The Eagles had a taste of what they might expect in Sunday's NFC Championship Game against San Francisco when they played the 49ers in Week 2 of the 2021 regular season at Lincoln Financial Field. It was a young Eagles offense, then with a head coach and staff in its second game. The Eagles were still in discovery mode about the offense and there were plenty of mistakes.
Wide receiver Quez Watkins had a 91-yard catch and run before he was tackled at the San Francisco 6-yard line. A false-start penalty moved the ball to the 11, but the Eagles moved to the 1-yard line on a defensive pass interference call. And then the drive fell apart. A pass to tight end Zach Ertz was incomplete. Miles Sanders lost 3 yards on a run. Quarterback Jalen Hurts gained a yard on a third-down run.
And then on fourth down, Head Coach Nick Sirianni dialed up a wide receiver pass from Greg Ward to Hurts that was incomplete. Drive over.
There were other mistakes. Wide receiver Jalen Reagor had a touchdown catch overturned when, after review, he stepped out of bounds. Two plays later, guard Brandon Brooks suffered the final injury of his career on a running play that lost 2 yards and then Jake Elliott's field goal was blocked. Another trip into San Francisco territory resulted in no points.
It was a lesson learned for the Eagles against one of the league's best defenses: You must take advantage of the chances you have. Of course, this offense isn't the same as that offense, as Offensive Coordinator Shane Steichen noted when he met the media on Tuesday at the NovaCare Complex.
"I think we as a team being together, we've grown as a team, just like fundamentally, details more than anything, looking at little things that like I'm like, oh, shoot, we've done that better this year," Steichen said. "So, I think just within the scheme of what we're doing, the repetitions of what we're doing, and how we're doing it and how we're teaching it. Like I always say, the more you do it, the better you're going to get at it, and I think the details of how we're doing it is a lot better."
Much of the talk this week has been about the San Francisco defense, deservedly so. The 49ers have the No. 1-ranked D in the NFL, with a front four led by end Nick Bosa, who in that Week 2 game last season had two sacks and a forced fumble, and with a great linebacker group paced by Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw, and a secondary that blankets receivers and features intimidating safeties.
But the Eagles aren't going to back down on Sunday. They're going to do what they do and play the kind of football that has brought them to this point – one win away from Super Bowl LVII.
"I have a lot of respect for the 49ers, but I think we're really good, too," said wide receiver A.J. Brown, a key addition to the team in the 2022 offseason. "We've grown together all season and we like the way we're playing. There is always room for improvement. We know that. We know we have to be at the top of our game on Sunday and I think that's a challenge that everyone accepts and embraces."
Said tight end Dallas Goedert: "(Center Jason) Kelce probably says it best – you've got to continue to be you, but at the same time, you've got to prepare harder, you've got to pay attention to the little details, you've got to find an edge. At this time, with four teams left, you've going to be playing against good players, against good schemes. It's always going to be good."
From the Eagles' standpoint, as they prepare for Sunday, the focus is every bit about what the offense does well, rather than how much teams have struggled to move the ball against San Francisco. What they do on that side of the ball, with such a talented group that has played together long enough to master Coordinator DeMeco Ryans' scheme is admirable and there is 100 percent respect for that.
But when you're good, as the Eagles are on offense, you proceed from a position of strength.
"We're playing really good offensive football right now and we have a great offensive line, we've got a great quarterback, skill guys, running backs," Head Coach Nick Sirianni said. "(Executive Vice President/General Manager) Howie (Roseman) has done a great job putting this team together and we're playing good football right now on offense."
And so what it's going to come down to against a 49ers team that is 15-0 when it wins the turnover ratio battle is for the Eagles to be on the same page, recognizing what the 49ers are doing, and for Philadelphia to play to its strengths, to dictate to a San Francisco defense that most of the time spells out how the game will be played.
The Eagles are good enough to control the line of scrimmage and win when the offense is on the field.
"We're going to have to have a plan, and obviously that's what we're working on now to make sure that their good players don't wreck the game," Sirianni said earlier this week. "That's what you always – you look at, hey, here's their really good players, how do we make sure this guy doesn't wreck the game? But we have good players, too, and we're excited about the matchups that we're going to – I think you're going to see a lot of really good matchups in this game of really good-on-good. There's a lot of good-on-good out there that's going to be happening in this game.
"That's what the NFC Championship Game should be. It's going to be good-on-good, and it's going to be tight."
Magnificent. Roaring. Beautiful. Those are the words that Eagles' players used to describe Lincoln Financial Field on Saturday night. Here are some of the best photos from the team's win, featuring fans who make home games so special.