MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – The crowd, mostly Eagles fans frustrated all day, gave it one last chance. With 7 minutes, 29 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter and Philadelphia trailing by six points, the fans got on their feet, urging on the defense to get a stop. Boy, the Eagles needed a stop. As Miami quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick got to the line of scrimmage at the Miami 40-yard line, staring at a third-and-10 situation, safety Rodney McLeod tried to call timeout, to no avail. The defense reset. The crowd roared. And Fitzpatrick threw left and completed the pass to wide receiver Albert Wilson for a 13-yard gain.
Miami ball. Time dwindling off the clock.
Four snaps later, the Eagles' defense needed just one play to get off the field. On fourth-and-1, Fitzpatrick threw to the left side again and wide receiver DeVante Parker reached out and made a nifty catch for an 8-yard gain and another first down. Four plays later the Dolphins kicked a 51-yard field goal and took a commanding nine-point lead.
That's the way it went all day for the Eagles in a shocking and incredibly disappointing 37-31 loss to the Dolphins, a team that was 2-9 coming into the day. The Eagles, of course, were playing for a chance to tie Dallas atop the NFC East division. Miami had nothing to play for. And yet the Dolphins, the worst rushing team in the NFL, put up 409 yards of total offense against an Eagles defense that had been the best in the league in that category since Week 8, most of it from Fitzpatrick, who threw for 365 yards and three scores. Miami was 5-of-12 on third-down conversions and 3-for-3 on fourth-down tries. Fitzpatrick averaged a whopping 8.2 yards per pass attempt and he led an offense that scored touchdowns on all four trips inside the Eagles' 20-yard line.
"It's on us. We didn't make enough plays to get off the field," said safety Malcolm Jenkins, who slammed his helmet to the ground on the sidelines when Carson Wentz's last-play heave into the end zone was intercepted. "At the end of the day, you put this game on your leaders. We had the opportunity to jump up in the division and didn't get it done."
For a while, it was great.
Cornerback Ronald Darby intercepted Fitzpatrick on the first play of the game and the Eagles scored a touchdown three plays later. Philadelphia led 10-0 after two possessions. The Eagles led 28-14 after scoring early in the third quarter but that went away quickly. Miami kept coming after being down 14 points and at one point in the game – from the second quarter through the fourth – scored on six consecutive possessions (not counting an end-of-half kneeldown), including five touchdowns.
"I have to find a way to finish and make a play on the ball," said cornerback Ronald Darby, a victim of some over-the-top passing plays to Parker, who had seven receptions for a career-high 159 yards and a touchdown on 10 targets. "I feel horrible. It was one of my worst performances."
"We just didn't execute," cornerback Jalen Mills said. "That's what it comes down to. We had chances to get off the field and we didn't do it. Their receiver (Parker), he had a day. He's a professional and he got us today. We didn't make plays when we had the chance to do it."
Other than two big completions to Parker and some trickery from the 1-yard line when Miami spread its formation and had punter Matt Haack take a direct snap, roll left, and, under pressure, shovel a pass to placekicker Jason Sanders for a touchdown, the defense was pretty good in the first half. The Eagles had the Darby interception and they put pressure on Fitzpatrick, who was sacked three times. But Miami made adjustments – emptying the backfield, using maximum protection schemes, getting the football out of Fitzpatrick's hands quickly – and the Eagles didn't effectively counter. Fitzpatrick was 19-of-25 for 237 yards and two touchdowns in the second half.
"We can't get beat like this," defensive end Brandon Graham said. "We had the advantage. We had it right there. It's disappointing. It hurts. We didn't play our game. Everybody is hurt by this. To not get a win, knowing that first place was on the line, is disappointing."
No question about that. The Eagles had a chance to start December the right way and instead they collapsed against a 2-9 football team in front of thousands of the best fans in the world who made the trip to Miami. The players talked about "controlling our destiny" in the does-anyone-want-to-win-it? NFC East, but those words meant nothing in the aftermath of the stunning defeat.
"That's what sucked the most," Graham said. "We let another one slip away. When the offense is playing good and the way the defense has been playing, like Coach (Doug Pederson) said, we need to be consistent. And today we weren't consistent."
No, the Eagles were befuddling and frustrating. Miami's offense has been one of the worst in the league and Fitzpatrick had 10 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions on the season entering the game. He shredded the Eagles. He wasn't pressured and he had time to throw accurately, and, yes, his receivers made some terrific go-up-and-get-them catches.
And the Eagles are at 5-7, losers of three straight games with four games against the NFC East remaining. They remain one game behind Dallas in the division, but that's not the focus. The focus is on how a team could cough up a win against a 2-9 team.
"It's hard to say but it's disappointing," Jenkins said. "We're all feeling that way. It sucks. It's terrible. But we have to come back and get ready for next week. There aren't any other options."
At this moment, next week seems so far away. Talking about the playoffs empty. The Eagles had a tie for a division lead in their hands and let it slip away, one big Ryan Fitzpatrick pass down the field after another. Certainly, it wasn't all on the defense. The offense missed on one of its chances in the red zone. Jake Elliott was wide left on a 48-yard field goal attempt. When Miami closed to within 28-26 late in the third period, the offense gained only one first down before Cameron Johnston punted. Miami was pinned at its 4-yard line and promptly drove 96 yards to take the lead for good, and the Eagles' offense followed with a three-and-out series.
Other concerns? The Eagles committed 10 penalties. They gained 92 yards on the ground. They handed over a 14-point second-half lead.
"It's a bad feeling, a bad taste," Graham said. "There ain't no other way to describe it."