Special to Gallery Sports: Eagles looking for A.J. Brown to return to form in Super Bowl after quiet playoffs

Jan 21, 2023; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver A.J. Brown (11) runs the ball against New York Giants cornerback Adoree’ Jackson (22) in the first quarter during an NFC divisional round game at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Special to Gallery Sports: Eagles looking for A.J. Brown to return to form in Super Bowl after quiet playoffs

By Ed Barkowitz

The Eagles have been to Super Bowls before – even won one after the 2017 season – but this is the first time they actually are favored to win this game in 42 years. The optimism around town is palpable.

Like this past week, prospective jurors at the courthouse in Philadelphia were answering morning roll call with “Go Birds” instead of “present.” It was humorous to everyone except the judges, who could only throw back their heads in disbelief.

The Eagles have gotten to this precipice by handily winning two playoff games without getting much production from their best wide receiver. A.J. Brown was a bolt of lightning during the regular season, whether stretching the field or making those tough slant-pattern catches on third-and-7. But the postseason has been different.

Brown had just 50 total yards receiving in TWO playoff games – 22 against the Giants in the divisional round, 28 against the 49ers in the conference championship.

 “I just feel like I can change the game at any moment,” he said after the Giants’ game when he was visibly frustrated. “Getting the ball often keeps you going, keeps you in a rhythm, it definitely puts you in the zone, keeps you locked in. Of course, I want the ball.”

Any NFL quarterback will say, adequately feeding your best receivers is both wise and impossible. As Brown said, “If you throw me the ball 100 times, I’m going to want it 101 times.”

After several failed attempts at securing a No. 1 wide receiver (looking at you, Jalen Reagor and JJ Arcega-Whiteside), the Eagles finally got it right by trading up to draft DeVonta Smith in 2021 and then plucking Brown from the Titans this past April. Pro Bowl cornerback/teammate Darius Slay, who spent the season practicing against the pair, dubbed them “Swole and Skinny Batman.” Brown (6-1, 226) is the “swole” one. Smith (6-0, 170) is his partner.

Future Hall of Famer Larry Fitzgerald, who knows all about wide receivers, told the Philadelphia Inquirer that Brown and Smith were “a scary, dominant duo.”

“When you look at the numbers, the data supports it,” said Fitzgerald, who is working as an analyst for ESPN. “A.J. is No. 2, and DeVonta is No. 3. Nobody has won in man-to-man at a higher rate besides Justin Jefferson [of the Vikings].” 

Brown set a career-high with 1,496 yards, which was good for an Eagles’ franchise record. He and Smith (1,196) also became the first Eagles duo with 1,000 yards in the same season.

In Super Bowl LVII, they will be facing a Kansas City pass defense that was mediocre during the season – 18th in passing yards allowed, 32nd in passing TDs allowed – but has been better in the playoffs. In the Chiefs’ first two playoff games, opposing quarterbacks Trevor Lawrence and Joe Burrow combined for two TD passes, three interceptions, and seven sacks against Kansas City.

The Eagles didn’t play the Chiefs this season, but in 2021 Brown had 8-133-1 against KC in a resounding win while he was with Tennessee. Oddsmakers have set his over/under yardage total on Sunday at 72.5. 

Philadelphia sent a first-round and a third-round pick to Tennessee for Brown, and then gave him a 4-year, $100 million extension with $57 million guaranteed. He joined with quarterback Jalen Hurts, a longtime friend going back to when Hurts tried to recruit Brown to come to Alabama.

The two have talked about the openness of their friendship, how they communicate frequently, and how they hold one another accountable.

There was a little uneasiness a few weeks ago when Brown openly expressed frustration even though the Eagles were routing the Giants. He had just three receptions on six targets and was an afterthought as Philadelphia pounded New York by running the ball for 268 yards. Eagles fans were having flashbacks to mercurial hotheads DeSean Jackson and Terrell Owens – wide receivers with All-Pro talent and delicate personalities.

“I’m never the receiver that’s going to go on the sidelines or try to cause problems on the sidelines,” Brown said afterward. “I’m not that guy. I think that’s what people describe as a diva, but I’m not that person. I’m a guy who goes to talk to the quarterback or the [offensive coordinator] and [does] it that way. I’m not really a guy to try to cause commotion on the sideline. I’ve never been that guy.”

Supe Stuff:

  • The Eagles are the designated home team.
  • Chiefs fans aren’t in love with Carl Cheffers being tabbed the referee. Cheffers has been a thorn in KC’s side going back to the playoff loss to Pittsburgh following the 2016 season. Earlier this year, Cheffers flagged defensive tackle Chris Jones for a crucial roughing the passer penalty that left just about everybody in disbelief. This will be Cheffers’ third Super Bowl. He was the ref for Super Bowl LV when the Chiefs (11 penalties) were thumped by Tampa Bay (four penalties).
  • The Vince Lombardi Trophy weighs 6.7 pounds, but it sure feels heavier.
  • Players on the winning team receive $157,000. Losers get $82,000 per guy.
  • Rihanna is handling the halftime show. She grew up in a broken home in Barbados and started singing as a child to help deal with the stress.
  • Half-educated pick: Chiefs, 35-27.

Ed Barkowitz is a semi-retired sports writer formerly with the Philadelphia Daily News.

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