When the Eagles hoisted their first Lombardi Trophy to close the 2017 NFL season, it was like confirmation that destiny was finally, for once, on their side. But it also felt a bit like lightning in a bottle. Nick Foles, the quarterback who outdueled Tom Brady on the biggest stage in sports, was never supposed to be under center. Doug Pederson, the coach who outsmarted Bill Belichick, packed his bags just four years later. They were an underdog story to the fullest; their glory left almost as quickly as it arrived.
But wait a second. Didn't the Eagles return to the Super Bowl in 2022, just six years after their 41-33 shootout that brought a title to Broad Street? Some teams are still struggling to advance to their first big game! Yes. All of that's true. But only five players from the championship roster remain in 2023. Almost the entire staff is different. General manager Howie Roseman, briefly scorned for failing to lengthen the title window, won back Philly by expeditiously stripping and rebuilding the lineup to postseason form.
And yet there's another element of the present-day Eagles that makes them feel miles removed from their trophy-winning predecessors: They aren't underdogs. They're just straight-up dawgs.
Going 14-3 under Nick Sirianni in 2022, with Jalen Hurts making a seismic leap to MVP candidacy, would've been enough. Hurts going neck and neck with Patrick Mahomes, the modern-day equivalent of Brady, in a close Super Bowl defeat to the Chiefs, the modern-day equivalent of the Patriots, was icing on the cake for another faster-than-expected construction job by Roseman. But even the biggest Birds believers looked at the 2023 schedule -- punctuated by a daunting November stretch including consecutive games against the Cowboys, Chiefs, Bills and 49ers, each of them justified Super Bowl hopefuls -- and anticipated regression.
Instead, after coming back from down 10 to beat Buffalo in overtime on Sunday, six days after coming back from down 10 to upset Mahomes and Co. in Kansas City, the Eagles are 10-1 for the second straight season. Before 2022, they'd only ever hit that mark four times since their 1933 inception, and each of those times, they advanced to the NFL championship.
It's firstly a testament to the world-class talent that Roseman and team owner Jeffrey Lurie have accumulated in every phase of the game. From Hurts to receivers A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith to pass rushers Haason Reddick and Josh Sweat to cornerbacks Darius Slay and James Bradberry to the ageless offensive line headlined by Jason Kelce and Lane Johnson, it's truly an all-star squad even compared to the 2017 Birds, who reached the promised land with a handful of overlooked journeymen and injury replacements, be it Foles and Corey Clement or LeGarrette Blount and Patrick Robinson.
History, of course, will only definitively remember the teams that went the distance; it's why guys like Foles and Blount and Alshon Jeffery and Zach Ertz are already cemented as legends in the City of Brotherly Love. But the faithful also fondly remember the pillars that set the stage for title expectations -- Donovan McNabb, Brian Westbrook, Brian Dawkins, and all the 2000s icons who didn't get over the hump but got close enough so often that they bonded thousands of fans to the Birds for life. It might soon be that way with these current Eagles, if it isn't already, because of not just the talent, but the contention.
The numbers themselves are ridiculous: Hurts, who once looked incapable of matching the NFL's best at the position, is 33-11 since becoming the Eagles' full-time starter, and 25-3 since 2022. Read that again: 25-3. Sirianni, whose abundant on-field exuberance can get him miscast as a juvenile leader, is 35-14 since replacing Pederson. His fourth-down aggression, particularly on the "Brotherly Shove" QB push his group helped popularize, sometimes makes the famously gutsy Pederson look conservative. And there isn't a single active head coach with a better career winning percentage.
But what shouldn't be lost in all the loud play-making and brash coaching is the entire organization's fortitude. This Eagles team lost a close Super Bowl and, by the looks of it, came right back with ... more unflappability. "You win or you learn," Hurts quipped after that title-game defeat. It was a totally unsurprising remark from his mouth; Hurts is notorious for his even-keeled, often-cliche-ridden tone. Winning is all that matters, he'll say, not the way it looks. Which is fine and dandy, but most QBs and teams can't afford to actually live that out, which he and the Eagles do, over and over and over again.
There was a moment late in Super Bowl LVII that foretold, or confirmed, this enviable resilience. Hurts lost a fumble that turned into a Chiefs score in the second quarter. Down 35-27 in the fourth, his touchdown run with 5:15 left pulled Philly within two, and needing a two-point conversion, he powered forward on a sweeping run that knotted the game at 35-35. K.C. would go on to win, but in that moment, there was nothing that was going to deny Hurts, just 24 at the time, from making it a game. A year later, he's still an MVP-caliber figurehead; the passing marks aren't nearly as clean as they were, but he continues to save his best stuff, either as a runner or thrower, for the brightest lights. If that Super Bowl showing didn't sell you?
Maybe it was in Week 7 this fall, when the Dolphins' historic offense marched into town, weeks removed from a record 70-point outing, only to be stifled in an Eagles rout. Maybe it was Week 9, when Hurts shook off a battered knee to outlast Dallas. Or Week 11, when the defense shut out Mahomes in the second half to upset the Chiefs. Or Week 12, when Josh Allen ran all over the Eagles, only for Hurts to score five times and engineer his ninth career comeback after trailing by 10+ points. Only Mahomes has more of those in his career, putting Hurts ahead of clutch icons like Tom Brady and Joe Montana.
And the thing is, Hurts isn't the clutch player on the Eagles; he's one of many, just setting the tone for the rest. Go from one side of the ball to another. Is anyone surprised when DeVonta Smith, the super-slender but tough-as-nails target, reels in a critical sideline ball? Or when the imposing A.J. Brown races open downfield? How about when Reddick or Sweat or Brandon Graham gets a much-needed fourth-quarter sack? Or when Slay or Bradberry gets their hands on a crunch-time throw? When Jake Elliott, whose franchise-record 61-yard field goal in 2017 helped justify comments like, "This is our year," lined up for a 59-yarder to end regulation under rainy conditions on Sunday, surely a handful of Eagles fans believed his leg would deliver again.
If Sirianni allows the energy of his players to rub off on him while patrolling the sidelines, then Hurts' remarkably contained composure -- a refusal to blink, regardless of the score, setting or opponent; whether he's just hit D'Andre Swift for a score or lost the ball on a fumble -- has rubbed off on the rest of the franchise. Because no one ever blinks. No one ever panics. The games may be imperfect; the miscues are inevitable. But the results keep saying the same thing: The Eagles persevere.
Look, a lot can change quickly in the NFL. If the Eagles don't hoist another trophy, then all of this will be, as they say, for naught. Or will it? The fact that the standard has been raised so quickly in Philadelphia, and upheld so consistently as of late, must mean something, too. Eagles fans used to get critiqued for their impatience, laughed at for booing their own playoff teams after a single botched series. But guess what? These Eagles welcome such doubt and derision, for they, too, care enough to want the best. Not only that, but they've shown, in both their potential and their pressurized performance, they can be it.