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McCaffery: For Nick Sirianni and Jalen Hurts, a past loss is properly buried

They have been together long enough to win a conference championship and what was the richest contract in football, to win praise and win respect. As for conclusions, those have remained in development.

Jalen Hurts knows that, and Nick Sirianni does too. They know it and they say it and they vow every week to keep working to improve. They know that they have been together for two seasons and the tip of the third, and that the checkpoints barely have begun to mount. They also knew they would be facing one Monday night in Tampa before a 25-11 victory that would propel them to 3-0.

A bit of a football reality for more than 50 years, players and coaches know that everything becomes magnified on a Monday night. So the Eagles and Buccaneers would have that to deal with. But Sirianni and Hurts in particular knew there was more to the game than a standard NFL pop quiz. And if they didn’t want to admit that they knew why, they were reminded of it all of last week, in the locker room, in the press conferences, in formal questioning and muffled whispers.

Remember that last time in Tampa?

“You always look at the last time you played an opponent,” Sirianni would say. “Always. Because you want to see how they defended you and how they played their defenses there, how much has changed, all those different things. So that’s always in your routine … Study that game.”

Fairly or not, that game was remembered not just as one of the few missteps the Eagles have had in the Sirianni-Hurts era, but a haunting reminder that, in certain moments, the relative inexperience of the two can be exposed.

That day,  the Eagles lost a playoff game, 31-15, but not before falling behind by 31. Hurts, who was the youngest Eagles quarterback to start a playoff game at age 23, surrendered a fumble and was intercepted twice. He and Sirianni were widely criticized for being outmaneuvered by the defensive drawings of then-coordinator Todd Bowles, who since has become the head coach. That Tom Brady, who wasn’t 23, was quarterbacking the Bucs may have been a factor. But the made-for-history version was that the game had a way of revealing that Sirianni and Hurts could be solved.

For that, it was going to take a reversal, or at least something close to one, in the years-later rematch to make that vision go away, for Sirianni and mostly for Hurts. And that’s what it was, with Hurts completing 23 of 37 passes for 277 yards and a touchdown.

“He’s completely different,” proclaimed the coach of his quarterback during the ramp-up. “And it’s a completely different team on both sides, right? There are new players, new schemes. I know that I have major respect for a Todd Bowles-coached defense. They’re always really well-coached. He provides a lot of issues, and he’s been doing it for a very long time, and he does a good job adapting to who he has and letting them play the way they need to play.”

That was the general week-between-games theme, that Hurts was different now, that the Eagles and Bucs were different now, that Sirianni is different now, that Hurts is different now, that Tom Brady is retired now.

Early on Monday, that did not show, as the Eagles settled for a total of three points despite reaching Tampa Bay territory on their first two possessions. Despite relentless pressure from Bowles’ defense, Hurts nicely slipped a rush to tuck a 34-yard touchdown pass into the open arms of Olamide Zaccheaus with 3:32 left in the second quarter. Though he would be intercepted with 39 seconds left in the half, Hurts – as he had all night – benefited from his defense when Jalen Carter forced a Rachaad White fumble, James Bradberry recovered and Jake Elliott eventually deposited a 38-yard field goal at the close of the half.

By the second half, the Bucs had been pushed around the trenches enough and were ready to go. With that, Hurts spent the first 5:46 of the third quarter leading a 75-play drive and squeezing into the end zone on its 13th play. Later, after the Bucs closed to within two touchdowns with 9:22 to play, Hurts executed the offense well enough to run the next 15 plays and run out the clock.

“Everything is about us,” Hurts said afterward. “That will always be our message. We found a way to win. We found a way to execute. We have to do better in the red zone. We are a work in progress. We set standards for ourselves. But we were able to win.”

That last time the Eagles played in Tampa Bay, a sideline film snoop caught a Bowles assistant asserting that Hurts wasn’t seeing what the Bucs were running. And while the Eagles’ quarterback invariably pretends he doesn’t care what is said, he would not dispute last week that it was a source of his Monday motivation.

“He’s definitely a different player than two years ago,” offensive coordinator Brian Johnson had said. “For sure.”

Another checkpoint passed.

Contact Jack McCaffery at

Source: Berkshire mont

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