For the briefest of moments, it looked like the Eagles on Thursday night would engage in a shootout with Tampa Bay at Lincoln Financial Field. Following a Bucs touchdown drive to open the game, quarterback Jalen Hurts and the Eagles answered with a 75-yard touchdown drive that featured four first downs and a scoring pass to tight end Zach Ertz that had the crowd in South Philadelphia juiced.
That flicker of hope faded quickly the next time Tom Brady had the football as he drove Tampa Bay's offense 75 yards in nine plays and the Bucs took a lead they extended to 21 points before eventually beating the Eagles 28-22 and sending Philadelphia to a 2-4 record.
The offense gained just one first down in its next six possessions after that opening touchdown drive and didn't again reach Tampa Bay territory until late in the third quarter. The defense forced a couple of punts and had an interception, but Tampa Bay also put together four long touchdown drives and mixed the run and pass beautifully, keeping the Eagles on their heels as the Bucs nearly tripled the Eagles' time of possession on the way to a 28-7 advantage.
"Tonight, man, we just can't flatline," wide receiver Quez Watkins said. "We need to keep going, keep the offense moving, keep getting first downs and keep the chains moving. Tonight, we just flatlined in the second quarter after that first possession. We came in and scored on the first drive and had everything going. We've got to keep pushing as a team."
Even after the Eagles finally got something going offensively, thanks to a 50-yard pass interference penalty on a deep throw to wide receiver Jalen Reagor, and scored a touchdown on a 6-yard Hurts run on a fourth-and-3 play to cut the deficit to 28-14 in the third quarter, Philadelphia couldn't sustain the momentum. The defense stopped Brady on the Bucs' next possession and the Eagles drove into Tampa Bay territory, but Jake Elliott's 46-yard field goal attempt early in the fourth quarter slid wide right.
Going up against the defending Super Bowl champions, the Eagles wanted to give Tampa Bay their best shot. And while Philadelphia played hard and matched Tampa Bay in intensity and came to within six points late in the fourth quarter after Hurts' second rushing touchdown and a two-point conversion completion to Watkins, they could not make up for that dry period after the first-possession touchdown. There were a lot of encouraging signs – the defense made Brady work hard after the opening two touchdown drives and the offense kept coming, kept coming, and got the running game going on the fourth quarter 7-play, 54-yard touchdown drive on which Miles Sanders reeled off rushing gains of 23 and 17 yards on back-to-back plays.
But at the end of the day, it wasn't enough to upend the Bucs. And it wasn't enough to sustain the momentum the Eagles gained with their comeback win at Carolina on Sunday.
"We didn't execute early on," Head Coach Nick Sirianni said. "We've got to put the guys in better spots to execute. We didn't execute. We just have to do a better job to start off the football game to get ourselves off to a fast start. I know we scored on the first possession, but after that, it fluttered all the way until the second half."
Hurts, under pressure for much of the night as Tampa Bay successfully mixed in some blitzes to go along with a physical front four, completed just 12 of 26 passes for 115 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. He was sacked twice and ran away from pressure a bunch of other times. Hurts took some shots deep, but just had no sustained flow in the passing game. He targeted wide receiver DeVonta Smith four times for two catches and 31 yards. Watkins had three catches for 44 yards on five targets. Ertz caught four passes for 29 yards as the Eagles played without Dallas Goedert, who was on the Reserve/COVID-19 list and missed the game.
Tampa Bay committed seven penalties for 120 lost yards, keeping the Eagles in this game.
"When we look at the film, each and every game, we're hurting ourselves in some areas," cornerback Avonte Maddox said. "We're kind of beating ourselves but we can compete with any team. We see that, we know that. Everyone in this locker room, we have to make sure that we keep getting to that film room and keep learning from those mistakes and moving onto the next week with that same dawg mentality to go out there and compete. All these games, we were in it or came back into it. It's not like we're just giving it up or anything."
On a night when former offensive linemen Tra Thomas and Jon Runyan were inducted into the team's Hall of Fame, the Eagles were unable to get a leg up on Tampa Bay. Bucs quarterback Tom Brady was an effective 34-of-42 passing for 297 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception. He hurt the Eagles on some short screens and dumpoffs to running back Leonard Fournette, who ran for 81 yards on 22 carries and added 46 yards on six receptions, completed nine passes to tight ends O.J. Howard and Cameron Brate for 75 yards and a score, and connected with wide receiver Antonio Brown nine times for 93 yards and a score on 13 targets.
Brown was the target on Brady's final throw, converting a third-and-7 play for 27 yards to set the Bucs up with a first down at the Philadelphia 18-yard line as Tampa Bay ran off the final 5:54 from the clock.
"I felt that Brady was scrambling and kind of felt like I was underneath (in coverage on Brown) so I thought Brady was going to throw over the top so I tried to get in his (Brown's) pocket again. Brady threw a line drive," safety Marcus Epps said. "I couldn't get it out. I've just got to be better and use my hands better and get that ball out next time."
A play here, a play there. That's the story in a 2-4 start for the 2021 Philadelphia Eagles. On this night, the Eagles knew they would have to play 60 great minutes to beat the champs. A long drought offensively was too much to overcome for a team that battled to the end, but couldn't make up for lost ground.
Check out the best photos from Thursday night.