There really weren’t a whole lot of answers. Not immediately, anyway, after a disappointing 17-10 loss to New England on Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field that dropped the Eagles to 5-5 on the season. An offense that started fast with a 51-yard drive (49 of them on a pass interference penalty) and a field goal on the first possession and a 16-play, 95-yard touchdown drive that consumed nine minutes and 33 seconds off the clock on the third drive put the team ahead 10-0 and sent a Salute to Service crowd into a frenzy went flat after that.
Like, totally flat.
“I can’t explain it other than it was us just making too many mistakes and not taking advantage of any plays that were there,” running back Miles Sanders said. “We couldn’t get anything going. We lost our focus and made it difficult on ourselves and shooting ourselves in the foot. I think we were beating ourselves.”
Going in, yeah, everyone knew it would be a challenge playing against the No. 1-ranked defense in the NFL, one that allowed 10.7 points per game through nine outings, without wide receiver Alshon Jeffery and running back Jordan Howard. It certainly didn’t help that right tackle Lane Johnson went out of the game with a head injury after that 95-yard touchdown drive. But the Eagles didn’t help themselves, either. Not even a little bit.
Quarterback Carson Wentz struggled with 20 completions in 40 attempts. He was sacked five times. Not all of those were on the offensive line, which welcomed back left tackle Jason Peters. Wentz didn’t look comfortable in the pocket. He held the ball a tick or two too long at times and lost the football on a second-quarter sack that led to three New England points. He missed some open receivers. He also didn’t get a whole lot of help from a receiving corps that didn’t step up in Jeffery’s absence. Jordan Matthews had one catch for 6 yards on six targets. Nelson Agholor was targeted nine times and had four receptions for 40 yards. J.J. Arcega-Whiteside had a 29-yard catch to help Wentz, who scrambled out of trouble in the end zone in the fourth quarter and fired down the field, but that was it.
The Eagles tried to mix it up with the run and the pass and it worked great until early in the second quarter with Sanders running the ball effectively and tight ends Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert creating separation and making plays. Ertz caught nine passes for 94 yards. The Patriots didn’t double him. They didn’t take him out of the game. Same with Goedert. The Eagles just didn’t have any production from the rest of their pass catchers. And the Patriots chipped Sanders with a defensive lineman or linebacker and covered him with a safety and limited Sanders to two receptions.
"They did a good job," Sanders said, "limiting our explosive plays."
The offense, one that put points on the board early – the first three drives had net yards of 51, 1, and 95, respectively – followed with drives of minus-7 yards, minus-6 yards, 21 yards, 6 yards, 5 yards, 2 yards, and 19 yards before two late-fourth quarter drives gained 68 and 30 yards, respectively.
And zero points.
"It's on us," right guard Brandon Brooks said. "We didn't execute."
The defense played well enough, limiting a middling New England offense to 231 total net yards and just one touchdown in three red zone visits. But that touchdown was a biggie as the Patriots, trailing 10-9, took the second-half kickoff and moved into the red zone. On third-and-11 from the Philadelphia 15-yard line, the Patriots called for some trickery and it worked. Quarterback Tom Brady took the snap and threw out to the right side of the formation for wide receiver Julian Edelman, who caught the lateral and turned and threw a perfect pass in the end zone for wide receiver Phillip Dorsett. He was wide open. It was an easy score. The Patriots converted the two-point play to take the lead and put the Eagles in catch-up mode.
“It was a trick play. That’s what happens,” said cornerback Jalen Mills, who added that the Patriots had not shown that play on any tape study the Eagles had done prior to the game. “It was a good play and they did that at the right time.”
The defense, though, did its job for the most part. Hey, if someone told you before the game that quarterback Tom Brady would complete 26 of 47 passes (a career-high 14 incomplete passes in the first half alone) for 216 yards and zero touchdowns with a passer rating of 67.3, you would have signed up for it. And you would have thought the Eagles would be in great position to win the game.
But it was the offense … The offense lacked after that 10-0 lead. And that’s a reason for concern.
“I think we kind of beat ourselves at times,” Ertz said. “Obviously, we had penalties (five called on the offense) and it was probably one of our worst third-down performances of the season (the Eagles converted just 3 of 13 third downs). We just weren’t efficient on third down against a really good third-down defense. We came into the game with a lot of confidence on our third-down performance and we just didn’t execute, and we had penalties. They are a good defense.
“It’s tough to go 90 yards against them. We did it once, but we just couldn’t do it again.”
Ertz nailed it. The Eagles had terrible field position all game – they never started a drive with better field position than the Philadelphia 28-yard line and had possessions in the second half that began at the Philadelphia 19-, 3-, 20-, 12-, 6-, and 12-yard lines – and they didn’t play well on first and second down so they had a lot of third-and-long situations and, geez, it was everything you hoped it wouldn’t be. The Eagles lacked firepower. They didn’t surprise New England with anything they did offensively and after two scoring drives, they didn’t come close until the end of the game.
Despite all the struggles, the Eagles had the football at the New England 26-yard line with 1:18 to go. The next four plays were typical of the day’s struggles and, to an extent, some of the problems the offense has had all year.
On first-and-10, Wentz missed Ertz on the left side. On second down, his pass to a wide-open Agholor crossing the field was tipped and fell incomplete. Then Wentz missed Ertz again along the left sideline. On fourth-and-10, Wentz sidestepped pressure and heaved the ball into the end zone for Agholor, who did a good job locating the pass and tracking it and made a valiant effort to make a catch in the back of the end zone. He couldn’t hang on.
Now, the Eagles are 5-5 with precious little margin for error remaining and a very good Seattle team coming to town on Sunday.