TAMPA, Fla. -- The NFL season will reveal what kind of team you really are, eventually.
For the Philadelphia Eagles, that reality came in the form of their 31-15 beatdown at the hands of the defending champion Tampa Bay Bucs in Sunday's NFC wild-card game. It showed that while the Eagles had some encouraging moments over the second half of the season, they're an average team still miles away from being a legitimate contender.
When the season comes to a halt -- especially in the jarring, ego-bruising fashion that the Eagles' season did -- questions immediately flood in.
The one with the most gravity to it: Is Jalen Hurts the answer at quarterback? He had some very good stretches over the course of the regular season and, at age 23, guided Philadelphia to the postseason in his first year as a full-time starter. His final impression was not a good one, however, as he was inefficient through the air and had a pair of costly interceptions. The Eagles have three first-round picks in April's draft and must decide whether to use that capital on another signal-caller.
“I know we’re all judged on the last game that we played, I fully get that, but I felt like Jalen grew throughout the year,” said coach Nick Sirianni. “And he got better as a passer, he got better reading the defense, getting the ball to the right place. He developed so much in his ability to extend plays, not only making plays with his feet but also making plays downfield on the scramble. ... I feel really good with what we have in place right here at the quarterback position. I thought he had a great year and he came a long way and that’s [what] I expect of Jalen just because of the character he has, the toughness he has, the love for football he has. I can’t say enough things about Jalen the person and the player.”
Once that direction is determined, they can move on to other pressing matters, including bolstering their pass rush and adding better playmakers on offense. While the Eagles did manage to sack Tom Brady four times Sunday (their production picked up when All-Pro right tackle Tristan Wirfs exited with an ankle injury), they finished with the second-fewest sacks in the NFL (29) during the regular season. Edge rushers are of particular need. Brandon Graham is going to be 34 years old next year and is coming off an Achilles rupture, Derek Barnett is a pending free agent, making Josh Sweat, who did not play in this game following a medical procedure earlier in the week, the only defensive end currently considered a building block. Receiver remains a big need, with little production coming from the position outside rookie DeVonta Smith.
One question that was answered this season was about Sirianni. Yes, it appears, he can coach. The Eagles overperformed in 2021. Once the sting eases from this loss, that will be the general consensus in Philadelphia. But they beat only one team that finished the season with a winning record (the New Orleans Saints, at 9-8). And while the chants that broke out in the crowd at the end of Sunday's game -- "Eagles suck!" -- weren't quite accurate, they're as close to the bottom as they are the top. Their moves this offseason will help dictate which direction they go in 2022.
“This game does not define us, does not define who we are,” said Hurts. “We know all of the different things we have overcome, we know the environment that we’ve built as a football team and an organization. ... I know as a football team, we’ll be back. And this is a feeling that will kind of simmer in our hearts and simmer for us all. And with the youth on this football team, we’re definitely coming back hungry.”
QB breakdown: Some notable Jalen Hurts stats from the first half, via ESPN Stats & Info: He was 2-of-8 with an interception on passes with more than 10 air yards, 2-of-6 with a pick when pressured, and 0-of-4 with an interception on passes outside the pocket. His interception near the end of the first half in the end zone was the beginning of the end for the Eagles this season.
Eye-popping stat: This was the Eagles' 47th playoff game in franchise history. They were held scoreless in the first half of a playoff game for just the second time in their history, per ESPN Stats & Information. The other time was in the 1996 wild-card game at the San Francisco 49ers.
Troubling trend: The Eagles were held scoreless in the first quarter for the fourth time in five games, the exception being the regular-season finale against the Dallas Cowboys in which Philadelphia rested most of its starters. It marks the fifth straight Hurts start in which the Eagles were held without a point in the opening frame.