With everything in front of them in the NFC East, the Eagles returned from the bye week on Sunday night and laid an egg in a 27-20 loss to the Dallas Cowboys, continuing a season-long theme of starting slow on offense, giving up too much on defense, and in the end failing once again to seize any kind of substantial momentum to drop to 4-5 on the season.
If this was supposed to be a "statement" game for the Eagles, it sent a disappointing message. The Eagles, as they have demonstrated all year, just aren't playing good football, top to bottom.
"No excuses. We need to win. That's the message," linebacker Nigel Bradham said. "We're disappointed. We came up short in a game we needed to win."
In the big picture, the loss is a tough one to overcome. The Eagles lost their third straight game at Lincoln Financial Field and head to New Orleans for Sunday's game against the high-scoring 8-1 Saints. They are two full games behind Washington in the NFC East. The secondary is down three starters at the cornerback position as Ronald Darby (knee) went out of the game in the third quarter to join inactive starters Jalen Mills (foot) and Sidney Jones (hamstring). Right tackle Lane Johnson (knee) was inactive and the offense lagged.
But more than that, familiar troubles again haunted the Eagles. They have not corrected mistakes that have been present all season. It cost them in the most painful loss of the season.
1. The first-half offense produced all of three points and 132 net yards. And while the Eagles picked up the pace in the second half, the fact is the team still scored only 20 points. In a season in which teams are collectively setting records for points scored, the Eagles are averaging a paltry 22 points a game, ranking in the bottom third of the league. The running game gained just 71 yards on 16 attempts. Quarterback Carson Wentz put up nice numbers – he completed 32 of 44 passes for 360 yards and two touchdowns, but he also threw a costly early interception and was off just a little bit on some throws, notably a red zone pass to open wide receiver Alshon Jeffery in the end zone in the third quarter.
2. Even with the addition of wide receiver Golden Tate, the Eagles passing game was Zach Ertz-centric, as he was targeted 16 times for 14 completions, 145 yards, and two touchdowns. Ertz was fantastic. But the outside receivers lacked explosive plays, other than Nelson Agholor's 51-yard catch from Wentz. Agholor caught five passes for 83 yards, Jeffery had four receptions for 48 yards, and Tate was quiet with two catches for 19 yards. Jordan Matthews had a strong game early, catching all three of his targets for 40 yards and three first downs.
3. The league's No. 2-ranked run defense was scorched for 171 yards, 151 of them on 19 carries from Ezekiel Elliott. Too many mistakes – tackles, poor angles, and a lack of winning at the line of scrimmage – cost the defense all game. And late in the game, the Cowboys went up and down the field on two possessions after the Eagles tied the game at 13-13 late in the third quarter, driving 75 yards in nine plays to take a 20-13 lead on an Elliott 7-yard catch-and-run from quarterback Dak Prescott and then driving 75 yards on eight plays and scoring on an Elliott 1-yard touchdown run to go ahead for good with 3:19 remaining in the game.
"We just didn't do our jobs," safety Malcolm Jenkins said. "We couldn't get off the field. It was a disappointing performance all around."
It didn't help the Eagles that they played the fourth quarter with Rasul Douglas and Chandon Sullivan at the corner positions after Darby went out. Prescott was sacked four times, but he wasn't threatened in coverage much at all – other than an early throw that linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill had a chance to intercept in Dallas territory – and completed 26 of 36 passes for 270 yards. The Eagles played soft in coverage and allowed the Cowboys to convert 8 of 16 third downs.
Elliott was at his best on Sunday night, but he also ran through gaping holes, away from defenders, and, in one case, leaped over safety Tre Sullivan for a spectacular run.
"He's one of the best players in the league and he played like it tonight," said defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, who had a quiet three tackles and one quarterback hurry. "I don't feel like we played our best on defense. We just didn't execute our defense."
4. The special teams didn't escape the blame, either. A well-executed short snap when Dallas lined up to punt on a fourth-and-2 play resulted in a Cowboys first down and kept a drive alive in the second quarter that led to a Dallas field goal. It was a drive, by the way, that illustrated just how much difficulty the defense had getting off the field. Dallas drove 64 yards on 14 plays and consumed 8:09 off the clock.
5. After that field goal drive gave the Cowboys a 6-0 lead in the second quarter, the Eagles answered with a Jake Elliott 56-yard field goal, but the defense faltered at the end of the first half as the Cowboys drove 75 yards in eight plays in just 1:14 to lead 13-3 at halftime.
In so many ways, the loss to the Cowboys illustrated the season-long problems the Eagles have had. The offense scored 20 points – the Eagles have scored 18, 21, 20, 23, 21, 34, 17, 24 and 20 points this year – and doesn't make anything easy for itself. The defense failed to take the football away, continuing a year-long problem.
And the Eagles are 4-5, looking up at Washington with a tough seven games to go in the season.
"We've got to keep playing and hope we turn things around," Agholor said. "It's a terrible feeling right now, but we have to keep fighting."
Things can turn around in a hurry, but the Eagles have been disturbingly consistent with their inconsistency this year. A team is what its record says it is, right? And at 4-5, the writing is on the wall: The Eagles have a lot of improving to do, and not a whole lot of time to do it.