PHILADELPHIA — A Super Bowl loss is not an easy thing to escape.
Philadelphia Eagles coach Nick Sirianni has faced this reality since the clock hit zero at State Farm Stadium in Phoenix, Arizona on February 12, the score at 38-35 in favor of the Kansas City Chiefs.
Reminders are everywhere. Sirianni recently sat down with his son, Jacob, at the family’s home in South Jersey to enjoy the newly installed television in their screened-in deck, only for a program showing highlights of the game to come on. Sirianni said he let out a series of dang-its and aww-mans as plays he wished he had back passed by.
The language grew more colorful when he’d watch clips of Super Bowl LVII at work.
“There’d been times I’m sitting in that office and an f-bomb came out of that office and someone was like, ‘Everything alright?’ ‘Yeah, I’m good,’” said Sirianni.
“Thirty years from now, 20 years from now, whatever, if I watch that game I’m going to have a knot in my stomach.”
But a new year beckons, one that will require Philadelphia’s full effort and attention if it wants to become the first NFC team since the 1974 Minnesota Vikings to return to the Super Bowl after losing it the season prior.
It’s tricky terrain to navigate, knowing last year’s finish is something that both can’t be ignored or overly focused on. It falls on Sirianni to thread that needle. His first attempt at it came on the opening day of the Eagles’ offseason training program in late April. As he began to address the team inside the NovaCare Complex auditorium, he put an image on the large projector screen behind him of red and yellow confetti falling on his players as they exited the field in defeat. It was an acknowledgment of the recent past in order to spin the message forward.
“My point was, it’s OK to use it as motivation, you should use it as motivation,” Sirianni said, “but the end goal is not just to say, ‘I’m [getting back] there,’ it’s about the process.”
He then cited a quote from pastor Steven Fertick: “You can’t admire the results and desire the reward if you don’t embrace the routine that produces the reward.”
The reward of a Lombardi Trophy promises to be even more difficult to attain this time around. Faced with a first-place schedule, the Eagles’ upcoming opponents had a collective win percentage of .567 last season — tops in the NFL. They lost five defensive starters in free agency along with defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon and offensive coordinator Shane Steichen, both of whom landed head coaching positions. And there’s a real chance of regression to the mean after being one of the least injured teams in 2022.
But the Eagles still have one of the best rosters on paper, led by MVP runner-up Jalen Hurts. Sirianni said he has seen another “jump” in Hurts’ game when it comes to accuracy and decision-making this offseason. He’s not the only one benefitting from additional time in the system. Sirianni singled out receiver A.J. Brown‘s improved fundamentals.
“Oh my gosh,” he said, “this guy continues to get better and better and better.”
The Eagles’ analytics department examined why Super Bowl teams faltered the following year — a study Sirianni was just starting to dive into when he met with a group of reporters in June. A fall-off in offensive production was among the chief culprits, he said, including for the 2021 champion Los Angeles Rams this past season.
Some of the data could prove useful, but as Sirianni pointed out, luck is a major player for even the most talented of Super Bowl-hopeful teams.
Mindset is one of the things within a team’s control. Sirianni spent a good amount of his summer nights on long walks around his neighborhood. Besides getting out of putting his kids to bed, he joked, it’s the time when he begins to craft his weekly messages for the regular season.
“Will one of them be the sting and the pain [from the Super Bowl loss]? Yeah, probably,” he said. “I don’t know when the time will be right to tell that story, I get a feel for that through the course of the week, but of course you can use it. But I really try not to bring up last year.”
No matter, it’s part of this team’s DNA.
“When you have the right guys, which I feel like we definitely have the right type of guys, all that does is fuel you to get back,” Sirianni said.