GLENDALE, Ariz. – One minute, 56 seconds remained in a game that meant so much with thousands of Eagles fans in the stands, howling their support. The Eagles held a three-point lead on Arizona after Cody Parkey's 20-yard field goal. How did the Eagles handle the final Arizona drive? What did it mean for this team to falter, 24-20, losing a game it again had in its hands to win.
It ended in an inglorious way for the Eagles on Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium, a biting defeat that was stunning in its nature and frustrating in the outcome. The Eagles rolled up 521 total net yards and 27 first downs and converted 9 of 20 third downs and scored only 20 points. Two turnovers in the red zone ruined prime opportunities to score points and create some distance on the scoreboard. The defense gave up two big plays – two all game – and that was enough to send the Eagles to their second defeat in seven games.
Those final two minutes, though, were what stunned the team on the way back to Philadelphia on Sunday night.
Parkey's kickoff after the chip-shot field goal was his fifth of the afternoon and his fifth touchback. His leg has been an invaluable weapon. He put the kickoff where it needed to be. So, the Cardinals began at their 20-yard line, first and 10.
A pass over the middle to wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald was smothered by linebacker Mychal Kendricks after a 5-yard gain. On second and 5, cornerback Nolan Carroll broke up a pass intended for wide receiver John Brown down the seam, a terrific play by the unheralded Carroll.
Third and 5. Four-down territory, of course. Palmer got great protection and threw a perfect pass to Brown, who ran a hitch-and-go pattern past cornerback Cary Williams and safety Nate Allen to make the catch and run for a 75-yard touchdown to give the Cardinals, after the PAT, a 24-20 advantage.
Time remaining on clock: 1:21 with a four-point deficit.
Quarterback Nick Foles used 13 plays to move the Eagles from their 20-yard line to the Arizona 16-yard line, and then he took three shots into the end zone, with no success. The game ended as Jordan Matthews landed out of bounds trying to make a catch to pull off the win.
"It's on me," said Allen, who said after the game that he injured his hamstring on the play. "I just didn't get enough depth. I know in that situation I can't let him get behind me, and he got behind me. So that's on me. He made the play."
Said Williams: "They made a play there. They made one more play than what we were able to do. That's just what it was. We have to play deeper in that situation and he made a play. I thought I could catch him, but he was fast enough to get into the end zone."
It shouldn't have come down to the final two minutes. The Eagles turned the football over three times and were unable to score touchdowns in three red-zone opportunities. Immediately preceding the Parkey 20-yard field goal was a failed opportunity to score a touchdown and play the defense differently on the final Arizona drive. The Eagles tried to play power, calling on running back Chris Polk twice in a row. He gained 6 yards on first down and 3 yards on second down, setting up a third-and-1 play from the 2-yard line. The Eagles stuck with the run, handing off to LeSean McCoy out of shotgun formation and he had nowhere to go up the gut and was stopped short of the first down.
Head coach Chip Kelly said he considered going for it on fourth down, but instead turned the game over to a defense that was on the field to seal wins this season against Indianapolis, Washington and St. Louis and that pitched a shutout two Sundays prior against the Giants.
So on came Parkey as the Eagles settled for the consolation three points. It came back to haunt them on this day.
"It's disappointing, but we fought and we will continue to do that," said wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, who had 12 catches for 187 yards and a pair of touchdowns. "We have to score touchdowns in the red zone. We know that. These kind of games come down to executing at those moments."
Defensive coordinator Bill Davis lamented two big plays the Cardinals made – the touchdown pass to Brown in the fourth quarter and a slant route that Larry Fitzgerald caught and turned into an 80-yard touchdown play. The defense was physical and aggressive all day, but those two plays were enough to account for the Eagles' loss.
"We almost batted down the slant pass to Fitzgerald and the other play we had a four-man rush and more coverage, and they out-executed us," said Davis. "I thought we played hard. We stopped a whole bunch of deep balls. They made one at the end. I don't want to excuse it. They made their play at the end of the game. It's so important to make the plays at the end of the game to win in the NFL.
"At the end of the day, we can't let them get behind our defense, and we did."
What happened prior to the end didn't help at all. Foles threw two interceptions -- one on a pass in the end zone intended for rookie wide receiver Josh Huff that shouldn't have been thrown -- Foles should have thrown the ball away, he said later, but instead tried to get it to Huff and instead saw cornerback Antonio Cromartie leave an outside receiver and make the interception in the end zone -- and the second was a pass intended for wide receiver Riley Cooper that was behind Cooper and again intercepted by Cromartie, leading to three Cardinals points. Huff also made a costly mistake, fumbling the ball away inside the Arizona 10-yard line in the second quarter as the Eagles came away empty in the red zone.
There were too many penalties -- the Eagles had 11 for a loss of 103 yards -- and too many mistakes. It added up to a last-minute loss that dropped the Eagles to 5-2 with a tough road game Sunday in Houston.
- Linebacker Mychal Kendricks played about 12-15 snaps in the team's dime (six defensive backs) alignment. He said after the game that his injured calf felt good.
- Running back/kick returner Darren Sproles was a game-time decision. He was inactive after practicing during the week. Let's hope he is back on the field for Houston. The Eagles missed his big-play ability.
- The run defense was terrific, limiting Andre Ellington to 71 yards on 23 carries.
- There were no reported injuries after the game.
- Maclin had himself a ballgame, catching 12 passes for 187 yards and the 2 touchdowns, and averaging 12.5 yards on two punt returns, with three fair catches.
- Allen forced an Ellington fumble that Allen recovered, marking the 19th straight game with at least one takeaway for the Eagles defense.
- Thank you to the Eagles fans for making the trip to Arizona and filling the stands. It was an awesome and appreciated show of support. As always, the fans delivered on game day.