CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- An offense that showed signs of getting into its expected high-flying ways in wins over New Orleans and New York reverted back into a season-long rut on Sunday night in a 27-16 loss at Carolina. And the frustration was obvious.
In one corner of the post-game locker room, wide receiver Jordan Matthews was asked, time and again, about dropped passes -- six or seven of them in this loss, depending on your view -- that continued a mystifying habit that started on opening night in Atlanta. Then it was center Jason Kelce, just a few lockers away, accepting the blame for an offensive line that allowed five quarterback sacks, a bunch of other pressures and an unevenness to an offense that produced just a single touchdown against Carolina. Finally it was tight end Zach Ertz, at a loss to explain how the offense has been held without a touchdown in the first half of four of the team's seven games this season.
And then there was right tackle Lane Johnson, who summed up the mood of the offense when asked about the inefficiency of the offense in the red zone (two trips, six points) and the inability of the team to use three defensive takeaways to put big points on the board.
"It sucks, man," Johnson said. "We had a chance. The defense got turnovers for us, 30 yards out and we gotta score touchdowns. We can't settle for field goals. There are a bunch of times when that happened. You play good teams like that and it's going to cost you and it did tonight. You gotta score touchdowns."
Every phase of the team contributed to a loss that dropped the Eagles to 3-4 heading into the bye week. The defense allowed Carolina's punishing running game to gain 204 yards. Quarterback Cam Newton passed for 197 yards, moving the chains when he needed to do so. The defense gave up touchdowns on each of Carolina's opening possessions in both halves.
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The special teams had its share of the blame, too, with a missed Caleb Sturgis 50-yard field goal that set Carolina up in great field position on a drive that ended with a key field goal. Earlier, Sturgis kicked off out of bounds, giving Carolina possession on its 40-yard line and the Panthers drove for a touchdown. And on the very first punt, Najee Goode was penalized for head-butting, a 15-yard infraction that put Carolina on its 28-yard line, rather than its 13, and the Panthers went down the field and scored a touchdown.
But it was the offense that garnered the most critique on this night, as has been the case for most of the season. The defense has played well enough to keep the Eagles in every game, but the offense has been wildly inconsistent. Against Carolina, the Eagles dropped all of those passes, gave up too much pressure in the pocket and didn't finish drives in the red zone.
"I felt like we were really prepared coming in here with a great game plan," Kelce said. "As long as we executed, I thought we would be fine. But we didn't execute. The slow starts, mistakes. I don't know what the reason is. We had mistakes across the board. Everybody takes turns. I shouldn't be making mistakes at this point in my career. I should be on top of my stuff. It's getting old real quick. We've got to put a whole game together for our defense. Our defense is going out there and doing a great job. We've got to put them in a better position."
The drops by the receivers, tight ends and backs continued to hinder the offense, and nobody has an answer other than to keep working on it, improve the focus and play with confidence.
"I can't pinpoint one thing," Matthews said. "There is no rhyme or reason to it. It's new to me. I've never had this situation. I didn't have a lot of drops last year. I didn't have a lot in college. It's just something I have to work through. Our team needs me to make plays, so it hurts me to come off the field knowing that I've left something on the field. I have no other solution other than to keep working at it."
"We've got to do a better job catching the ball for Sam (Bradford)," Ertz said. "He's doing all he can out there. The protection isn't perfect. The throws aren't perfect, but we've got to do our job when the ball is in the air and as a receiving corps, we're not doing that. We're not helping our quarterback now."
The drops were costly. Matthews had one early that popped into the air and was intercepted. Fortunately, the defense took the ball right back. Josh Huff had a ball in the back of the end zone that he probably should have caught. Miles Austin and Ertz and even Darren Sproles all missed chances to keep drives going or gain some valuable yardage.
Drops are the product of ... what, exactly? Concentration? Focus? Soft hands?
Nobody had an answer in a somber post-game locker room.
"The bye comes at a good time for us," Ertz said. "We need to come back strong from the break and play our best football. I think we're going to come back strong. It's a lack of focus, I guess. I don't know."
No answers. The Eagles know they are making too many mistakes, squandering too many chances and losing to good teams like Carolina (6-0) on the road.
"We have a long season ahead of us," safety Malcolm Jenkins said, "but it's on us. We have to win games. It's right there for us. We have to find a way and we're not doing that on a consistent basis right now. It's everybody. Everybody is responsible for this."