GLENDALE, Arizona — It was a whirlwind two weeks leading up to the Super Bowl.
But here we are, finally, as the Eagles take on the Kansas City Chiefs to crown an NFL champion for the 2022 season.
And that brings me to five thoughts that go into the big game:
Jordan Davis and the rookies
So this week I approached Eagles rookie Jordan Davis and wondered what he was thinking.
Here he is, 22, playing in a Super Bowl, just 13 months after he and fellow newcomer Nakobe Dean won the College Football Playoffs for the University of Georgia.
DOES A GOAT HURT?Despite Criticisms, Why Eagles’ Jalen Hurts Is ‘The Next GOAT’ Like Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes
LEADER BUILDERS OF UD:These Delaware Stars Broke Curfew To Be A Football Nerd, Then Made The Chiefs An NFL Dynasty
Getting to a league game must be old hat to him.
“It’s just different,” Davis said of the NCAA and NFL championship game. “(In college) it’s usually the same 5-6 familiar suspects that really stand a chance. In the NFL, it’s different. Anyone can do it. And this year is our year.”
But Davis, as a first-round pick, won’t be playing much. He is part of a deep and talented defensive tackle rotation consisting of Fletcher Cox, Javon Hargrave, Ndamukong Suh and Linval Joseph.
The same goes for second-round pick Cam Jurgens, a center, and Dean, the third-round pick at linebacker.
Long roads to Hurts, Slay’s dance
Then I think of Darius Slay, the Eagles cornerback who is in his 10th season and had never won a single playoff game until this season.
And I think of Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts. He won the national championship as a true freshman at Alabama in the 2016 season. He was benched at halftime of the national championship game the following season for Tua Tagovailoa, and was a backup the following year.
Eventually, Hurts transferred to the University of Oklahoma for his senior season and returned to the college football playoffs.
Now here he is, three years later, playing for a Super Bowl. Yes, it’s a whirlwind, but Hurts embraced it all, answering football questions and non-football questions.
“You talk about games like this,” Hurts said. “This is a game where this is the last. It’s the last this team is going to come out and play together. We had our last practice (Friday). Little things like that resonate with us.”
Lots of changes coming
And I think of the more than 20 free agents on the team. Many of them won’t be back next season. Stalwarts like Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham and Jason Kelce could play their last games as the Eagles. The same goes for players like Miles Sanders, James Bradberry and Chauncey Gardner-Johnson.
Where would the Eagles be without them? It’s so hard to put together a Super Bowl contender, and Eagles general manager Howie Roseman deserves a lot of credit for finding those players.
And Roseman knows his biggest challenge is yet to come, to bring the Eagles back here despite all the changes that are surely coming.
Sirianni’s speech (or lack thereof)
I also think of Eagles coach Nick Sirianni. For two seasons he showed his ardor on the pitch and in his speeches to the team.
But in the team’s last meeting on Saturday, Sirianni said he would change that. Instead of speaking, he would open up to any player who wanted to say something to the whole team. He said it was something he pulled from his days as a wide receiver at Mount Union when the Purple Raiders played to an NCAA Division III national championship in 2003.
It’s no wonder why it has earned the respect and admiration of its players.
What a ride
And most of all, I think about how emotional this entire season has been. When last season came to a close, Hurts showed up to his postgame press conference in a walking boot, having played a terrible game with a sprained ankle that would require offseason surgery, as the Eagles have been totally outclassed by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Questions about Hurts’ future were everywhere and there was speculation that the Eagles may have been looking to trade Russell Wilson or Deshaun Watson.
It seems so unfathomable now. Soon, Hurts and the Eagles will start talking about a mega contract extension that could pay him somewhere in the $50 million per season range in average annual value.
And now, we’re talking about the Eagles who could become a dynasty in the NFC, just like the Chiefs are in the AFC.
Eagles make special changes to teams
Now for some news.
The Eagles could change the punter after turning on Arryn Siposs from injured reserve. Siposs had broken his leg against the Giants on December 11. But the Eagles didn’t give up Siposs’ replacement Brett Kern, mainly because they didn’t have to.
That’s because the Eagles’ roster was one short of 53 players when rookie offensive lineman Josh Sills was placed on the commissioner’s “exempt list” after being indicted on rape charges from an alleged case in 2019.
Additionally, the Eagles granted Greg Ward a practice squad elevation because regular punt returner, Britain Covey, is listed as questionable with a hamstring injury. Covey had limited participation in practice on Friday.
Ward has not been on the game day roster at all this season, but has served as a punt returner/wide receiver since the end of the 2019 season.
If Ward ends up returning punts, it will most likely be for fair catching. Expect DeVonta Smith to have some chance of returning punts.
The Eagles also gave safety Anthony Harris a practice squad elevation. Harris had earned the elevation in the previous two playoff games, but was on the inactive list going into every game. He’ll probably be like that again.
Coaches on the go?
The NFL Network reported Sunday morning that Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon will be interviewing for the Arizona Cardinals head coaching job after the Super Bowl.
The Cardinals halted their search for head coaches last week, presumably to pursue an assistant coach in the Super Bowl.
According to ESPN, the Cardinals’ other nominees are Giants OC Mike Kafka and Bengals DC Lou Anarumo.
As for Eagles offensive coordinator Shane Steichen, he is a finalist for the Indianapolis Colts head coaching job.
In other coaching/advising news, the NFL Network is reporting that veteran defensive back coach Vic Fangio has spent the last two weeks under contract as a defensive adviser to the Eagles, helping them prepare for the Chiefs.
Fangio was the head coach of the Broncos through the 2021 season, taking on Kansas City twice a year. He was recently hired as defensive coordinator for the Dolphins, a role he will take on next.
Martin Frank’s prediction
Ultimately, this game will come down to defense, as where the defense can make a stop – and most likely only a stop – to win the game. Mahomes is fantastic, as is his favorite target, tight end Travis Kelce. The Eagles will be tested by those two in a way they haven’t been all season.
At the same time, Hurts and his receivers AJ Brown and DeVonta Smith will test a Chiefs secondary that features four rookies in the top five defensemen. And make no mistake, Hurts will have to pitch, something he hasn’t had to do much of since he dislocated his shoulder Dec. 18.
Part of that is because he didn’t have to. The Eagles had at least a 14-point lead at halftime in their two playoff games. They won’t have that luxury against the Chiefs.
But really, there’s no reason to overthink it. Chiefs head coach Andy Reid spent 14 seasons in Philadelphia building up the Eagles on offensive and defensive lines. And that philosophy hasn’t changed for either the Eagles or Reid.
The Eagles’ offensive line, however, is better, as long as they can neutralize Chiefs star Chris Jones’ defensive tackle. The Eagles defensive line is also better, although getting to Mahomes won’t be as easy as it was 2 weeks ago against the 49ers QB combo of Brock Purdy and Josh Johnson.
However, all the Eagles need is one stop. They will understand it, and the bosses will not.
Point: Eagles 37, Chiefs 33.
Contact Martin Frank at [email protected] Follow @Mfranknfl on Twitter.
This article originally appeared in the Delaware News Journal: Eagles vs. Chiefs in Super Bowl LVII: 5 final thoughts and prediction