If only the Eagles' bye had come with five minutes left in the fourth quarter. When Michael Vick found Jeremy Maclin uncovered over the middle of the field for a 70-yard touchdown, the Eagles took a 23-13 lead on the visiting Detroit Lions. The Eagles would be 4-2, undefeated at home and atop the NFC East after a surefire victory. Alas, there is no such fortune for the Eagles after the team surrendered that lead, allowing points on four consecutive drives in the fourth quarter and overtime.
"100 percent, you have to win that," said cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, who recorded his first interception of the season in the first half. "If you can't win those games, then you have to go back to the drawing board and see what's going on. We have to be able to close out a game like that. I know we all felt that way on defense."
What makes the loss so frustrating for the defense is that the unit has prided itself on closing out games this season. In each of the Eagles' first three wins, the defense shut down the opposing offense when it had a chance to tie or win the game in its final possession. But the defense has failed to close games out each of the last two weeks.
"It stings because that's the second week in a row that we didn't get it done in the fourth quarter when that's our time to go out and shut people out," said linebacker DeMeco Ryans. "We didn't get it done."
"We had a good thing going," said Asomugha. "Being able to close out games I think was starting to be our mantra; that was what we were going by ... This week, we played well for so long, we just weren't able to close it out. That's the frustrating thing."
Consider just how much the game changed once the fourth quarter began. Through the first three quarters, the Lions had accumulated a paltry nine first downs and 163 total yards while they were held to zero third-down conversions on eight opportunities. In the fourth quarter and overtime alone, the Lions recorded 14 first downs, 286 total yards and went three-for-five on third-downs.
What happened? First, the Lions answered Maclin's touchdown with a seven-play, 80-yard drive highlighted by a 57-yard completion from Matthew Stafford to Tony Scheffler. Three plays later, Stafford found Nate Burleson for a 17-yard touchdown on a 3rd-and-15 to cut the lead to 23-20.
After a three-and-out by the offense, the Lions went down the field again, driving 67 yards on 12 plays. After a flurry of plays in the red zone were capped by a goal-line stand, Jason Hanson hit a 19-yard field goal to send the game to overtime. The Eagles offense again went three-and-out to start overtime, while also losing 21 yards, gifting the Lions prime field position. Detroit then needed to only advance the ball 23 yards before Hanson's 45-yard field goal gave the Eagles a second consecutive loss on the game's final play.
"They wanted it more," said cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. "They came out, made all the plays. I can't say nothing else about it, they wanted it more."
"I don't even know what the difference was," Asomugha said. "I think we blitzed a lot more at the end. So maybe they were able to take advantage of that. If they could recognize blitz and realize that they were in one-on-one coverage, then they could go after that, go at the person that they think gives them the best matchup. So they were able to do that effectively."
There were some other factors that played into the turnabout of play. Defensive tackle Fletcher Cox was ejected with just over 10 minutes remaining for throwing a punch. Safety Nate Allen suffered a hamstring injury in the fourth quarter and was replaced by Colt Anderson.
Then there was Calvin Johnson, who had been blanketed by the Eagles to the tune of one lonely catch for 28 yards through three quarters. But once the fourth quarter began, things changed. Five Johnson catches and 107 yards later, the Lions were heading back to Detroit with a victory.
"First of all, in the fourth quarter, it looked like they were just going to force-feed him," said Asomugha. "It didn't matter where he was, they were going to throw it. It didn't matter what the coverage was. But in that quarter, we started giving him some different looks by moving myself and Dominique around on him.
"I was on him most of the game. I think when we got to the fourth quarter, there was a lot more trying to give him a different look. We talked about trying to give him something else so that he doesn't get comfortable with one guy. We just wanted to give him a different look. There were times when Dominique, especially in the fourth quarter, would go to him."
In the end, it was another painful loss for an Eagles team whose outlook appears considerably different at 3-3 than it would have at 4-2. Now, the defense must prove itself once again.
"The talk doesn't matter," said Ryans. "We have to prove it. All the talk during the week, after the game, it doesn't matter. We have to get it done when we're out there on the field."