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Spadaro: A dream ending to a dream season comes up just short

Eagles Insider Dave Spadaro
Eagles Insider Dave Spadaro

GLENDALE, AZ – Tie game in a back-and-forth Super Bowl LVII Sunday night at State Farm Stadium. Down to the wire, just as everyone expected it might come. Just over five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter for Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes and a Chiefs offense that was unstoppable in the second half, having scored touchdowns on its three previous second-half possessions. Two Mahomes completions gain 17 yards. Three runs gain 15 yards and the Chiefs have a first down at the Philadelphia 43-yard line.

Here comes Mahomes, playing on a high-ankle sprain, an injury that was made worse late in the first half on a T.J. Edwards tackle.

Mahomes dropped back to pass and the field opened up in front of him, and Mahomes took off and ran, untouched, for 17 yards to the 26-yard line and the Chiefs had a first down. It put them in scoring position, and very much in control of the game. Three plays later, on a third-and-8 snap, Mahomes threw left for wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and the pass was incomplete, but cornerback James Bradberry was whistled for holding and Kansas City had a first down at the Eagles' 11-yard line.

The Chiefs wound the clock down and called their final timeout with 11 seconds remaining and Harrison Butker booted a 27-yard field goal with eight seconds left to lift Kansas City to a 38-35 win.

"It always hurts, right? Any time you don't come out on top regardless of what you are competing at, it burns you and it gets at you," Head Coach Nick Sirianni said. "A lot of credit to them. All the credit to them. They played a great game. It's a really good football team, a well-coached football team. But it hurts. Like I said, we'll use this pain, we'll use this failure for motivation for us moving forward."

Crushing disappointment for a Philadelphia team that was so outstanding the entire season and in this game held a 24-14 lead after two quarters, seemingly in control of the contest behind quarterback Jalen Hurts, who in that first half threw for 183 yards and a touchdown and ran for 63 yards and a pair of scores as the Philadelphia offense played keep-away from Mahomes, rolling up 17 first downs and 270 yards and limiting the Chiefs to 128 total yards and Mahomes to 89 yards in the air.

The Eagles knew that no lead was safe against Mahomes, the NFL's Most Valuable Player in the 2022 season. And Philadelphia didn't help itself with a Hurts fumble in the second quarter that linebacker Nick Bolton recovered and returned 42 yards for a touchdown to tie the game, 14-14.

After a spectacular halftime show from Rihanna, the game changed completely. Kansas City scored touchdowns on its first three possessions and Mahomes, tender ankle and all, carved up the Philadelphia defense with an array of short passes and a balanced running game. The Chiefs had touchdown drives of 10 plays and 75 yards, followed by a 9-play, 70-yard drive that put the Chiefs ahead, 28-27.

"They just did a great job getting that ball out of his hands, a lot of quick stuff. We knew that going in. Then, when we did get him, we were close to getting him, it was just Mahomes making plays," defensive end Brandon Graham said. "That last holding play hurt us, definitely when we were about to get off of third down. Third down was not really good to us, today. We know what we did wrong. We're just going to own it. We're going to sit in this for a minute and try to figure out for next year how we will make sure to get better."

Then a Kadarius Toney 65-yard punt return put the Chiefs in business at the Philadelphia 5-yard line and three plays later Mahomes defeated a seven-man blitz and threw to a wide-open Skyy Moore for a touchdown and a 35-27 advantage.

But the Eagles weren't finished. Hurts connected with DeVonta Smith for 45 yards to the Kansas City 2-yard line and Hurts ran for his third touchdown one play later. Hurts then took a sweep left and scored on the two-point conversion to tie things up at 35-35, giving Mahomes one last offensive possession.

"To me, Jalen played the best game I've seen him play in the two years that we've been together," Sirianni said. "He was outstanding. I really thought he was in complete control. He did things with his legs in the run game. He did things with his arm in the pass game, made some unbelievable throws, unbelievable reads. I thought he played outstanding. And you know you really look at the game and that was good for the NFL in the sense that the two best quarterbacks in the NFL played against each other on the biggest stage in the biggest lights. And Jalen played great."

Philadelphia couldn't come up with that big stop when it needed it most. Mahomes was 13 of 14 for 93 yards and two touchdowns in the second half and added 4 carries for 33 yards in a performance that earned him the Super Bowl LVII MVP award.

"It hurts. We know we didn't put our best foot forward in this game," Graham said. "Give all credit to Kansas City. They came out, the boys played hard until the end. Like I told the team, 'don't forget what you did this year.' It's going to serve us next year. Feel this sting because it definitely hurts. Boy, it stings. You can taste it. You can feel it. All we had to do was make a play on defense. We're all together, but we know that it sucks that we couldn't get off the field and make a stop for the offense, because the offense put us in a position. They just got us in the end. All credit goes to Kansas City. They had a great year. We're just going to feel this one for a minute, but it will definitely make me stronger for this comeback."

It's here! It's the Eagles and the Chiefs. The winner will be Super Bowl Champions.

Keys to the game? Kansas City won against an Eagles pass rush that led the league during the regular season with 70 quarterback sacks and eight more in the first two playoff games, keeping Mahomes clean the entire game. The Eagles failed to take the football away on defense and lost the turnover battle. The big punt return by Toney was a critical moment and a breakdown by the punt coverage team on a 38-yard Arryn Siposs punt that saw Toney reverse field and take it down the right sideline to the 5-yard line.

And the Eagles just couldn't get a stop. Kansas City had eight total possessions and scored five times, missing another chance when Butker hit the left upright on a 42-yard field goal.

Offensively, the Eagles gained 417 total net yards and converted 11 of 18 third downs and two fourth downs, but they also left some meat on the bone, settling for field goals on two red zone possessions – one late in the first half and one after Kansas City scored a touchdown on the opening drive of the third quarter. The Eagles knew that they needed touchdowns, not field goals, against this Chiefs offense.

Hurts completed 27 of 38 passes for 304 yards and a touchdown and he ran 15 times for 70 yards and three scores. Smith had seven receptions for 100 yards, A.J. Brown caught six passes for 96 yards and a touchdown, and tight end Dallas Goedert was terrific with six tough catches for 60 yards.

But The Eagles struggled to run the ball with their backs – Kenneth Gainwell picked up 21 yards on seven carries, Miles Sanders had just 16 yards on seven carries, and Boston Scott had 8 yards on three attempts.

A dream season ended on a last possession by a quarterback who showed just how great he is. The Eagles are just starting in the Nick Sirianni/Jalen Hurts era, but the pain on Sunday night was deep and profound.

"You want to cherish these moments with the people that you've come so far with, your family, your loved ones, your teammates, your peers, everyone that you do it with and do it for. I'm so proud of this team," Hurts said. "I would say I'm so proud of this team for everything that we've been able to overcome. Obviously, we had a big-time goal that we wanted to accomplish and we came up short. I think the beautiful part about it is everyone experiences different pains, everyone experiences different agonies of life, but you decide if you want to learn from it. You decide if you want that to be a teachable moment. I know I do."

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