What do you do the day after losing a 17-point lead in the fourth quarter?
You get back to work. You get ready for the next task: A long, long road trip to London to play Jacksonville. If head coach Doug Pederson had time to evaluate every play call, every decision, every part of his game plan, his meeting times and his practice routine, he would do just that. But he doesn't have time. That's just the reality.
The Eagles are focused on Jacksonville.
Doesn't mean they're happy about falling apart in the fourth quarter against Carolina on Sunday.
"It's hard to sit here today and put a finger on the 'whys,'" Pederson said in our one-on-one interview prior to his Monday afternoon press conference at the NovaCare Complex. "One of the things we talk about as a football team is learning how to finish. When you're up 17-0, that doesn't mean the game is over. You still have to go out and play and finish the game out."
As much as you'd like the head coach to pore through every nuance of the loss and provide comfort and understanding – How in the world did the Eagles lose that game!?!?!?!? – that's just not going to happen. The Eagles are on to the Jaguars knowing how important it is to get to the bye week 4-4 with a half season to play.
"My focus is on the football team and making sure that our guys stay mentally tuned in and that we don't listen to the outside and start driving wedges in our team somewhere," Pederson said. "We can't fracture the team that way. That's my job this week and making sure we have a solid game plan in all three phases and go play a playoff team that was in the AFC Championship Game a year ago in Jacksonville who has a lot of talent on defense and playmakers on offense. They have their own struggles and we have ours. Two teams that are kind of licking their wounds getting ready to play on Sunday."
What can the Eagles improve upon? They dominated Carolina for three quarters and then couldn't do a thing right in the fourth quarter. Pederson isn't going to expand what the offense is trying to do, and coordinator Jim Schwartz isn't likely to try to change up a whole lot on the defensive side of the ball. The Eagles need to do what they do better, more consistently. We've talked about this the entire season. But one area that hasn't been discussed a whole lot is the four-minute offense, which did not produce against Carolina. A running game that is ranked 21st in the league in yards per game has to be relied upon in the fourth quarter when the Eagles are in position to possess the football and run out the clock or put game-clinching points on the board.
The Eagles did neither on Sunday while holding a 17-14 lead and it came back to cost them dearly.
"I think there's two things with four-minute (offense)," Pederson said. "One, the ability to run the football. And two, staying aggressive and there's a fine line with staying aggressive so if you're going to throw the ball making sure that there are completions that are sort of right in front of the quarterback and stuff that we can get. RPOs (Run Pass Options) become a part of that process. The four-minute offense is another way of finishing a football game and some of the things we talked about with four minutes or so to go in the game on the sideline was just that. Let's finish either with points or finish with the ball at the end of the game and be in our victory formation. We're going to take a look at that as a staff these next couple of days and make sure that our plan is solid."
Pederson said "we really did some good things" in the red zone and that it's about timing and angles and "taking care of the interior guys." He wants the line of scrimmage to be better, he wants the backs to run with their eyes as well as their legs, and he wants quarterback Carson Wentz to be better, too. Everyone needs to be better. That's what happens when you lose a game.
The defense? The tackling was poor on Sunday and Carolina quarterback Cam Newton got hot. Incredibly so. He wouldn't go down. His passes were on the mark. And he won the game.
The Eagles lost. Everyone is mad about it. When you win, everything looks great. "It covers up a lot of this stuff," Pederson said.
He's right. When you win, you don't look as closely at the "whys." When you lose, every piece of the pie is dissected.
What happens next? The Eagles need to do what they do better. They aren't going to reinvent this thing, not with the team leaving for London on Thursday night and the franchise's first regular-season game there. Maybe at the bye week, Pederson and his staff will have that self-scout time. Now?
"We have to continue to grind, continue to practice," Pederson said.
Really, that's the only thing to do. To get to 4-4, while not in the preseason blueprint, would be welcomed heading into the bye week. The Eagles expect to have a player or two back from injury then – defensive tackle Haloti Ngata? Running back Darren Sproles? Safety Corey Graham? – and can regroup for the stretch run starting with a Sunday night home game against Dallas.
First things first, though. The game against Jacksonville is as close to a must-win situation as a team can have in October. It sounds like a broken record of recent weeks gone by.
"This is a good time to get away and to refocus and to be together as a football team for a couple of days," Pederson said. "One thing I do know about our football team is that it's a resilient group and we bounce back extremely well. They're mad, just like we are. They're upset and disappointed just like we are as coaches and that's good. It'd be different if it were just the coaches who were upset, but the players are mad. They're disappointed. They know where they're at.
"It's a great week to regroup, refocus, and try to get to 4-4 with a break and get some guys back healthy and we'll see what happens the last eight weeks."