It was a pivotal moment in the biggest game of his coaching career.
The Chiefs had just scored to take a 28-27 lead in Super Bowl LVII, and the Eagles faced a 4th-and-3 on their own 32-yard line with 10:33 left in the game.
Nick Sirianni, as aggressive as any coach in the NFL, didn’t hesitate.
He sent Arryn Siposs out to punt.
“I know I've been aggressive all year going for it,” Sirianni said Thursday. “Really trust our guys in scenarios. I think 4th-and-3, on your own 30, what was it, 33? Yeah, I think you would get 32 out of 32 NFL coaches saying they punt that ball every time, 32 out of 32.”
Siposs, in his first game in two months, hit a low line drive to the Chiefs’ 30 that Kadarius Toney returned a Super Bowl-record 65 yards to the Eagles’ 5.
Nobody is going to stop Patrick Mahomes on a 5-yard field, and the Chiefs scored a few plays later to take a 35-27 lead. Although the Eagles did tie the game on their next drive, they eventually lost 38-35.
“Hey, if I had known they were going to return it to the 4, in hindsight, I think obviously I would have gone for it there,” Sirianni said with a heavy dose of gallows humor. “But no regrets there. That is not in my thought process right there.”
The Eagles were 4-for-6 on 4th-and-3 this year and 8-for-15 (53 percent) when they went for it on all fourth downs of 4th-and-3 or longer. Only the Vikings (67 percent) and Raiders (64 percent) were better.
League-wide this year, 4th-and-3 was a 47 percent play on 37-for-78.
Overall, the Eagles were a remarkable 27-for-37 on fourth down in 2022 for a league-high 73 percent, including 5-for-5 in the postseason – unprecedented in NFL history.
But if you don’t convert from your own 32, you’re giving one of the greatest quarterbacks in history a very short field. As it turned out, the Chiefs would have had worse field position if the Eagles went for it and failed.
“To be quite honest with you, it depends on the score, but we were in a one-point game,” Sirianni said. “If we were down two scores, then, of course you're going to go for it there in that scenario.
“But in a one-point game ... it didn't really come to my mind. ... When the score's different in the sense of you're down a couple of scores, then your mindset changes. But in that scenario, you know, I made the decision I was comfortable with in that particular time.”
It didn’t help that Siposs only managed a 38-yard punt and a returnable one, as well. Siposs punted 46 times this year and that was his shortest punt that didn’t land inside the opposing 20.
Toney’s 65-yard punt return was the longest against the Eagles in the postseason since 1947, when Charley Trippi had a 75-yard punt return touchdown in the Cards’ 28-21 win in the NFL Championship Game at Comiskey Park.
It was the longest punt return in any game against the Eagles since the Bears’ Eddie Royal had a 65-yard TD at Soldier Field in the final minutes of a game the Eagles won 29-14 in Carson Wentz’s second career start.
“Obviously, you guys saw the punt,” Sirianni said. “Arryn didn't get the punt that he wanted there. So, there was a low hang time. Toney did a good job of scooping that up and not letting it hit.”
Toney caught the ball on the 30 and darted to his left, where he was immediately surrounded by T.J. Edwards, Zach Pascal, Patrick Johnson and Jack Stoll. Pascal got his hands around Toney, Johnson ran right past him and Edwards got himself out of position, losing contain, which allowed Toney to change direction and start running to his right. He turned downfield and wasn’t touched again until he was inside the 10.
“We had guys down there and for different reasons we missed a couple of tackles there,” Sirianni said. “Tackling, I know what it will sound like, but tackling is our responsibility as coaches to teach the crap out of the fundamentals there. And it's our responsibility as players to make the tackles there.”