Eagles can take a step toward the NFC East title by beating ex-assistant Gannon and the Cardinals

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Friday, December 29, 2023

PHILADELPHIA -- - Jalen Hurts understood the optics that come with the Eagles looking defeated and on edge after a win that pushed them to the cusp of an NFC East title.

Coach Nick Sirianni bickered with players. Hurts had the kind of private conversations with teammates at their lockers usually not seen in public unless Philadelphia loses.

Heck, the Eagles even admonished their own fans to hush because the offense couldn't hear calls at the line of scrimmage. A.J. Brown caught six passes for 80 yards, but appeared visibly frustrated throughout the game and then refused to speak to reporters afterward.

Winning is supposed to cure all ails - except, it seems, in Philly.

Yet here are the Eagles, through all the anonymous sniping and poor body language - and at times even worse play over a three-game losing streak - in position to clinch the division for a second consecutive season as early as Sunday with a win over Arizona (3-12), if Dallas loses to or ties Detroit on Saturday. If not, the Eagles can still win the division by beating the Cardinals and then the New York Giants, whom they defeated Monday to end their skid.

And that's all matters, Hurts insisted.

"Winning is fun," Hurts said. "Everybody likes that."

The Eagles are even still in the hunt for a No. 1 seed in the NFC, though the No. 2 and at least one home playoff game is more in the cards for the defending conference champions.

Hurts, last season's runner-up for MVP, has accepted the brunt of criticism for Philadelphia's second-half malaise that included the losing streak, an admirable-yet-exhausting stretch of winning games from behind, and it needed to hang on until the last play to beat the Giants. Philadelphia led the Giants 20-3 at halftime but needed cornerback Kelee Ringo's end zone interception in the final seconds to secure the victory.

"Every competitor handles and channels different emotions in different ways," Hurts said. "How we channel that as a team, as long as we're doing it together, as long as we're on the same page, that's all that matters."

Hurts is among the NFL leaders in turnovers with 18 (13 interceptions, including a pick-6 against the Giants, and five lost fumbles), yet his 15 rushing touchdowns are a record for a QB.

"We just want to continue to grow through these experiences," Hurts said, "the lessons we've had over the last month, and channel it in the right way for us as a team, so we can be as successful and be what we're called to be on the field."

Sirianni says the team has fun after wins. But he noted the franchise has set a lofty standard in getting those wins - such as dominant performances throughout last year that included a rout of the 49ers in the NFC championship game. The Eagles haven't won a game by more than eight points since beating Miami by 14 on Oct. 22. No wonder Sirianni has been combustible on the sideline.

"There is that balance because wins in the NFL are hard to come by, and you have to enjoy it and have to have that balance: joy and determination to get better. You can have both," Sirianni said.

"I think that definitely starts with me, quite frankly. There were moments in that game where I felt like I was too tense on the sideline, and I need to be better about that. I have to do a better job. If I'm going to ask the players to do a better job themselves, then I have to do a better job myself, and I definitely felt that out of myself."


Arizona coach Jonathan Gannon took the brunt of the blame for the Eagles' loss in the Super Bowl - then the former defensive coordinator tarnished his reputation on the way out of Philly.

Gannon refused to take questions after the Eagles blew a double-digit lead to Kansas City, leaving players such as James Bradberry out to dry, and then his preparation for the Super Bowl was questioned when it was revealed he had been studying up for his interview with Arizona.

The Cardinals said they self-reported that general manager Monti Ossenfort had a phone conversation with Gannon in the days following the NFC championship game, when contact is not permitted under NFL tampering rules.

Gannon, who coached with the Eagles for two years, was hired by the Cardinals two days after the Super Bowl. The Eagles have since demoted defensive coordinator successor Sean Desai and turned over the play-calling to Matt Patricia.

The matter was resolved when the teams agreed to trade third-round picks in the 2023 draft. The Cardinals also received Philadelphia's fifth-round selection in 2024.

"There were a lot of special moments last year, and also in 2021, and Jonathan Gannon was a big part of that," Sirianni said. "Any time he thanks me for the opportunity for being here, I always in return thank him because his service to this team and the special things we did while he was the defensive coordinator here was enough payback for me tenfold."

Sirianni has said he doesn't believe Gannon's head was elsewhere leading into the Super Bowl.

Gannon deflected questions about his return to Philly, saying it was simply the "next game on the schedule."


Quarterback Kyler Murray's return from a knee injury hasn't turned around the Cardinals' season, but it has still been encouraging as they look ahead to 2024.

Murray missed roughly 11 months after tearing the ACL in his right knee in 2022. He returned on Nov. 12 and led a game-winning drive against the Falcons.

Arizona has a 2-4 record with Murray under center, and the two-time Pro Bowl selection has thrown for 1,305 yards, six touchdowns and four interceptions while also running for 187 yards and three touchdowns.

Murray signed a $230.5 million, five-year contract in 2022 that could keep him the desert through 2028.


AP Sports Writer David Brandt in Glendale, Arizona, contributed.


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