A trip to the Super Bowl deserves a fresh bonus set of 10 observations.
So here ya go!
Let’s take a look at the wonder of Kenny Gainwell, a practice squad oddity, the five greatest offensive linemen in Eagles history … and tons more!
1. Kenny Gainwell’s emergence as a major part of the Eagles’ offense is one of the more intriguing developments of the postseason. During the regular season, Miles Sanders averaged 16.4 touches per game and Gainwell 4.5. In the postseason? They’re both at exactly 14.5. So Sanders’ touches have dropped slightly, and Gainwell’s have more than tripled. Sanders has been fine, but the 23-year-old Gainwell has just been so productive Shane Steichen has had no choice but to dramatically increase his role. Gainwell had one game during the regular season with 70 scrimmage yards, but he’s surpassed that in both playoff games so far with one biggie to go. He’s only the sixth Eagles running back ever with back-to-back playoff games with 70 or more scrimmage yards, a group that also includes Wilbert Montgomery, Ricky Watters, Duce Staley, Brian Westbrook and Jay Ajayi. Gainwell has the 4th-most scrimmage yards among all running backs this postseason with 195, behind only Christian McCaffrey, Joe Mixon and Travis Etienne, and Sanders is seventh with 135. More yards than Saquon Barkley, Tony Pollard, Ezekiel Elliott. Corey Clement came out of nowhere after a quiet regular season with a huge postseason in 2017 and Gainwell is doing the same thing five years later. Gainwell now has more career postseason scrimmage yards than anybody in Eagles history before their 24th birthday – 27 more than DeSean Jackson. He’s 10th in franchise postseason history among running backs in scrimmage yards. More than Shady. More than Sanders. All year, Sanders was clearly RB1 and Gainwell was RB2. They are pretty clearly now RB1A and RB1B. And that makes this offense even more unpredictable and more dangerous.
2. Brandon Graham played 20 snaps Sunday. Ten were pass plays, and he rushed the quarterback on nine of those. He had four pressures. Nine pass rushes. Four pressures. He’s 34 and in his 13th season and coming off a blown-out Achilles and he pressured the quarterback on 44 percent of his rushes. That’s insane.
3. Greg Ward has to be the first player in NFL history to be on a practice squad for two Super Bowls six seasons apart. Ward was a 22-year-old undrafted rookie on the Eagles’ practice squad in 2017 and now he’s a 27-year-old sixth-year pro and on the PS again. He played great down the stretch in 2019 and led the Eagles with 53 catches in 2020. He was on the 53 last year as well but got hurt early in camp this past summer and after a stint on IR, the Eagles released him. On Oct. 24, they signed him back to the practice squad, where he’s been ever since. Ward is the only player in Eagles history with separate practice squad stints five years apart (yes, I looked it up). Ward is a solid slot receiver, a smart player and a loyal Eagle. He’d rather be playing, but a chance at a second Super Bowl ring at $15,400 per week isn’t the worst job in the world.
4. Reggie White is the standard. The greatest pass rusher in history. A first-ballot Hall of Famer. But Reggie never did what Haason Reddick has done these last two weeks. He never had one postseason game with more than one sack during his eight years with the Eagles. Reddick had two in nine days. Reggie never had more than two sacks in a single postseason. Reddick has 3 ½. Reggie never played in a Super Bowl, at least not as an Eagle. Reddick is on his way. You never want to see anyone get hurt, but Reddick’s strip sack on Brock Purdy essentially ended the game. Reggie White is the greatest defensive end in Eagles history, but in the postseason, Reddick is at the top of the heap.
5. The 49ers spent much of the day Sunday taking cheap shots, late hits, personal fouls and then at the end of the game, just flat-out starting a brawl. When you’re losing you want to do anything you can to get the other team off its game, but I was really impressed how the Eagles didn’t take the bait and stayed disciplined throughout. They just ignored all the cheap stuff and played ball. That’s not easy to do when the other team goes way over the line repeatedly. The Eagles responded the best way possible. Scoreboard.
6. I can’t even fathom what Lane Johnson is doing and what kind of pain he’s experiencing. And the wild thing is that there’s been absolutely no drop off in his level of play since he came back. He shut down the likely NFL Defensive Player of the Year with a torn adductor that will require surgery in a few weeks. His Pro Football Focus grades for the last two weeks are his 5th- and 6th-highest this year, and PFF has him as the 3rd-highest rated offensive tackle this postseason out of 29 OTs who played at least 30 snaps. He was an all-time Eagle before this. Now he’s just a flat-out legend.
7. Think about this for a minute: The Eagles are 21-3 in the last 24 games Jalen Hurts has started.
8. Talk about making the most of your chances. Boston Scott has had a rushing touchdown in each of the Eagles’ last three playoff games despite getting six or fewer carries in each one. He’s only the third running back in NFL history with three consecutive postseason games with six or fewer carries and a rushing TD. The others are Gerald Riggs in 1991 and James White in 2016 and 2017. In his career, Scott has 19 rushing touchdowns on just 301 carries. In NFL history, only three running backs have 19 rushing TDs on fewer carries (David Sims of the Seahawks in the 1970s, Tony Paige of the Jets in the 1980s and John Kuhn of the Packers and Saints from 2008 through 2016). Incredible production on limited snaps.
9. Howie Roseman’s move to sign not just one but two veteran defensive tackles in November was huge, and Linval Joseph and Ndamukong Suh were both terrific against the 49ers. What a heads-up play by Joseph to scoop up the loose football after Brock Purdy’s incomplete pass that was reversed to a fumble. It looked like the play was over, but that’s such a veteran move. You pick up the ball just in case the call is reversed because without a clear recovery you don’t get possession. And Suh had his best game as an Eagle, with two QB hits, including the one that knocked Josh Joseph out of the game and forced the 49ers to run on just about every snap. Interesting that the 36-year-old Suh is the oldest defensive tackle to ever play for the Eagles in the postseason, and the 34-year-old Joseph is third-oldest (Haloti Ngata was a few months older in 2018). Something to be said for veteran presence.
10. Someone on Twitter asked me who I’d include in a list of the five best offensive linemen in Eagles history. Great question because they’ve had some all-timers. Obviously you start with Jason Kelce. Bob Brown only played five years here but was a three-time all-pro and three-time Pro Bowler and a Hall of Famer, so he’s in. Al Wistert was a four-time all-pro in the 1940s and captain of two NFL Championship teams. Should be in the Hall of Fame. He’s got to be on the list. Jason Peters was the best left tackle of his generation and made nine straight Pro Bowls – the last seven as an Eagle. That’s four, and that leaves one spot for Lane Johnson, Jon Runyan, Tra Thomas, Jerry Sisemore, Stan Walters or Brandon Brooks. Have to go with Lane, a two-time all-pro, two-time Super Bowl starter and the best right tackle of his era.