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Eagles do the improbable with Super Bowl victory
After finishing 7-9 last season, the Eagles expected to be better this season. But making the Super Bowl better? Winning the Super Bowl better? Never in a million years.
They expected Carson Wentz to make a leaps and bounds improvement after starting 16 games as a rookie. They hoped the veterans they added - wide receivers Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith, cornerback Patrick Robinson, running back LeGarrette Blount, defensive tackle Tim Jernigan and cornerback Ronald Darby - would make an impact.
But then the bodies started to fall. Kicker Caleb Sturgis. Running back Darren Sproles. Special teams ace Chris Maragos. Middle linebacker Jordan Hicks. Nine-time Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters. And last, but certainly not least, Wentz in Week 14.
Losing Wentz figured to be the Eagles' postseason death knell. He led the league in touchdown passes and was killing it in situational passing, leading the league in third-down and red-zone passing.
But they signed Nick Foles last March for a rainy day just like this. After struggling in the 10 regular-season quarters he played after Wentz went down, he put it all together in the playoffs, and was named MVP of the Super Bowl.
In three postseason games, Foles had a 115.7 passer rating. He was magical on third down with a 158.1 passer rating. He completed 81.3 percent of his third-down attempts, averaged 12.4 yards per attempt and threw four of his six postseason touchdown passes on third down.
"That we've made it to the Super Bowl is amazing," owner Jeffrey Lurie said. "That we've made it there in spite all of the injuries we've had to deal with this season speaks volumes about our players and coaches."
WHAT WENT RIGHT: In just his second NFL season, Carson Wentz threw 33 touchdown passes and led the league in third-down and red-zone passing. If he hadn't gotten injured in Week 14, he might have been the league MVP. General manager Howie Roseman had a near-perfect offseason, adding key pieces such as cornerbacks Ronald Darby and Patrick Robinson, defensive ends Chris Long and Derek Barnett, defensive tackle Tim Jernigan, wide receivers Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith, and running back Jay Ajayi.
WHAT WENT WRONG: Injuries. The Eagles lost a slew of key players, including nine-time Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters, running back Darren Sproles, middle linebacker Jordan Hicks, special teams ace Chris Maragos, and, late in the season, Wentz.
MOST DISAPPOINTING PLAYER: Running back Donnell Pumphrey. The Eagles were bullish on the fourth-round rookie, who broke the FBS rushing record at San Diego State. But he struggled in the spring and summer and spent the season on injured reserve with a hamstring injury.
MOST SURPRISING PLAYER: Running back Corey Clement. The undrafted rookie out of Wisconsin opened camp as the team's fifth running back. Despite catching very few passes in college, he was the team's primary third-down back and scored six touchdowns as a rookie.
ASSISTANT COACH ON THE RISE: Wide receivers coach Mike Groh. Groh's unit caught 20 touchdown passes, which was 12 more than the Eagles' wideouts in 2016 under Greg Lewis. He moved 2015 first-round pick Nelson Agholor from the outside into the slot, where he flourished, catching 62 passes and eight touchdown passes. Reunited with Alshon Jeffery, Jeffery had one of the best seasons of his career.