When the Eagles walked off the field at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas on Oct. 24, they were officially one of the worst teams in the NFL.
They had lost five of their last six games, including four in the span of 29 days that they trailed by at least 19 points.
They were 2-5. Only four NFL teams were worse. They were 19th in offense, 24th in defense. They had a rookie head coach, a first-time starting quarterback and no apparent direction.
Then their coach started talking about flowers.
Nick Sirianni was widely mocked when he revealed that week that he had spoken to his players about “growth under the soil,” meaning that his team might be struggling outwardly but there was tremendous growth occurring out of sight that would eventually lead to something beautiful.
They’re 7-2 since.
The Eagles’ 2021 season is evidence of what’s possible when people believe.
When a coach never stops believing in his system, the players never stop believing in the coach and an entire football team finds a way to focus on getting better every day instead of dwelling on the standings or the ugly losses or the criticism raining down on them from all angles.
The Eagles are 9-7 and in the playoffs 2 ½ months after they were left for dead in Las Vegas.
“It’s such a special feeling when you’ve bought into the system, the process that your head coach and your coaches are implementing,” Jordan Mailata said., “And so for us, when we look back at that 2-5 start, we knew we were going to go somewhere. We knew the weapons we had on our team. We understood the process.
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“But trusting the process was that next step that we had to take and once we started trusting in the process and listening to the coaches and going through the details and making sure that we weren’t repeat offenders and making the same mistakes over and over again and holding each other accountable, that’s when the ball started rolling.”
It’s natural to wonder what changed when the Eagles were sitting 2-5. The reality is nothing changed. And that was the key to the turnaround.
Obviously, the schedule got easier, but 7-2 is 7-2. Only the Chiefs, at 8-1, have a better record since Week 8.
They started winning precisely because nothing changed. They kept doing what they had been doing for nine weeks. It just started working.
“The thing that coach Sirianni has done so well has been keeping the messages the same,” T.J. Edwards said. “There’s never been a panic. Even when we were down at our worst, there’s never been a time where anyone’s freaking out. Obviously, after a loss there’s a lot of disappointment and people are frustrated with how we’re playing and things like that, but our process has stayed the same throughout this entire time, whether we’re winning or losing.
“So it’s been honestly really cool to see all those things that we’ve been doing and focusing on throughout each week, those things coming to fruition and now we’re seeing success from all those things, so all the roots and all the talks and things that we’ve had in the past, all those things that we’ve doubled down on are really helping us right now, so it’s awesome to see.”
Only two teams in NFL history have reached the playoffs under a first-year coach whose team was 2-5.
Sirianni was offensive coordinator of one of them and head coach of the other.
He’s doing something right.
“It was just about continuing to work, continuing to believe, (and) I don’t think anybody wavered,” Anthony Harris said. “Just going in with the attitude that we’re all in it together, we’re all going to come in and make our best effort to find out what we need to do to win and then focus in on it and just get to work.”
The Eagles became only the 14th team in NFL history to record a winning season after sitting 2-5 after seven weeks and only the 10th to reach the postseason, although a few others would have under the current playoff structure.
Since the NFL expanded to 16 games in 1978, there have been 196 teams that were 2-5. They averaged a 6-10 final record. Only three won 10 games, which the Eagles would do with a win Sunday against the Cowboys.
This team had so many opportunities to quit, and it never did, and that really speaks volumes about the coach, the players and the culture Sirianni has built since he arrived in town less than a year ago.
“I just think you can’t flinch and I don’t think we flinched, not one bit,” Hurts said. “We never flinched as a football team regardless of any expectations of anybody else or any opinion out there, we didn’t flinch. We controlled the things we could, we approached every day with the right approach and just continued to attack.”