It was ugly right from the start for the Eagles at the University of Phoenix Stadium, from the moment the offense opened with a three-and-out series to the initial defensive series that yielded three first downs and a field goal to the Cardinals.
In one of the worst first-half performances the Eagles have ever had, they fell behind 24-0 by turning the ball over three times, failing to stop Arizona's previously inept offense and simply playing lousy, uninspired football. For whatever reason, Andy Reid has lost four of the last five games against the Cardinals and this one was as awful as the one in 2011 at Lincoln Financial Field.
"I did a terrible job of getting my football team ready to play this week," said Reid.
Any concerns the Eagles had about an offense battling injuries along the line and that played without starting wide receiver Jeremy Maclin magnified in this stinker. The Eagles couldn't handle Arizona's aggressive blitz defense and failed to score a touchdown for the first time since the first time since the last game of the 2009 regular season, the 24-0 loss in Dallas.
It was awful in every phase. The defense treated Larry Fitzgerald as it would any other receiver. Instead of doubling him, or shading coverage his way and committing the defense to slowing Fitgerald, the Eagles mixed up their coverages and used Brandon Boykin and Brandon Hughes on him as much as they lined up Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie against the best receiver in the NFL. Fitzgerald, who had just 5 receptions entering the game, burned the Eagles for 9 catches, 114 yards and a touchdown.
"We played him pretty much straight up," said safety Kurt Coleman, who accepted responsibility on what was termed "a miscomunication" on a 37-yard Kevin Kolb touchdown pass to Fitzgerald. "We have two of the best cornerbacks in the league and we left it at that."
It wasn't just the defense. The Eagles fumbled away a punt when Damaris Johnson wiggled through traffic for 12 yards only to cough up the ball at the Philadelphia 38-yard line, leading to seven Arizona points and a 10-0 lead. The offense, with all of the changes up front and minus Maclin, was humbled.
Arizona loaded up on edge blitzes and pressure packages up the gut and chased Michael Vick down for five sacks and harried him into a 17-of-37 performance with one turnover, a fumble. The offense got absolutely nothing going until the end of the first half -- it had just two first downs until that final drive in the second quarter -- and on that drive, the Eagles turned the final seconds of the half into a nightmare.
A completion to DeSean Jackson gave the Eagles a first down at the Arizona 1-yard line with 16 seconds remaining in the half. A touchdown would have brought the Eagles to within 17-7 at halftime. A field goal and, hey, the Eagles had some momentum.
But what happened was sheer madness. Two incomplete passes in the face of heavy Arizona blitz pressure put the Eagles in a third-and-goal spot with six ticks left on the clock. The call was for Vick to drop quickly and throw to his right, but a perfectly timed blitz by safety Kerry Rhodes got to Vick. Rhodes delivered a shot to Vick, who coughed up the football. It bounced up to James Sanders, who went 93 yards down the sideline for the back-breaking touchdown and a 24-0 lead.
"There was a man free there," said Reid, pointing to the entire group of players and coaches for responsibility.
Left tackle Demetress Bell said he had the correct block in front of him and "didn't know what happened" as Rhodes sped by him on the unobstructed path to Vick.
"It was a situation where I should have been looking to get the ball out of my hands if things wasn't there," said Vick. "I tried to hold onto it, make a play and took a hit.
"I knew (Rhodes) was coming. I was hoping that the back picked him up, but I still tried to make a play. That's my responsibility. I've got to get that taken care of in the protection schemes especially with a new center and just have to play better."
Said runninig back LeSean McCoy: "Two of the safeties came (to the line of scrimmage). One came (blitzed) and the other dropped. ... It was enough to get my attention. That's what it was meant for, to hold the guy. By the time I was over, (Rhodes) was there."
The Eagles played a much better second half and showed some fight, but they couldn't punch the ball in the end zone and they couldn't take the ball away from Kolb, the former Eagle who played a brilliant game, completinig 17 of 24 passes for 222 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Kolb was sacked three times and hurried many other times, but he played smart football and didn't give the Eagles a short field.
It isn't the end of the season, not by any means, but the loss and the way the Eagles lost was alarming. They were beaten soundly by an Arizona offense that hadn't run the ball a lick in two previous games, but then got 83 yards on 13 carries from second-year man Ryan Williams. That the Eagles couldn't take away Fitzgerald and in fact didn't alter their defensive philosophy for the only proven weapon in Arizona's offense showed great faith in the scheme and in the personnel, but it didn't work.
Offensively, the struggles continue. Defenses are going to blitz non stop until new center Dallas Reynolds proves his worth and the left tackle situation, whether it's King Dunlap or Demetress Bell startinng, is solved.
Vick, of course, needs to protect the football much better (he lost two fumbles), and the Eagles have to get McCoy more involved early in the game. He had 13 carries, 70 yards and spent more time blocking the blitz than he did carrying the football.
Maybe it was just "one of those games" the Eagles have every year. Heck, every team has "one of those games." The disappointing part was that the Eagles just didn't come to play and were embarrassed by a very confident 3-0 Arizona team.
"We'll bounce back," said tight end Brent Celek. "Everybody is disappointed in the way we played, but we have to get ready and play a big game this Sunday against the Giants. We don't have any time to sulk."
Suddenly, the season is at an early crossroads. The Giants are coming to town, and then the Eagles play at the Steelers. How good is this team? After a couple of sky-high wins in the last minutes of weeks one and two, the Eagles crashed to earth on Sunday. Can they bounce back on a short week against the defending Super Bowl champions?