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Another Terrible Loss On Road

Posted Oct 9, 2011

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- The season is not over, not with 11 games to go. But with every week that passes, the Eagles find ways to lose. Sunday against the Bills, the Eagles were very, very bad ...

In the course of a wild 31-24 loss to Buffalo, the Eagles were pounded in the first half as they turned the ball over three times, tackled horribly and trailed by two touchdowns at the break. They trailed 31-14 after three quarters before rallying in the fourth quarter, but a fifth and final turnover sealed the deal.

On third down in four-down territory, Michael Vick rolled to the right and threw complete for Jason Avant, who got his fingertips on the football, had it knocked up in the air by Drayton Florence, and then saw it intercepted by linebacker Nick Barnett.

"They had a good defense on for the play we wanted to run," said Avant, who had 9 catches for 139 yards, but who also had a key fumble late in the third quarter that led to a Buffalo field goal. "You never want to be on this side of the play. No excuses. I have to be better with my ball security, and I wasn't."

Avant's mistakes were only part of the troubling day for the Eagles, who trailed 28-7 midway through the third period. Some of the lowlights that burdened the Eagles included the five giveaways, a myriad of missed tackles and more troubles at the wrong time in the red zone ...

  • Vick completed 26 of 40 passes for 315 yards, two touchdowns and four interceptions. The stat sheet, however, doesn't tell the real story of the interceptions. His first pick ended the opening drive at the Buffalo 31-yard line when a screen pass intended for LeSean McCoy was tipped behind the line of scrimmage and the ball was intercepted. Vick's second interception, which ended the second drive, came when he was hit from the backside as he released the football, and it fluttered into the hands of Buffalo's George Wilson. Vick's third giveaway was his fault: under pressure from a Buffalo blitz, Vick tried to throw to DeSean Jackson over the middle, but Barnett was there to catch the errant pass and return it 31 yards for a touchdown. The fourth turnover ended the Eagles' final offensive drive.
  • The defense couldn't get a handle on Buffalo's simple approach to offense. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick threw a half-dozen screens that went for big yards -- running back Fred Jackson had gains of 49 yards and 20 -- a few shovel passes and a slew of slants and short, safe passes. Fitzpatrick was 21 of 27 for 193 yards passing, with one touchdown and one interception. He was sacked one time and hit only a few other times. Buffalo made sure to neutralize the Eagles' pass rush with the quick throws.
  • Buffalo's running game gained 143 yards, mostly on outside handoffs that took advantage of the scheme. The Bills allowed the Eagles' defensive ends to get up the field, sealed the inside and controlled the line of scrimmage.
  • Juan Castillo's defense missed enough tackles that he pulled safety Jarrad Page off the field and replaced him with Kurt Coleman late in the game. It was the third lineup change in five games for the safety spots. The tackling throughout the defense was poor until late, when the Eagles became more aggressive, moved their cornerbacks up closer to the line of scrimmage and took away the slants and crossing routes and screens.
  • The turnovers were just the killer, though. Avant's fumble came after a 35-yard gain moved the football from the Philadelphia 2-yard line with the Eagles down 28-14 and trying to gain some momentum. Avant had the ball ripped from his grasp by safety Jarius Byrd, who recovered the ball. A field goal 7 plays later made it 31-14.
  • Poor clock management marred the end of the first half, too. After linebacker Jamar Chaney made a leaping interception, the Eagles drove into scoring territory. On third and 10 from Buffalo's 26-yard line, with no timeouts remaining, Andy Reid decided to give Vick one more shot to either get closer for an Alex Henery field goal attempt or take one shot in the end zone. But Vick held the ball too long before firing incomplete in the back of the end zone, and the clock wound down to zero.
  • Finally, the Eagles made a mental blunder that coaches work on every day. On fourth and inches, with 1:23 to go in the game, the Bills lined up at the Eagles' 43-yard line, hoping to draw the Eagles offsides. The call, said Buffalo players after the game, was to not snap the football. Had the Eagles stayed put, Buffalo would have punted and the Eagles -- with no timeouts remaining -- would have had to mount a miracle comeback to win. But Juqua Parker jumped into the neutral zone and the Eagles were penalized and the game was over.

"We're in it one game at a time, and that part is never going to change," said head coach Andy Reid, still defiant. "We need to fix what went wrong here and get ready for Washington."

At 1-4, the Eagles say they are still fighting and that they have not given up hope. With the Giants' stunning loss to Seattle on Sunday, the NFC East is still wide open. The Eagles have five games remaining in the division, with Washington and a must-win situation straight ahead. The Eagles, if you are looking for silver linings, fought back in Buffalo and showed no quit.

They are taking at least a small sliver of solace in that.

"We're not going to quit. It's one game at a time," said defensive end Jason Babin. "That's the only way we can approach this. And that's what we're going to do."

There are troubles, for all to see. The Eagles are minus-10 in the turnover department, an unthinkable statistic in Reid's previous 12 seasons. Vick has been blitzed, harried and hit all season. The Eagles are battling confidence, having lost four straight games and blowing opportunities all season.

Defensively, Castillo is trying to find some kind of formula that works. There is no defensive stopper for a defense that is being pushed around in the running game. The Eagles scored touchdowns two of the three times they were in the red zone, but the one time they didn't score a touchdown was in the fourth quarter trailing 31-21. Seven points there could have made a difference in the end.

Sadly, the Eagles trudged out of Buffalo losers of four straight games. Reid was asked after the game if he is worried about his job security, and he answered with pride and resolve: The Eagles aren't done fighting. They aren't finished battling.

But they had better start winning. There is such a teeny, tiny margin of error now. Reid faces his greatest challenge, one that seemed unthinkable two months ago.

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