There were glimpses last season, but no one could have seen this coming.
On Thursday night, the Philadelphia Eagles beat the lowly Houston Texans 29-17 to record their eighth-straight victory of the season and remain the only undefeated team in the NFL.
In doing so, the 2022 season became the franchise’s best opening to a season with a first 8-0 start.
Although they had a decent season last year, no one could have predicted the Eagles would become Super Bowl contenders behind an inexperienced quarterback and a second-year head coach.
But, against the odds, Philadelphia has transitioned into the top tier of NFL teams – besides the Buffalo Bills and the Kansas City Chiefs – as many people’s favorites to be playing in February’s season finale.
So, how did we get here?
Last year was one of rebuilding for the Eagles. The departure of starting quarterback Carson Wentz and head coach Doug Pederson presented a total change for the organization.
And while often those years of reestablishing an identity can be a tough watch, for Eagles fans there were positives to hold onto.
The arrival of Nick Sirianni as head coach offered a fresh perspective from the sideline and a scheme change on the field.
With no established quarterback on the roster, it was left to Jalen Hurts – the former Oklahoma star who was drafted in the second round in 2020 – to lead the team.
Hurts had limited experience in his rookie year, but what time he spent on the field did not go well as he displayed the naivety first-year quarterbacks often show.
But, paired with Sirianni, rookie wide receiver DeVonta Smith, dynamic running back Miles Sanders and one of the league’s best offensive lines, the Eagles showed signs of a quick retooling.
After a slow start to the season, the offense began to hum as games went by, with the team eventually finishing with an 8-7 record before an eventual first-round playoff loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Despite the disappointing end to the season, there were good signs to go off for the 2017 Super Bowl winners.
And, sensing foundations were in place, Philadelphia’s front office went all out to improve the team as best it could during the offseason.
The team made key additions to an already talent-rich defense – including Haason Reddick, James Bradberry, C. J. Gardner-Johnson and, just before the trade deadline, Robert Quinn – to make what has become a lethal set of defenders for opposing teams.
As well as another offseason to learn the system, the offense got a major boost when the team traded for Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Brown.
But even with all these additions, the start the team made has taken everyone by surprise.
The team has won every one of its eight regular season games, with Hurts taking the leap to a Pro Bowl quarterback having struck up an already lethal relationship with Brown through nine weeks of the NFL season – Brown has five touchdowns in his last three games.
Hurts rise has been astronomic from a promising quarterback to one of the league’s best. After Thursday’s game, Texans head coach Lovie Smith praised the 24-year-old, calling him an “outstanding player.”
“I think he’s improved more, maybe more than every player in the NFL,” Smith told reporters.
What has been most impressive has been the balance of the team. Although the team has developed threatening passing attack, Hurts’ dynamism with his legs has allowed the team to remain a potent running team, making them almost undefendable at points.
After Thursday’s victory over the Texans and setting a franchise-best start to the season, Hurts was in no mood for getting ahead of himself.
“I know it’s special for the city of Philadelphia,” Hurts, who has at least thrown two touchdowns in the last three games, told reporters.
“I mean, I’ve been 8-0 before and lost the national championship. Just take it day by day. We haven’t accomplished anything yet. It’s a day-by-day thing of us controlling things we can, playing to our standard and trying to grow every day. I think that’s truly what it’s about.”
After such a start, many are penciling in the Eagles to come out of the NFC conference and challenge in Super Bowl LVII in Arizona.
And in what has been a down year for many of the traditional big teams in the NFC – the Los Angeles Rams, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Green Bay Packers are all going through tricky beginnings to the season – Philadelphia have given themselves the perfect shot to grab a first-round playoff bye come January.
And in the City of Brotherly Love, Hurts will be showered in adoration on his return as the Eagles continue their endeavor for the organization’s second Super Bowl ring.