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A Season Ends And Questions Loom

Posted Jan 3, 2016

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – They go now into an uncertain future, into an offseason of intrigue and a coaching search, but with the taste of a last-game win on their lips, thanks to a 35-30 victory over the New York Giants on Sunday afternoon at MetLife Stadium. It meant something to the Eagles' players and coaches after the win, on the way into tomorrow …

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – They go now into an uncertain future, into an offseason of intrigue and a coaching search, but with the taste of a last-game win on their lips, thanks to a 35-30 victory over the New York Giants on Sunday afternoon at MetLife Stadium. It meant something to the Eagles' players and coaches after the win, on the way into tomorrow.

“It was important for us to play hard and play well and win the game,” tight end Zach Ertz said after another huge day. He caught nine passes for 152 yards, including a 60-yard catch-and-run. Ertz was targeted nine times as quarterback Sam Bradford completed 30-of-38 passes for 320 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. “It doesn’t erase the season. The year didn’t go like we wanted it to go. But we still wanted to come out of this with a win.”

In the big picture, nobody is going to remember a lot about what happened on this final Eagles Sunday of the 2015 season. The offense piled up 435 total net yards, converted 10-of-13 third downs, scored three touchdowns on three trips to the red zone and started things off with a DeMarco Murray 54-yard touchdown run on the opening offensive possession. There were a few new wrinkles with interim head coach Pat Shurmur running things – twice the Eagles ran with Bradford under center, some of the formations were different (one with Ertz as a lead blocker coming out of the backfield), Bradford called some audibles and the tempo wasn’t all go, go, go – but for the most part the Eagles kept things as similar as they had all year.

In this game, though, the Eagles minimized their mistakes – just three penalties for 11 lost yards – and picked apart the New York defense and held just enough in the red zone to keep the Giants out of the end zone. New York gained 502 total net yards, but scored touchdowns on just two of five trips inside the Philadelphia 20-yard line. It didn’t hurt that safety Walter Thurmond intercepted Eli Manning late in the third quarter and returned it 83 yards for a score to give the Eagles a 28-27 lead.

Really, though, the game was a bridge into the offseason and so many questions that must be answered. The main question, of course, is the matter of head coach, a search that started last week and that will intensify in the days to come. The players will follow the news, the rumors and the innuendo just like all of us.

“It’s an exciting time. It sucks, but now that it’s here we might as well embrace it,” linebacker Brandon Graham said. “We’ve got somebody new coming in. We will see his approach, what kind of defense he’s going to run. Whatever it is I just can’t wait to adjust and get to work.”

“This is a part of the business that nobody likes,” linebacker Connor Barwin said. “We’re in this position because we didn’t win enough games. That’s the reality. So all we can do is get our bodies right and then we’ll see what happens when a new coach comes in.”

Another looming question is the quarterback position. Bradford ended his season on a high note, completing 175-of-256 passes for 1,959 yards, 10 touchdowns and a 99.1 passer rating in his final six starts. Bradford set team records with 346 completions and a 65.0 percent completion percentage. Bradford had five 300-yard-plus passing games, tied for most in an Eagles single season. He is scheduled to be a free agent in the spring, and those around him hope that Bradford stays. Count Jordan Matthews, who caught seven passes for 54 yards and two touchdowns, as Bradford’s loudest supporter.

“He has to be the guy,” Matthews said. “Point blank. Period. He has to be the guy. You gotta build. You’ve got to continue to grow with people. I think it goes without saying his maturation, what he’s been able to do these past couple of games and how he’s ended the season. You look at the numbers, OK, yeah, I knew he was going to get that regardless, you look at his leadership, how the guys are really starting to gravitate towards him, how they’re starting to trust him and then the reps he’s building with all of his receivers.

“You can look at Zach from the first part of the season to this part? It’s night and day. You can look at me from the first part of the season to this part? It’s night and day. So, like I said, he has to be the guy and I want him to be the guy.”

The season, then, is a wrap. Players lamented the missed opportunities and the failure to step up in the wide-open NFC East as they dressed after a game for the final time as a group. That’s the thing about the end of an NFL season. So much changes, and now the Eagles have a looming decision to make to hire their next head coach. A final look back at 2015?

“Can I just forget that it happened?” Barwin said with a chuckle.

It’s over, at 7-9. That’s a far cry from where we thought the Eagles would finish, and now the team hurtles into the future.

“I have full trust that Mr. Lurie (Jeffrey Lurie, Chairman and CEO) and Howie (Roseman, executive vice president of football operations) will bring in the right head coach,” Ertz said. “All I can do is wait and see what happens.”

Welcome to the offseason, far too early but here. A win ended it, and a team full of questions follow. Stay tuned for the answers in what is going to be another massively important offseason for the franchise.

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