Eagles have come a long way, set to make a playoff push

Sports

The Philadelphia Eagles began the season in rebuilding mode with a rookie coach and unproven quarterback. They enter the final month in position to make a playoff push.

That’s progress.

When the Eagles (6-7) return from their bye, they’ll be no worse than one game behind in a jumbled NFC wild-card race, or possibly tied for a spot. With a favorable schedule over the last four weeks, many fans would consider it a disappointment if Philadelphia doesn’t get into the postseason.

The Eagles have come a long way since the top priority for 2021 was figuring out if Jalen Hurts should be the starting quarterback in 2022.

”Obviously get your bodies right here, but what are you going to do to be 1-0?” coach Nick Sirianni said this week about his team. ”That’s kind of the mentality we have about our process, about how we go through the week, how we put ourselves in position to go 1-0 each week, not thinking too far ahead, learning from your past mistakes, past successes, but not thinking about those but being completely in the moment.”

The Eagles turned their season around after a 2-5 start by turning to the run game. Led by Hurts, they’ve become the NFL’s top rushing offense following a streak of six straight games with 175-plus yards on the ground. They’ve had three different leading rushers in those games – Hurts, Miles Sanders and Jordan Howard – and four players have had at least one 75-yard rushing performance during that span.

”I think you’re always evolving and changing to make sure you’re doing the best things for your players,” Sirianni said. ”I think we definitely changed who we had been and who we are, and to find out what we do best. I don’t want to talk about particular plays, but our style is being together, playing together as a team, being tough and being physical. And so that’s kind of the mentality we have, the identity that we have, of `Hey, this is who we are,’ and we’re just trying to tailor things around that to allow those things to shine – the togetherness and the toughness and the physicality of the game. And that’s what I think we’ve been doing these last two months of the season.”

Hurts sat out last week’s 33-18 win over the lowly Jets because of an ankle injury, and Gardner Minshew kept the offense rolling. But despite a touch of Minshew Mania in Philly, there’s no quarterback controversy. Hurts will be the starter when healthy. He has four more games to prove he could be the long-term answer, though it’s possible the Eagles could spend another season evaluating Hurts.

Before he had his worst game as a pro in a loss to the Giants on Nov. 28, Hurts had steadily improved throughout the season. Questions remain about his accuracy and he has struggled at times within the pocket, but he’s a dual-threat talent who puts stress and pressure on defenses.

”He’s played really good football when he’s in, so when he’s healthy and he’s back, he’ll be our starter,” Sirianni said of Hurts.

The Eagles will have three first-round picks in the 2022 draft and there’s been plenty of speculation they’d use those picks to trade up for a quarterback or acquire a veteran. But Hurts has played his way into the conversation. He can strengthen his case with a strong finish that helps Philadelphia secure a playoff berth.

The Eagles host Washington (6-6) and the Giants (4-8) the next two weeks. They’ll visit Washington on Jan. 2 and close out the regular season at home vs. Dallas (8-4). There’s a possibility the final game against the Cowboys could be for the NFC East title. It’s more likely Dallas would have secured the division by then.

Regardless, the fact the Eagles are even in the playoff mix this late in the season is a major step forward for a franchise that was in disarray last year.

Follow Rob Maaddi on Twitter at https://twitter.com/robmaaddi and his work can be found at https://apnews.com/search/robmaaddi

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