TAMPA - In many ways, the NFL’s popularity is defined by its scarcity. For most fans they only get to see their favorite team for 17 competitive games a season and when it comes to the Super Bowl champions that number only swells to 20 or perhaps 21.
When it comes to losing in that landscape, it also fosters a unique Kubler-Ross-like five stages of grief that repeats itself every single week of the season with a little twist in the denial, anger, bargaining, and depression stages before you get used to the acceptance.
The end of any campaign in a sudden-death environment only heightens all that anxiety.
And the crash is real, something the Eagles felt after a business like 31-15 dismissal Sunday at the hands of Tom Brady and the reigning Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
“I think overall we missed our goals,” veteran safety Rodney McLeod said. “This obviously hurts, any loss [hurts]. We wanted our season to continue on to the Super Bowl.”
By any empirical standard, the Eagles had no right to even think about winning this game, considering Brady was on the precipice of his record 36th playoff win, more than all but two franchises over the last 50-plus seasons.
Philadelphia, on the other hand, had a QB starting his first postseason game in Jalen Hurts and a head coach, Nick Sirianni, embarking on his inaugural one as the guy in charge.
Yet the Eagles and their fans went through the stages and talked themselves into an offshoot of bargaining: unrealistic hope.
When the final seconds ticked off the clock the depression came in waves in the form of disappointment from the players involved.
“Everyone remembers the feeling we have right now and take it into the offseason,” said linebacker Alex Singleton, who had 16 tackles.
McLeod expressed similar sentiments.
“Just have to learn from these sorts of games,” he said. “... Especially when you get to the playoffs. Every possession matters, how you start, every single call, technique. It’s the little things that make a difference. … I told the guys after ‘embrace this moment.’ Remember this feeling because we will be back.”
Set to turn 32 in June with a significant injury history McLeod, though, may not be back.
“When you got guys on contracts in different phases of their life and their careers and you don’t know if they’ll be back or not [it’s hard],” Hurts admitted.
Sirianni was even more pragmatic.
"You get sad and start to feel sad because it's over," the coach said. "You're so happy that the journey happened, and the relationships that were built but it hurts and it stings because that journey of the 2021 Eagles is over and that team will never be the same again. There will be changes. Never does a team look exactly the same as it did the year before."
The only thing left now is acceptance which will unveil itself in the coming days.
“This doesn’t define us,” Hurts said. “And I know we’ll be hungry and I know we’ll come back better next year.”
-John McMullen contributes Eagles coverage for SI.com's EagleMaven and is the NFL Insider for JAKIB Media. You can listen to John, alongside legendary sports-talk host Jody McDonald every morning from 8-10 on ‘Birds 365,” streaming live on both PhillyVoice.com and YouTube. John is also the host of his own show "Extending the Play" on AM1490 in South Jersey. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen
Ed Kracz is the publisher of SI.com’s Eagle Maven and co-host of the Eagles Unfiltered Podcast. Check out the latest Eagles news at www.SI.com/NFL/Eagles or www.eaglemaven.com and please follow him on Twitter: @kracze.