We're in the home stretch of the 2022 regular season. The playoffs await, but not before the Eagles take care of business at home. Injuries have added up this week, but the confidence amongst this football team remains the same. I'll take you inside the locker room and around the NovaCare Complex as the Eagles return home for the first time in four weeks.
A BIG PHILADELPHIA WELCOME
Jordan Mailata moved to the United States from Australia five years ago when he began training for the NFL. He was drafted by the Eagles with the 233rd pick in the 2018 draft.
Having never played a single snap of football prior to being drafted, he's learned the game under Offensive Line Coach Jeff Stoutland and behind veterans like Jason Peters, Lane Johnson, Jason Kelce, and many more.
The 2022 season is his second as the starting left tackle for the Philadelphia Eagles. Last year, Mailata showed nothing but promise for the future – so much so that the Eagles signed the young tackle to a four-year contract extension.
Mailata's had a long road to achieve recent success, but Sunday may just make it all worth it. For the first time ever, his parents, Tupai and Maria, will watch him play live at Lincoln Financial Field.
Christmas Day marked a reunion at the Philadelphia Airport for the family that was four years in the making. Mailata said there were certainly tears as they embraced.
The kid they said goodbye to in Australia has become a household name across the NFL. I asked Mailata if his family fully understands his larger-than-life presence in the city. He said his dad was in for a shock when they went to the grocery store this week.
"We had a handful of fans come by and stop by, say hi, my dad was shocked," Mailata reflected. "I was like, 'This is the city, Dad. They love their teams. They know who you are when you're not in the uniform.'"
There will surely be a proud family rocking No. 68 jerseys in the stands this weekend, watching their son live the American Dream.
The Eagles' defense has recorded 6+ sacks in four straight games for a league-leading total of 61 sacks on the year. With two games to go, the team needs 12 sacks to break the NFL record of 72 sacks set by the Chicago Bears in 1984.
The defensive unit also has four players with 9+ sacks this season. Linebacker Haason Reddick leads the way with a career-high 14 sacks, followed by Josh Sweat with 11, Javon Hargrave at 10, and Brandon Graham with 9.
Graham is one sack away from his first 10-sack season – Reddick is rooting for his teammate, saying he wants BG to get No. 10.
As for Graham himself, he's just enjoying the ride.
"I know how hard it is in this league to make sacks – we make it look easy these last couple weeks, but let me tell you – even this last game, I got a half, that was even hard," Graham said. "I would love to break double digits, I think it's in my cards this year if I do it right."
If he does get No. 10, there is a record-breaking celebration already planned for Graham. He said last season that he watched defensive end Robert Quinn, with the Bears at the time, break a sack record against the Giants. He called Quinn's celebration "cold," and knew one day he wanted to recreate it. We may see this long-awaited celebration sooner than later.
The team is also one sack away from tying the franchise record of 62, set in 1989. The message from Graham to the defense: "Don't think about it, y'all. Just be us."
Defensive Coordinator Jonathan Gannon doesn't view sacks as a winning stat, but he wanted to clarify how impactful sacks have been this year.
"I'm prideful of any time we're high in certain stats, and it's really a testament to the players of staying connected, doing their job, other guys doing their job that allows those guys to get sacks and do that, along with some really good individual performances, too," Gannon said.
ONE GREAT DUO
The past two NFL Drafts for the Eagles have featured big moves for wide receivers. In 2021, DeVonta Smith, Heisman Trophy winner, was selected with the 10th overall pick. The following year, the Eagles traded one of their first-round picks to the Titans for A.J. Brown. Both of these additions have become pivotal pieces to the Eagles' offense.
Heading into Week 17 of the 2022 season, they have eclipsed 1,000 receiving yards – the first pair to do so in Eagles history. They've also had back-to-back 100+ yard games apiece.
Brown is now 105 yards away from tying Mike Quick's single-season team record of 1,409 yards set in 1983.
"I'd be lying to say it don't mean anything, but I'm trying to channel my focus in other directions – me doing what I have to do, making plays for my team on critical downs. We'll handle all the records and all the other type of stuff," Brown said. "It's a blessing to even be that close to his record."
Since Week 13, both wide receivers are Top 3 in receiving yards, 20+ yard receptions, and receiving touchdowns.
This week, Offensive Coordinator Shane Steichen was asked if there is anything about Smith's late-season surge that has come as a surprise. Steichen said no.
"He's an elite receiver, and those guys that work and grind every week to get themselves ready to play are going to do good things," Steichen said. "That's what he's been doing, and he's continuing to grow as a receiver."
THE INAUGURAL CHANGEMAKER
This week, the Eagles presented the inaugural Inspire Change Changemaker Award to Dr. Ruth Abaya from the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.
Dr. Abaya, an attending physician in the Emergency Department at CHOP, treated a pediatric patient impacted by gun violence twice in a one-month period. It was this patient that inspired her to explore the preventability of gun violence in the city from a public health standpoint, specifically amongst our youth.
Her work and leadership in her role as the Practice-Based Scholar at CHOP's Center for Violence Prevention made her the clear choice for this incredible award.
"Who else?" said Abaya's colleague, Dr. Joel Fein, "When we think about what a changemaker means, it means someone who brings innovative ideas and actually makes them happen – people have recognized that she's accomplished that connection of relationships that need to happen and will continue to happen in the City of Philadelphia."
Dr. Abaya was surprised with a presentation this week where her husband, kids, family, friends, and colleagues were in attendance. The surprises didn't stop there, however, as running back Boston Scott, the Eagles Cheerleaders, and SWOOP were on hand to present Dr. Abaya with two donations: $50,000 from the Eagles' Social Justice Fund and another $10,000 from the NFL. The full $60,000 will directly benefit the Center for Violence Prevention at CHOP.
"It's an incredible privilege, it's such an honor," Abaya said. "But the very first thing I think about honestly is my team and all the people I work with, all the people that have mentored me and supported me, and all the people that are a part of our working coalition. So I just feel a huge debt of gratitude to the people who do this work with me, because it honestly takes a village."
Dr. Abaya was in for one more surprise – two tickets to the Super Bowl. All 32 recipients of the Changemaker Award league-wide will be recognized in Arizona next month.