Arlington, TX – The cruel truth following the Eagles' 38-33 loss to the Dallas Cowboys is that following another record-setting game, rookie running back Bryce Brown's performance is likely to be remembered more for the one mistake he made than for his superlative efforts throughout the NFC East grudge match.
Brown rushed for 169 yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries in what was the second-best rushing performance by an Eagles rookie in franchise history, trailing only Brown's 178-yard effort last week. His combined rushing yards of 347 over the last two games are the most in the NFL over that time and rank as the second-highest such total of any running back in Eagles history, behind only Steve Van Buren's 379 combined rushing yards all the way back in 1949.
Brown's impressive performances in his first two NFL starts have been one of the bright spots of an otherwise disappointing season for the Eagles, as it appears they have the makings of a long-time two-headed monster in the backfield with Brown and All-Pro LeSean McCoy, whose concussion has opened the door for Brown's breakout.
And yet, Brown has committed the ultimate sin for a running back three times in the last two games – he's put the ball on the ground. After fumbling twice last week, Brown turned the ball over only once against the Cowboys but it came at the most inopportune time and it created an exceedingly unfortunate turn of events for the Eagles.
After the Cowboys took the lead 31-27 with 5:35 remaining in the fourth quarter, the Eagles offense had a chance to drive back down the field and retake the lead. But on the fifth play of the drive, Brown was stripped of the ball by Cowboys nose tackle Josh Price-Brent. Continuing a long string of bad fumble luck for the Eagles, the ball popped right into the hands of Cowboys cornerback Morris Claiborne, who returned the recovery 50 yards for what turned out to be the game-winning touchdown.
"Listen, he's a heck of a young player," head coach Andy Reid said o f Brown following the game. "I'm not making excuses for anybody here, but he hasn't played a lot of football here. We're asking him to get back in there and work and get used to being the guy. There's a way you've got to go about that. He's got to learn and he will. He's a smart guy.
"He's got to keep it high and tight. When you get tired, when you're in that fourth quarter and you've been grinding and you're tired, focus on that. He was trying to get every stinkin' yard he possibly could and he'd been doing that. You have to overemphasize it, exaggerate it. And until you answer it, the other team's going to be going for the football."
For his part, Brown took full responsibility for the turnover following the game.
"It's something that I have to fix," he said. "It's something that has to get done. It's very important. It's crucial. I'll spend a little more time before practice, spend a little time after practice, just have the ball in my hands more.
"I don't think (it was a matter of fatigue). I really didn't feel tired or anything. I'm not going to make any excuses for it. When you're in there, whether you're tired or not, you have to protect the ball."
Disappointment aside, Brown will also make sure not to let his mistake affect his confidence moving forward.
"I never beat myself up," he said. "You can't do that. You can't allow yourself to do that. Like I said before, I have a great group of guys, great coaches around me and they're not going to let me do it. They're going to push me and make sure I get it done. And I will. It's just been a while and I have to get back to the basics, protect the ball. It's important."
Brown, of course, does not have much of a recent history of being his team's feature running back. After a tumultuous college career in which he transferred from Tennessee to Kansas State, only to get injured and ultimately leave the team, Brown's start last week was his first since 2008 – when he was in high school. Experiencing and ultimately overcoming the adversity of his college career, though, is something that Brown will carry with him to help overcome this recent spell of fumbles.
"It's hard," he said. "During that time, it was a tough time for me, it's a tough time for me now. So I'm not discouraged or anything. I feel like I'm going to bounce back from it. I'm excited. I'm ready for another opportunity."
If Brown gets the start next week, he'll be challenged by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who sport the league's No. 1 run defense. It's a challenge Brown will face head on, and, perhaps, with an even firmer grip on the football.
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