Super Bowl 2023: Eagles defense that was great all season came up short vs. Chiefs

By Frank Schwab

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham spoke deliberately. His voice wavered. He looked like he was trying to stay composed.

The Eagles’ 38-35 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LVII hit Graham and Philadelphia hard. Especially for a defense that shined in the regular season and couldn’t get a stop when it mattered most Sunday.

“We hurt, man,” Graham said. “We know we didn’t put our best foot forward. This game, I mean, give all credit to Kansas City. Those boys played hard today. Like I told the team, don’t forget what you did this year.

“Feel this thing. Because it definitely hurts. Boy, it stings. It’s like man, you can taste it, you can feel it. You knew all you had to do was make a play.”

The last time Graham was in a Super Bowl, he made that play. Leading 38-33, facing an all-time great quarterback in Tom Brady in the two-minute drill, Graham got a sack and a forced fumble. The Eagles recovered and went on to win the Super Bowl.

Nobody made a play for the Eagles’ defense Sunday. For a defense that was so good before the Super Bowl, especially rushing the quarterback, it was a quiet night. Patrick Mahomes led a drive that lasted 5:07 and ended with a game-winning field goal with eight seconds left.

The Eagles’ offense, and particularly quarterback Jalen Hurts, was great. The defense didn’t hold up its end.

“It sucked that we couldn’t get off the field, make a stop for the offense,” Graham said. “Because the offense put us in position.”

Eagles defense gets little pressure

Not all 38 points were the Eagles’ defense’s fault. There was a fumble return for a touchdown by the Chiefs. Kansas City also got a 54-yard punt return that set up a short touchdown, though the Eagles gave up a touchdown after that on a third down, against the same play the Chiefs had run minutes before to take the lead.

“You can’t give a team like that a short field or seven points off of a turnover,” Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni said. “I felt like a couple times we put the defense in a tough spot.”

The Eagles still had chances to turn the game on defense. They had 70 sacks in the regular season, tied for the third-most in NFL history, only two off the record. The Eagles had no sacks in the Super Bowl. Part of that was the Chiefs’ plan to use the quick passing game.

“They did a great job getting the ball out of his hands, quick stuff,” Graham said. “Then when we were close to getting him, it was Mahomes making plays.”

An Eagles defense that made things happen all season had no sacks, no interceptions, no forced fumbles. It’s hard to win when the defense doesn’t make one game-changing play.

“I thought they did a good job getting the ball out quick,” Sirianni said. “I thought they did a good job running the football. And, hey, they got one of the best players on the planet on their football team so he’s going to make plays.”

“Mahomes, man,” Graham said. “Great quarterback.”

Eagles defenders Haason Reddick (7) and Javon Hargrave (97) chase Kansas City Chiefs' quarterback Patrick Mahomes. (Photo by TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP via Getty Images)

Eagles defenders Haason Reddick (7) and Javon Hargrave (97) chase Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes. (Photo by TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP via Getty Images)

Eagles give up big 3rd downs

The Eagles had a few third downs that cost them. Both Chiefs TDs in the fourth quarter came on third down. When the Eagles looked like they had a stop on third down with 1:48 left, cornerback James Bradberry was called for holding and that effectively killed Philadelphia’s chances at a final drive.

“Third down wasn’t really good to us today,” Graham said.

The call on Bradberry will be debated, though the Eagles didn’t spend much time complaining about it after the game.

“It’s not what it is,” Sirianni said. “There’s so many plays that contribute to the end result of the game, and today they were better than we were.”

The hardest part of the loss will be knowing that just one play from a defense full of players who made big plays all season could have changed the outcome. On the Chiefs’ last drive, they ran 12 plays. The Eagles’ defense couldn’t make anything happen when it absolutely needed to.

“I’m definitely going to cry in the car on this one,” Graham said. “This one stung. Because we could taste it. We felt it. We know all we needed was one. We just couldn’t make that play.”