Eagles lose Week 13 championship game

Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham
Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham

You can be sure that the San Francisco 49ers Week 13 championship rings will be spectacular.

After a dominating and impressive dismantling of the hometown Philadelphia Eagles, the Niners exorcised the demons of their NFC championship game loss 10 months earlier. The celebration after the game and certainly on the long plane ride home was extensive and joyful.

Bless their hearts.

More than anything else, the game was useful to the Eagles, a deserved and proper reminder that there is still work to be done. If the Eagles take the lessons the Niners generously left behind, then another run for a Super Bowl title is possible.

If not, then the team will have wasted a rapidly closing window for some of the team’s all-time greats.

Brandon Graham, Jason Kelce, Fletcher Cox and, to a lesser extent, Lane Johnson are much closer to the end of their Eagles careers than the beginning. So, too, are players like Darius Slay and James Bradberry.

Championship teams have a window and the window for this Eagles team will be open for only so long. That’s why a loss to the Niners is a net positive.

The Eagles are in a stretch of six high-profile games against some of the very best teams in the NFL. Through four of those games, they’re 3-1. A two-game road trip to Dallas and Seattle ends the string.

Comeback wins against Kansas City and Buffalo masked some of the problems that were so evident against the Niners. The Eagles have five weeks to solve those problems. If they should maintain their one-game lead over the rest of the NFC, they’ll have an extra week to make their playoff push.

First and foremost, the Eagles have to protect quarterback Jalen Hurts. The Eagles quarterback briefly left the game in the fourth quarter with a possible concussion. Hurts has been injured and limited to an unknown extent since the team’s previous loss to the Jets.

The effect of Hurts’ injury has been a disjointed and inconsistent offensive effort. Hurts threw for nearly 300 yards against the Niners but there was almost no running game to support him.

Better use of the running game and a more imaginative passing attack would greatly lessen the need for Hurts to make great plays on every drive. Dipping into that well too often makes Hurts less effective.

The Eagles need a third and fourth option beyond A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith. The Eagles have two great wide receivers but need a third option in the passing game. Quez Watkins caught three passes and tight end Dallas Goedert is due to return next week. That can certainly help.

The running game has to be a priority. Expecting Hurts to drop back 50 times in a game is not sustainable and not good football. D’Andre Swift, Kenneth Gainwell and Boston Scott have to be reintroduced to the game plan.

The Eagles can still win 13 or 14 games but none of them will matter if the offense doesn’t develop balance and consistency.

The defense is an entirely different issue.

The first quarter against the 49ers was as good as a defense can play. Then it gave up six straight touchdowns. That’s six straight drives without a single Eagles player making a play. It’s almost statistically impossible.

The Eagles traditionally don’t value the linebacker position as much as most other position groups. That blind spot cost the team dearly. It cost them in the run game. It cost them in the passing game, in coverage and on the rush.

Playing two starting linebackers short already, the Niners exploited the middle of the field to such an extent that there was almost no chance that the Eagles could keep up in the game.

The good news is that it’s still the regular season. The Eagles didn’t knock the Chiefs out of Super Bowl contention with their win in Kansas City. The Niners didn’t end the Eagles’ Super Bowl chances, either.

Let the 49ers enjoy their flight home. It will be nice to not have to listen to another few months of whining and complaining from them.

The Eagles need to get back to work, get back on track and get on with the business of preparing for another Super Bowl run.

Fortunately, it won’t be hard to refocus the team’s energies with the Cowboys on the schedule next. ••