PHILADELPHIA — Most NFL teams aren’t afraid to dream big during training camp.
Bills coach Sean McDermott hung a giant Lombardi Trophy banner at his team’s practice facility. Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan said he expects his team to win the title. Aaron Rodgers has talked about how lonely the Jets’ trophy case looks to him.
You won’t hear any of that talk in Philadelphia.
“The goal right now, right this second, is not to get back to the Super Bowl,” Eagles coach Nick Sirianni said. “I know everyone is going to be like, ‘Well, that’s a crazy thing to say.’ ”
No, we get it. The Eagles obviously want to be playing for the Lombardi Trophy in February in Las Vegas. And they have the chops to get there. They are the defending NFC champions, with a superstar quarterback in Jalen Hurts, the best receiving tandem in the NFL (A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith), and a defense loaded with star players and two first-round picks.
First, though, the Eagles know they have to put 2022 behind them — the highs of finishing 14-3 and winning the NFC, and the lows of a heartbreaking 38-35 loss to the Chiefs in Super Bowl LVII.
The Eagles begin their journey Sunday in Foxborough when they face the Patriots in the season opener.
“Whatever we’ve done in the past doesn’t matter,” executive vice president and general manager Howie Roseman said. “We have to do everything we possibly can to maximize this team, this moment.”
The Eagles will look familiar to those who watched the Super Bowl. Most of the stars are back — Hurts, Brown, Smith, Dallas Goedert, Lane Johnson, Jason Kelce, Fletcher Cox, Haason Reddick, Darius Slay, and others. The biggest changes were the losses of defensive tackle Javon Hargrave and both coordinators — Shane Steichen on offense (Sirianni still calls the plays) and Jonathan Gannon on defense — to head coaching jobs.
But the Eagles also added two first-round picks on defense (Jalen Carter and Nolan Smith from Georgia), and hired former Patriot Matt Patricia as a senior defensive assistant.
“It’s nice to have a former head coach on the staff that I’m able to bounce some different things off of,” Sirianni said. “Always been fascinated by that coaching tree, and how I can pick the brain of that so I can continue to get better as a coach and ultimately us get better as a team.”
The biggest difference for the Eagles is that everyone is now gunning for them. There will be no sneaking up on the rest of the NFC like last year. The 2023 edition of the Eagles can’t be the same as the 2022 version.
“The [Super Bowl] hangover is a number of reasons,” Kelce said. “But I think teams probably think they’re just going to come out there and do the things that worked the year before.
“I think that that’s probably the biggest thing: Are we still looking at everything critically? Are we still knowledgeable that we can go out there and get our asses kicked by anybody if we don’t put the work in? It doesn’t stop in this league. You can’t fall asleep for one second.”
The good news for the Eagles is that the “Super Bowl Loser’s Curse” doesn’t appear to be real. Ten of the last 13 losers have reached the playoffs the next season.
Of course, the Eagles don’t want to just make the playoffs. They want to add a second Lombardi to their trophy case. In the last 13 years, the only Super Bowl loser to make it back was the 2018 Patriots, who won.
Based on how Sirianni has run training camp, it’s difficult to discern what type of team will be coming to Gillette Stadium. Sirianni didn’t have his team practice on back-to-back days through the first two weeks of camp. Hurts and the starting offense didn’t play a single snap in any of the three preseason games.
The Eagles had a light training camp in 2022, too, and it resulted in an NFC championship and one of the healthiest rosters in the league. And if any team can put Super Bowl heartbreak behind them, the Eagles seem like a good bet.
Their roster is loaded with veteran talent, and Hurts is as tough a leader as there is in today’s NFL. Four months after signing a $255 million contract, Hurts was doing push-ups at the end of a recent practice and getting chewed out by Sirianni after messing up a two-minute drill.
“Everybody is worthy of being coached,” Hurts said. “I can’t get on another guy for acting a certain type of way towards something if I’m not practicing what I’m preaching. We’re all here to learn and to continue to grow.”
Perhaps no player represents the ability to put last year behind more than cornerback James Bradberry, a second-team All-Pro in 2022. He offered no excuses immediately after the Super Bowl and took full responsibility for his holding penalty on JuJu Smith-Schuster that sealed the loss, even though most of America hated the ticky-tack call.
Six months later, Bradberry views the penalty simply as a way to get better.
“You never forget about it, but you learn from it,” Bradberry said. “That’s how I approach the game. You’re going to make mistakes, but you’ve got to move on and learn from it, just like in real life.”
Bradberry’s teammates have been impressed with how he and the rest of the secondary have put the Super Bowl loss behind them.
“It was a tough ending, but man, how those guys respond, those guys are true professionals,” Brown said. “There’s no easy work in practice, I can tell you that. Those guys are getting all of us ready for the season.”
Of course, the pain of the Super Bowl loss can’t be erased in just six months, and it does quietly fuel the players. The live Instagram feed of undrafted rookie punter Ty Zenter, who was released by the Eagles Aug. 19, inadvertently revealed the lock screen on Hurt’s smartphone — a picture of Hurts walking off the field after losing the Super Bowl.
“I would say we definitely have a chip on our shoulder,” Bradberry said. “We had a reputation last year of having a great defense and an explosive offense, but we haven’t played a game this year.
“We want to start over, but make sure we pretty much try to do what we did last year — try to get back to the Super Bowl and actually win this time.”
Ben Volin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.