Smackdown by 49ers should serve as major reality check for Eagles

Maybe you thought the spark was bound to be ignited for the Philadelphia Eagles with the scuffle early in the third quarter of the much-anticipated NFC title game rematch on Sunday.

After all, it seemed so Philly.

Dom DiSandro, the cult figure of a security guard known as “Big Dom,” was tossed from a game that, well, he wasn’t playing in, for coming to the aid of DeVonta Smith. San Francisco 49ers linebacker Dre Greenlaw flipped Smith to the ground near the Eagles bench with something similar to wrestling “suplex” move. Then all hell broke loose. Greenlaw was ejected for smacking “Big Dom” – who never should have been involved in the first place – and the Eagles were suddenly poised to roll with some extra juice.

Or not.

Instead, the 49ers just added more fuel to a 42-19 payback rout at The Linc. And the ejection of the beloved security guard was hardly the only weird development that stained the Eagles.

Just in time for Dallas Week.

The Eagles still hold the NFL’s best record (10-2), but in suffering their worst setback of the season in such embarrassing fashion were handed a serious reality check.

“If you don’t come out and play your best against the guys they have and the coaches they have, it’s going to look like that,” Eagles coach Nick Sirianni said during his postgame news conference.

Sure, it’s one game, one loss, one big lesson. If the NFC playoffs were today, Jalen Hurts and Co. would still be the No. 1 seed. We’ve seen teams get trounced before in big regular-season matchups – Bill Belichick’s New England Patriots, Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts come to mind – and still wind up winning the Super Bowl.

Yet this one underscored the intensity of the challenge that could come in the coming weeks from last season’s NFC runners-up. If there’s a rematch in January, San Francisco – emboldened by the trash-talking lightning rod that is Deebo Samuel – just collected some hard-earned psychological chips. I mean, the 49ers arrived at The Linc wearing all-black, as if they were showing up for a funeral. Talk about a message. And next Sunday night at Jerry World, the Dallas Cowboys will be looking to make a statement of their own.

Haason Reddick of the Philadelphia Eagles walks off the field after a loss to the San Francisco 49ers at Lincoln Financial Field on December 03, 2023 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Haason Reddick of the Philadelphia Eagles walks off the field after a loss to the San Francisco 49ers at Lincoln Financial Field on December 03, 2023 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

No, the Eagles won’t flinch just because there are contenders seeking to dethrone them as NFC champs. That’s NFL competition.

But the setback that snapped Philadelphia’s five-game winning streak – suddenly the 49ers, Cowboys and Colts share the NFL’s longest streak with four consecutive victories – provides a fresh test of the resilience that has defined an identity this season.

“This is about playing to the standard,” said Hurts, the quarterback who was evaluated for a concussion and cleared. “We didn’t play to the standard.”

Nor did they play up to their resilient reputation.

Heading into Sunday, the Eagles were 5-0 in games they trailed at halftime this season. They have typically hung tough, played with poise at crunchtime and capitalized on the mistakes of others. It looked as if they might follow a similar script on Sunday. Until it didn’t.

After flirting with defeat in their previous four games – against Buffalo, Kansas City, Dallas and Washington – the Eagles finally met a match that didn’t succumb.

And along the way, the 49ers exposed Philadelphia’s shaky pass defense (which entered the week ranked 29th in the NFL) in the worst way. For weeks, the Eagles have given up too many points for comfort. And won.

Then came the 49ers. San Francisco scored touchdowns on six consecutive possessions. Brock Purdy, the quarterback who was knocked of the NFC title game early, struck for four TD passes. It’s fair to wonder whether the Eagles can get to a Super Bowl again with that pass defense.

Then again, the Eagles, playing with a depleted linebacker corps, couldn’t stop the run, either. Christian McCaffrey logged 93 of San Francisco’s 146 rushing yards. And he was aided by the multitude of missed tackles that stung Philly in the running game and passing game.

What was also striking about the 456 yards the 49ers piled up was the fact that the team had negative-6 yards in the first quarter – fewest ever in any quarter under Kyle Shanahan. Key adjustments?

Sirianni didn’t see much of a schematic change. He pointed to the rhythm of the 49ers running game, which set up the play-action passing game. All of which, well, set up the rout.

If it’s not a reality check for the Eagles, it’s certainly a fresh reminder of just how stiff the competition will be in January, when the bid to make it back to the Super Bowl faces win-or-else finality.

At least at this point, the Eagles are still alive – even if that means seeing the 49ers again.

After all, this fresh rivalry begs for a playoff rematch.

“We’re going to take this one day at a time,” Sirianni said. “I heard a lot of guys back and forth talking about playing them again, and it’s probably going to happen again. But there is so much football to be played between now and then.”

They surely hope there’s a big difference between now and then.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Eagles should be alarmed by 49ers' smackdown in NFC title game rematch