Today, we’re going to talk about the 1994 Philadelphia Eagles, a team that started 7-2 but didn’t even come close to making the playoffs.
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Every Friday, host John Gidley shares interesting stories of games, players, coaches and teams that aren’t necessarily forgotten, but are not as well-known as they should be.
A Little Backstory
1994 was the fourth season at the helm for Eagles head coach Rich Kotite. Kotite was hired in 1991 to replace Buddy Ryan, who was fired after a five-season stint without a single playoff victory. In Kotite’s very first game as head coach, Philadelphia’s star quarterback, Randall Cunningham, tore his ACL and was done for the season.
Despite this, the Eagles’ historically strong defense, led by Reggie White, Jerome Brown, Clyde Simmons, Seth Joyner, and Eric Allen, carried a subpar offense to a 10-6 record. Because 1991 was a very competitive season in the NFC, both the Eagles and 49ers missed the playoffs despite going 10-6. In the 1992 offseason, Jerome Brown was killed in a car accident in Florida.
He was only 27 years old. Playing with heavy hearts the whole season, Philadelphia returned to the playoffs with a healthy Randall Cunningham and an 11-5 record. They beat the Saints in New Orleans in the Wild Card round, their first playoff victory since 1980, but were crushed by the Cowboys in Dallas in the Divisional round.
In 1993, the Eagles’ leader on defense, Reggie White, decided to leave Philadelphia and sign with Green Bay. Despite this loss, the Eagles started 4-0, but in that fourth game, Cunningham suffered yet another season-ending injury, this time a broken fibula. Philadelphia lost each of their next six games, stumbled to an 8-8 record, and missed the playoffs. Thus, 1994 was a make-or-break season for both Kotite and Cunningham.
Start to the 1994 Season
After an Opening Day loss at the Giants, the Eagles won four straight games. Their most notable victory was a shocking week five blowout of the 49ers in San Francisco by a final score of 40-8. Philadelphia’s defense held Steve Young to 99 passing yards and two interceptions, and kept Jerry Rice out of the end zone, a huge win in and of itself.
A 24-13 loss at Dallas would be the only other blemish for the Eagles through their first nine games. In week 10, Buddy Ryan made his return to Philadelphia, this time as head coach of the Arizona Cardinals. The Eagles greeted him with a 17-7 victory in which wide receiver Fred Barnett caught 11 passes for 173 yards and two touchdowns. Philadelphia improved to 7-2 with this victory, and they should have savored every moment of it because, after week 10, a dramatic collapse began to unfold.
It started the next week when the Eagles lost 26-7 at home to another 7-2 team, Bill Belichick’s Cleveland Browns. Buddy Ryan got his revenge the week after that when Philadelphia lost a 12-6 defensive struggle at Arizona, a game that didn’t see a single touchdown scored. The next week, the Eagles lost 28-21 in Atlanta. Falcons wide receiver Terance Mathis caught 10 passes for 124 yards and two touchdowns.
One Last Chance
A week 14 home game against the Cowboys was a ripe opportunity for Philadelphia to get their momentum back. Instead, Emmitt Smith ran for two touchdowns, Michael Irvin caught another from Rodney Peete (playing in place of an injured Troy Aikman), and Dallas cruised to a 31-19 victory.
The Eagles were now 7-6, and it didn’t stop there. The next week in Pittsburgh, despite holding the Steelers’ offense largely in check, Randall Cunningham turned in what was quite possibly the worst effort of his NFL career, completing only nine of 27 passes for 59 yards. Pittsburgh won, 14-3, to send Philadelphia to an even.500 record.
The next week, at home against the Giants, the Eagles needed to win to keep their suddenly slim playoff hopes alive. Kotite made the decision to bench the slumping Cunningham in favor of Bubby Brister, who didn’t prove much better in getting points on the board.
Despite this, Philadelphia’s defense held in there through three quarters, and entering the fourth, the Eagles led, 13-6. Brister threw a costly interception that led to a game-tying five-yard touchdown run by Dave Meggett. On the ensuing kickoff, returner Jeff Sydner ran into his own teammate, Mike Zordich, fumbled the ball, and New York recovered.
A few plays later, Brad Daluiso kicked an 18-yard chip-shot field goal to give the Giants a 16-13 lead. With less than a minute to go and no timeouts, Philadelphia did manage to get into field-goal range, but Eddie Murray’s 42-yard attempt to tie the game hooked to the left. The Eagles lost their seventh consecutive game, falling to 7-8 and out of the playoff race.
Even worse, in the next week’s season finale, a meaningless Christmas Eve game in Cincinnati, Philadelphia blew a 27-10 second-half lead and lost 33-30 to a Bengals team who had only won two games all season.
Needless to say, Rich Kotite was fired shortly after that final game. He then turned in one of the worst coaching performances in NFL history in his two-year stint with the New York Jets, winning only four games and losing 28.
Despite speculation that Randall Cunningham would be gone as well, the face of the franchise stuck with Philadelphia in 1995, but after starting that season 1-3, rookie head coach Ray Rhodes benched Cunningham in favor of Rodney Peete, who led the Eagles to a 10-6 record, and even a playoff victory.
Cunningham sat out 1996, then signed with Minnesota. He played like his old self in 1998 for the Vikings, throwing 34 touchdown passes (17 of them to rookie receiver Randy Moss), but Minnesota’s season ended with an infamous NFC Championship game loss to Atlanta, largely signaling the end for Cunningham as well, one of the greatest “what-if” players in the modern era of the NFL.
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