NASHVILLE, Tenn. – A split second after Tennessee wide receiver Corey Davis caught the 10-yard touchdown pass to break the Eagles' hearts on Sunday, defensive lineman Chris Long slammed his helmet to the ground and it rolled toward the Eagles bench as Tennessee Titans players raced across the field to celebrate a 26-23 overtime win in a back-and-forth game that was there for the Eagles' taking many times. In the end, it came down to one thing, and one thing only.
A failure to close.
"It's very disappointing that we didn't close it out," defensive end Brandon Graham said. "That's what we're used to doing and today we didn't get it done. It's a lousy feeling."
The Eagles let a 17-3 lead get away and had to rally late in the fourth quarter to force overtime and then, after Jake Elliott's 37-yard field goal put the Eagles ahead 23-20 in the extra period, the Eagles' defense allowed three fourth-down conversions by the Titans – one a fourth-and-15 play – and lost in excruciating fashion at Nissan Stadium. Instead of finishing the first quarter of the regular season 3-1, the Eagles are 2-2 with Minnesota visiting Lincoln Financial Field next Sunday.
What happened to a two-touchdown lead, one that seemed so insurmountable as the Eagles drove 75 yards with the opening kickoff of the second half and scored on a 16-yard Carson Wentz-to-Alshon Jeffery touchdown pass? Let's examine.
- The immediate possession after Jeffery's touchdown was a momentum-changer as Tennessee drove 75 yards on eight plays and scored easily, narrowing the deficit to 17-10. The drive featured Tennessee quarterback Marcus Mariota completing all four of his passes as the Eagles' defense, which played so well for a half, lost coverage down the field and failed to get Mariota off his spot. Mariota also ran 10 times for 46 yards, including a 2-yard scramble into the end zone to make it a seven-point game.
- Tennessee's defensive line started taking over the game after that, limiting the Eagles' ground game, taking tight end Zach Ertz away from the middle of the field (eight catches in the first half and only two in the second half and overtime), and harassing Wentz. A Harold Landry sack of Wentz – Landry came off the edge and beat right tackle Lane Johnson – on the possession following Tennessee's first touchdown caused a Wentz fumble that the Titans recovered and turned into three points. Early in the fourth quarter, the Eagles led 17-13 and the momentum was clearly in Tennessee's favor.
- The Eagles' offense went three-and-out after that Tennessee field goal and the Titans came right back offensively, driving 75 yards in five plays – the big one a Mariota pass to Davis down the middle of the field against cornerback Jalen Mills – and scored on a Mariota touchdown pass to Tajae Sharpe. Suddenly, the Eagles trailed.
- DeAndre Carter nearly won the game, returning a punt 42 yards with 1:54 remaining in the game. He caught the football at the Philadelphia 19-yard line and scooted down the left sideline 42 yards to the Tennessee 39-yard line. "I made a guy miss and then I saw an opening and hit it," Carter said. "I was thinking touchdown. I can't let the punter tackle me there. I have to score." Nevertheless, the Eagles gained a first down and had a first-and-10 at the Tennessee 19-yard line with plenty of time to get in the end zone and end the game. Couldn't do it. Elliott's 30-yard field goal sent the game into overtime.
- The Eagles won the toss and moved decisively. Two Jay Ajayi runs gained 16 yards to the 41-yard line. A completion to Jeffery picked up 14 yards to the Titans' 45-yard line. Wendell Smallwood barreled for 13 yards to the Tennessee 32-yard line. Ajayi gained another 15 yards up the middle. "We were imposing our will there," Lane Johnson said. "We felt like we were going to go in and score a touchdown and end the game. But we didn't finish the drive." An Ajayi run lost 2 yards and Wentz threw two incomplete passes and Elliott came on to kick a 37-yard field goal.
Check out the best photos from the Eagles' Week 4 game against the Tennessee Titans.
From there it was the defense's time to close it out, as they had done so many times in the last year. But …
"We let them off the hook and they made some plays on us," safety Malcolm Jenkins said. "We had them three times on fourth down and we couldn't get off the field."
- On fourth-and-15, Mariota completed a 19-yard pass to Taywan Taylor on the right sideline of the Eagles' defense. "We didn't play that one well," Jenkins said. "We need to keep that play in front of us and tackle it before the sticks." Then, on fourth-and-4, cornerback Sidney Jones was penalized for pass interference and the drive stayed alive. Later, on fourth-and-2 from the Philadelphia 32, Mariota swung a pass to running back Dion Lewis, who weaved his way up the field – middle linebacker Jordan Hicks complained on the field that he had been blocked in the back – and Lewis reached the 15-yard line.
A holding penalty on Jenkins moved the ball to the 10, and on third down from there, Mariota fired a strike to a leaping Davis in the middle of the end zone for the crushing final play.
"We're the ones usually making the plays at the end to win the game, but it didn't happen this time," Ertz said. "It's very disappointing. We're 2-2. It's not the end of the world. We have to bounce back from this and get back to putting teams away when we have the chance. We've got a lot of season left in us and we have some work to do."
The Eagles did a lot of good things in this loss. Jeffery caught eight passes for 105 yards and a touchdown. Ertz had a big game as Wentz used an inside (Ertz) outside (Jeffery) approach to carving up the Titans for 348 passing yards. Ajayi shrugged off a back injury to gain 70 hard-earned yards. Rookie Avonte Maddox replaced the injured Rodney McLeod as a deep middle safety in certain packages and came up with an interception. Jordan Matthews had a 56-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown. Elliott made three field goals.
But the Eagles also allowed four more sacks as Tennessee blitzed effectively and hit Wentz a lot. The offense dropped a half-dozen passes. The team blew a 14-point lead.
This can't happen again.
"I think we're all unhappy that we lost this one because we had plenty of chances to close it out, to win," Johnson said. "That's on us. We have to finish better. We're used to finishing better. This game wasn't like us. We need to get back to playing like we know we're capable of playing."