The Eagles keep losing close games by following the same script. At least Sunday’s defeat had some bright spots. (Photo: AP)
I typically love writing my weekly Bird Feed post. Win or lose, there’s always something intriguing to address. That has not been the case these last few weeks, and not because the Eagles are losing. In fact, losses often provide the most material. Recent posts haven’t been enjoyable because the Eagles do the same exact thing week after week. They make the same mistakes, give up the same big plays, whiff on the biggest opportunities, and ALWAYS shoot themselves in the foot. Look at the 3rd quarter against the Washington Redskins on Sunday and you’ll see the Eagles entire season in a nutshell.
After scoring at the close of the 1st half to take the lead, it was important the Eagles defense maintain the lead to start the 2nd half. The defense responded by opening the 3rd quarter with a 3 and out. On the ensuing punt, Darren Sproles scored a touchdown on a 72 yard return. The Linc was jumping, the Eagles were in control, and the Redskins were on the ropes. Then we saw the flag. Illegal block in the back. The Eagles’ toughest opponent all season hasn’t been the Cowboys or the Seahawks or the Packers, it’s been themselves. Instead of a 20-7 lead, the Eagles started at their own 23 and punted four plays later.
Still nursing that 13-7 lead, the Eagles needed another stop by the defense. Nope. This Eagles defense has been unreliable in the biggest moments all season (4th quarter vs Dallas, Detroit, Green Bay). They’ve also been susceptible to big plays. Both were true here. The Redskins retook the lead on an 81 yard touchdown to DeSean Jackson. Seven plays prior the Eagles were on the verge of a 20-7 lead, now they trailed 13-14.
Carson Wentz and the offense responded, driving to the Washington 29 before an offensive pass interference penalty pushed them back to the 39. Two plays later the Eagles would attempt a 49 yard field goal. A bad snap by a backup long snapper scuttled any chance of retaking the lead. For what felt like the hundredth time this season, an Eagle drive stalled out short of pay dirt. As has also been the case, injuries cost the Eagles points. It’s been the Eagles luck all season.
Facing only a one point deficit, the Eagles were still in good shape. The offense had some momentum going, driving deep into Washington territory on 3 of their last 4 drives. All they needed was a strong showing by the defense on the ensuing drive. Instead, the defense surrendered another touchdown, extending Washington’s lead to 8. After having the Redskins on their heels, the Eagles found themselves in a 14-0 3rd quarter hole. Solid offense, excellent special teams, smothering defense, missed opportunities, self-inflicted wounds, big plays surrendered, a poor challenge, stalled offense, lousy defense, a costly injury; the 3rd quarter was everything we’ve come to expect from the 2016 Philadelphia Eagles.
Despite another disappointing outcome, there were some bright spots in Sunday’s defeat. For one, Carson Wentz had his best game in months. In fact, it was probably his best outing since the Pittsburgh win way back in Week 3. It was a relief to see Wentz have a solid outing again. Wentz’s 4th quarter was especially encouraging. He’s struggled greatly in 4th quarter opportunities when tied or trailing by one score. Entering Sunday he was 8/21 for 69 yards with an interception while being sacked 4 times in seven drives. He only produced 4 1st downs and 3 points. On Sunday, Wentz was 8/13 for 101 yards on two drives. He produced 5 1st downs and 3 points but was also sacked 3 times and fumbled to seal the game for Washington. While he obviously holds the ball a little too long at times (though not the case with the clinching fumble), Wentz’s poise and production with the game on the line was a big deal, at least to me.
Finally, despite an 0-4 record, the Eagles have performed admirably against the 2nd best division in football. Each loss has been by one score or less. The Carolina Panthers finished 15-1 last year by winning a plethora of one score games (6). This season they’ve already fallen in 5 of those tight one score contests. The NFL is finicky like that. The Giants are another example of how things can swing from season to season based on the outcomes of one score games. While there’s certainly a level of skill attributable to winning close games, there’s also something to be said for being that close despite the most talent-deprived roster in the division.
As for all the outrage over Sunday’s loss and people again calling for Doug Pederson’s head? I don’t get it. Pederson’s playing Pinochle with nines, jacks, queens and no meld. His best offensive lineman has been suspended since Week 3. Injuries have decimated the rest of that O-line. He’s starting a rookie QB that was injured for a good deal of training camp. His predecessor gutted the roster of its talent and whiffed on 75% of his draft picks. It’s fairly amazing the Eagles have been competitive in all but one game this season. Yes, Pederson deserves some blame, but he’s hardly the primary reason for their 2-8 record since Week 3.
The season is over. These final weeks are about improving and developing the Eagles core players. Despite the loss, I thought Sunday was a step in the right direction.