Momentum is everything, and as the Eagles packed up, stunned, and departed FedEx Field after losing the 2020 season opener 27-17 to Washington, they were reminded just how fragile momentum in the game of football can be.
As they forged a 17-0 lead in the first half, the Eagles did everything right.
They took some shots down the field in the passing game. Tight ends Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert dominated, each scoring a touchdown. Quarterback Carson Wentz was nearly picture-perfect attacking Washington's defense. And until late in the first half, the Eagles were dominating Washington, leading and having their way with the Football Team. It was a dream start for a team playing minus a large handful of starters and with a thrown-together-for-the-week offensive line.
And then Wentz threw an interception.
And everything changed.
Washington turned that interception, an attempt to get the ball to wide receiver Jalen Reagor on the left sideline that cornerback Fabian Moreau picked, into seven points to end the first half. From a 17-point lead in the first half to a tied game in the fourth quarter, the Eagles went down the stretch with Jordan Mailata at right tackle (rookie Jack Driscoll started) and Nate Herbig at right guard, a running game that could not gain any traction, and nothing down the field in the passing game. Meanwhile, an Eagles defense that dominated early had its backs against the wall late in the fourth quarter and Washington put together a 13-play, 48-yard drive to take a 24-17 lead.
It ultimately became 27 straight points from the Football Team, the largest comeback for Washington in the history of this series that dates back to 1934.
"Man, it was tough," said Goedert, who had eight receptions for 101 yards and the score. "We got aggressive, we had those couple of turnovers which really hurt us – anytime you turn the football over on your side of the field, it puts the defense in a really tough position and they battled. The defense was playing great, and we put them in tough spots."
Frustrating. Infuriating. A very tough way to start the season. The Eagles are going to get their injured players back before too long, and this is going to be a good football team. But from the time the Eagles went ahead 17-0 – doing so on touchdown passes to Ertz and Goedert and moving the ball up and down the field – to trailing late in the fourth quarter, the offense went stone cold. Consider some of the drives …
· Following the first interception from Wentz with 1:45 remaining in the first half, Washington drove 45 yards on five plays and scored a touchdown that gave the Football Team some life heading into the locker room. Even it was faint life, it was something, and the Eagles just couldn't grab it back.
· After receiving the second-half kickoff, the Eagles had a three-and-out series before Wentz's second interception. He tried to get the ball to receiver John Hightower on the left side, but cornerback Jimmy Moreland jumped the route, made the interception, and returned it 32 yards to the Eagles' 20-yard line. Five plays later, Peyton Barber went into the end zone for a touchdown and the PAT brought Washington to within 17-14. Washington turned both Wentz interceptions into a total of 14 points. Meanwhile, Washington didn't turn the ball over once, compared to three times for the Eagles.
· On the following drive, the Eagles moved to Washington's 22-yard line, but on third-and-7 from there, Wentz held on to the football and backpedaled to buy more time and he was sacked for a loss of 13 yards. Jake Elliott's 53-yard field goal was short by about a yard – Wentz held the ball too long and took the sack rather than throwing it away, and it cost the Eagles points.
· The Eagles reached Washington's side of the 50-yard line on the next possession, and Head Coach Doug Pederson decided to go for the first down on a fourth-and-4 play from the Washington 45-yard line. Washington dialed up a blitz and linebacker Jon Bostic busted up the middle untouched and sacked Wentz for a loss and a turnover on downs. That was another big play and a lost chance to control field position.
· In the fourth now, with the score 17-17, the Eagles had another three-and-out series offensively, and then Cameron Johnston hit a 43-yard punt and Washington had the football at the Eagles' 48-yard line and Washington, for the first time all game, moved the ball slowly, steadily, eating up more than six minutes off the clock as they marched 48 yards on 13 plays and scored on a Barber touchdown run to take the lead.
· When the Eagles got the ball back, they put themselves in a fourth-and-3 situation, but Ertz couldn't hang on to a Wentz pass and Washington took control again and tacked on a field goal to make it 27-17 and the Eagles, for the first time in the Pederson era, lost their season-opening game (4-1). The loss also snapped a six-game win streak against Washington.
In the second half, the Eagles managed just 90 total net yards and seven first downs. They converted only one of six third downs and went 0-for-2 on fourth downs. On their first 28 plays, the Eagles gained 210 yards and scored 17 points. In the following 11 plays, the Eagles had 23 yards and two turnovers. Washington sacked Wentz eight times and forced three takeaways and another fumble that the Eagles recovered. Wentz was 24-of-42 for 270 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions.
"Tale of two halves, really, and I have to be better," Wentz said. "It starts with me. I have to protect the ball better. I have to lead better. I own that."
In time, the Eagles will get back running back Miles Sanders and right tackle Lane Johnson and wide receiver Alshon Jeffery and defensive linemen Derek Barnett and Javon Hargrave. But as the Eagles felt the reality of the loss, it was "definitely frustrating walking off that field," Wentz said.
"This is the league," safety Jalen Mills. "You can only cover so much field. When they are starting on the short side of the field, that does give them an easy opportunity not only to score a touchdown but also to kick a field goal."
One down. One to forget. The Eagles "have a lot of work to do," said Pederson, and they know it.