The Philadelphia Eagles have managed to avoid disaster for much of the 2021 season in the figurative sense, so on the day the team finally reached the safe harbor of a clinched playoff berth, it probably made sense there would be a literal escape, as well.
It looked terrifying on film, and undoubtably for everyone involved in the moments after the Eagles’ 20-16 victory over the Washington Football Team at FedEx Field, that terror was quite real. As a group of Eagles fans reached over a railing by the visitor’s tunnel, trying to slap high-fives with their young, star quarterback, Jalen Hurts, the railing gave way and several fans tumbled down a few feet out of the stands and onto the ground below.
Miraculously, no one was seriously injured, including those underneath where the railing gave way, and that included Hurts himself, so showed the same dexterity he displays on the field to narrowly avoid the crush of humanity tumbling to the ground before him.
And this is how 2022 began for the Eagles. The fans got up, dusted themselves off, and posed for selfies with Hurts, who assisted in making sure everyone was safe and sound. No matter how dire things have been on the field, with Hurts in control the Eagles have found a way to dodge all the worst outcomes and live to laugh about it later.
Once the Packers took care of business Sunday night, the Eagles could celebrate a postseason berth
The Eagles were 3-6 after a Week 9 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers, and it appeared their season was doomed to failure. But a renewed commitment to running the football behind running backs Miles Sanders, Jordan Howard and Boston Scott, as well as the dynamic running of Hurts, the Eagles began a fateful push toward the playoffs, winning 6 of 7 games, including the past four in a row, to raise their record to 9-7 and put themselves in position to wrap up one of the three NFC Wild Card berths.
And once the Green Bay Packers finished off the Minnesota Vikings in the Sunday night game, it was official: The Eagles had clinched no worse than the No. 7 in the playoffs, starting in two weeks.
The Eagles (9-7) clinched because of their head-to-head victory over the New Orleans Saints (8-6) in Week 11. In an unusual circumstance heading into Week 18, the Eagles clinched a berth from the No. 7 seed, while the sixth-seeded San Francisco 49ers have not clinched the final Wild Card slot. Should the Saints win Sunday in Atlanta and the 49ers lose to the Los Angeles Rams, the 49ers would be the odd team out and the Saints would earn the final berth. In the process, the Eagles would move up to the No. 6 seed.
Hurts figured being the hero on the field was enough Sunday, then the railing gave way
But none of this would have been possible without Hurts’ leadership down the stretch. The second-year quarterback from Oklahoma, who became the Eagles’ starter late in the 2020 season, was a poised leader for the Eagles as they clawed their way out of the 3-6 hole.
On Sunday, in a game that was a microcosm of their season, the Eagles fell behind 10-0, then 16-7, before rallying to take the lead in the fourth quarter.
“We just bought in to who we are, bought in to what we could be and trusted in the grind in approaching every day the way we do,” Hurts said. “I couldn’t be more proud of this team.”
Hurts completed 17 of 26 passes for 214 yards and ran for 45 yards on six carries.
“What I felt on the sideline today was this calmness,” Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni said. “There was a calmness throughout the entire game.”
And there was calmness from Hurts after the game. Hurts had just reached the tunnel and was about to slap high-fives with the Eagles fans leaning over the railing when it gave way.
“I’m just happy everybody’s safe from it,” Hurts said after the game. “Crazy stuff right there. That was a really dangerous situation. I’m just so happy everybody bounced back from it, or it seemed like it. The passion of the Eagles fans — I love it.”
The Eagles face the Cowboys on Sunday, and could well see them again in the Wild Card Playoffs
The Eagles take on the Dallas Cowboys on Saturday in Philadelphia, and regardless of the outcome, there’s a decent chance the Eagles and Cowboys will meet once again in the Wild Card round in two weeks, only this time in Dallas.
How the NFC seeding shakes out hinges on three games: The Dallas-Philadelphia game on Saturday, then the 49ers-Rams game and Buccaneers-Panthers game on Sunday.
At the moment, the Rams (12-4) are the No. 2 seed, with the Packers having wrapped up No. 1 and the first-round bye on Sunday night. But if the Rams lose to the 49ers on Sunday, not only does that lock the Eagles into the No. 7 seed regardless of their outcome Saturday, it opens the door for the Cowboys (11-5), should they beat the Eagles, to leap from their current position at No. 4 all the way up to No. 2.
The Cowboys would move past the Rams and the Buccaneers (12-4), provided Tampa Bay also loses on Sunday, because of a better conference record in what would be a three-way tie at 12-5.
That would create a 2-7 matchup between Dallas and Philadelphia. The Cowboys beat the Eagles 41-21 in Week 3. But Hurts, playing his best football of the season, is ready.
“Just go out there and be myself,” Hurts said. “Not the box that everybody tries to place me in or place this team in. I go out there and be Jalen Hurts and I try to be the best version of myself every day. I embrace all the different things around me.
“I know I have a great set of teammates and a great set of coaches around me and they support me. I support them just as much and I know to come out and win games like this it is a total team effort. If we keep on learning, keep on growing, keep on doing the things we need to do, who knows how it could end.”