over the Patriots. But also remember, the defensive coordinator had moved Graham inside to defensive tackle on that play, allowing Graham to use his speed against a Patriots guard to get to Brady. Against the Chiefs, defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon’s initial coverage, zone-based plan was misguided, and his adjustments were worse. Gannon called a blitz on Mahomes 32% of the time, his fourth-highest blitz percentage of the season. But none of it got home. Mahomes ran all over the Eagles defense in the final 30 minutes of the game. Mahomes is good but not that good.

At some point, Head Coach Nick Sirianni should have stepped in. 

Now comes the hard part: picking up the pieces, trying to retool this team and get back to the Super Bowl. Historically, that’s very difficult to do. 

Let’s start with the defense, which continually gave up big yards to the better NFL quarterbacks: Mahomes, Derek Carr, Dak Prescott, Aaron Rodgers and Jared Goff. Gannon is gone. He is the new head coach of the Arizona Cardinals. The new defensive coordinator will have to honestly critique what went wrong in the Super Bowl and fix it. Or the Eagles won’t get better.

On offense, the Eagles lost their offensive coordinator, too. Shane Steichen is gone to Indianapolis to be the head coach of the Colts. Including the Super Bowl loss, when Steichen called the plays, Hurts was a whopping 16-3. Unheard of. Losing Steichen is huge. But Hurts will adapt. He always does.

“The beautiful part about it is everyone experiences different agonies, everyone experiences different pains,” Hurts said after the game. 

He had just ran into Mahomes in the corridor between the 2 locker rooms after the Super Bowl. Mahomes, still in uniform, and Hurts, in a light purple outfit, already showered, exchanged a moment of respect. Then Hurts faced reporters. And I can tell you, there is nothing tougher as an athlete than answering questions after losing a Super Bowl. But Hurts can’t be rattled.

“I don’t do this to be loved,” he said. “I don’t do this to be hated. I don’t do this to seek anyone else’s approval. I do it for the guys in the locker room. I do it for all the time we’ve invested into this.”

This is the one silver lining from this Super Bowl loss. The Eagles have found their franchise quarterback. As team owner Jeffrey Lurie said before the game, “Jalen Hurts has nothing left to prove” that he belongs as the future of the franchise at the most important position in all of sports. Hurts is the CEO of the team and he’s about to get paid like it – perhaps the highest paid quarterback in the league. 

General Manager Howie Roseman will have to figure out how to keep aging leaders like Jason Kelce, Fletcher Cox, Lane Johnson and Graham. Or move on. And Roseman will have to decide whether keeping running back Miles Sanders is worth the new money he will want.

But there is no decision to be made on Hurts. He proved in Arizona that this Eagles team – the greatest Eagles team ever assembled – belongs to Jalen Hurts. And that’s a good thing. “I had a purpose before everybody else had an opinion,” Hurts said. The purpose now: Get back to the Super Bowl and bring Philadelphia another NFL title. 

March 2023
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