PHILADELPHIA – Nick Sirianni had never been in the position he was in Saturday night, when he had to decide if he would play or rest his starters in a game that meant virtually nothing in the grand scheme of things.
In his 12 years in the NFL, the Eagles coach never had been a part of a team that had the luxury of being in the postseason a week before the regular season ended but had been in either six or seven play-in games that final weekend, he said.
Some of the decision about how to approach the gamer was made for him, with 11 key players not available due to still being on the COVID list.
The others, well, he had some help.
“I called a lot of people I trust and a lot of people I trust were able to give me some insight on it,” he said following a 51-26 loss to the Dallas Cowboys in a game that featured second and mostly third team and practice squad players.
“I promise you, I didn't leave any stone unturned. I felt like in this scenario, we had some guys dinged up. Some of the decisions were made for me, but I really wanted to make sure we got some guys back to full speed, back to full health, to be able to do what we want to do in the playoffs. The goal is not to just make the playoffs. The goal is to win games in the playoffs and advance as far as you can advance.”
Without seeing any film, the coach was asked if he saw any silver linings in the loss.
He highlighted a player in each phase of the game, starting with special teams.
Mac McCain. It has been a strange year for the undrafted free agent out of North Carolina A&T. He was waived twice by the Broncos and twice by the Eagles. He was inactive for most of the time spent with the Eagles. He made his NFL debut on Saturday night with 11 defensive snaps and 20 more on special teams.
“I thought [CB] Mac McCain was flying around on special teams,” said Sirianni. “You really saw his speed out there and I just thought he did some good things.”
Milton Williams. The rookie defensive tackle had two tackles for loss, a quarterback hit, and batted down a pass at the line of scrimmage.
“He continues to play really good football,” said Sirianni.
“It was alright,” said Williams when asked to assess his play after being informed of what his coach said about him. “I set a different standard for myself so what you see is just a little piece of what I felt like I could bring to the table. I think it wasn’t good enough, it was okay, but it wasn’t good enough to come out with a win. Just trying to get better and get ready for next week.”
And what is the standard he sets for himself?
“To be a difference-maker every time I come on the field,” Williams said. “Be a player that the coaches trust to play any position on the defensive line and make plays when plays come to me. That’s really it. Just go out there and be a playmaker, do my job, and come out with a win.”
Quez Watkins. The WR finally caught his first touchdown pass of the season, taking a short catch off the line then weaving through some traffic before breaking clear down the far sideline on his way to a 36-yard score in the final two minutes of the game.
He had five receptions for 84 yards to end his second NFL season with 43 catches for 647 yards, good for 15 yards per catch while playing in all 16 games. As a rookie he had six receptions for 106 yards in just six games.
“Quez Watkins just continues to be a playmaker with the football and Quez hasn't had as many opportunities as [TE] Dallas [Goedert] and [WR] DeVonta [Smith], but when he does get opportunities, he makes plays,” said Sirianni.
“It is not only DeVonta and Dallas, but it's also our running game. So, he's got limited opportunities, but what did he end the year with? Was he almost 700 [receiving yards]? Was it 650, somewhere in that? With the type of style offense that we are, I think that's a pretty respectable number, right there.”
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.