How to feel after a 23-23 tie with Cincinnati that puts the Eagles at 0-2-1 in this 2020 season?
On one hand, the Eagles had chances, after a final-possession drive in regulation to tie the game, to win in overtime and steal one from a Bengals team that was largely the better team for most of Sunday afternoon at Lincoln Financial Field. On the other hand, the Eagles didn't acquit themselves from start to finish as we all hoped against 0-2 Cincinnati and finish with their first tie since tying the Bengals on November 16, 2008.
And then if you had a third hand, you would consider the big picture and wonder what toll injuries to tight end Dallas Goedert (ankle), wide receiver DeSean Jackson (hamstring), cornerback Avonte Maddox (ankle), and left tackle Jason Peters (helped off the field at the end of the game) will have going into consecutive road games at San Francisco and Pittsburgh, followed by a home game with Baltimore. All three teams have Super Bowl aspirations.
The Eagles are just trying to win a football game.
"I told 'em in the locker room after the game that we weren't a very smart football team today," Head Coach Doug Pederson said. "Eleven penalties. Came at crucial times. We couldn't get off the field on defense and offensively we didn't execute well enough. We had some injuries, but you know that's going to be part of the game. We're just not a smart football team right now and that's on me and we'll get that fixed."
For much of Sunday, it was an ugly performance by the Eagles, who nonetheless pushed the game into overtime with a stirring 11-play, 75-yard drive that ended with quarterback Carson Wentz diving into the end zone to complete a 7-yard run with 21 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter. Jake Elliott's PAT tied the game and the sideline momentum seemed real.
But in overtime, the teams exchanged scoreless possessions and then Cincinnati had a second three-and-out series before Wentz moved the offense, reaching the Cincinnati 43-yard line on a completion tight end Zach Ertz that gained 30 yards. But then, as Pederson alluded to, the penalties messed up the mojo. Lane Johnson committed a false start penalty and Nate Herbig was penalized for holding, blowing up the drive.
Later, after the defense forced a three-and-out possession from rookie quarterback Joe Burrow (31-of-44, 312 yards, two touchdowns, sacked eight times), Wentz and the offense again reached Cincinnati territory, at the 44-yard line, when things fell apart. A Miles Sanders run gained 1 yard. Wentz scrambled for 2 yards to the 41. On third-and-7, a Wentz pass for Ward fell incomplete. With 19 seconds remaining in sudden-death overtime, the Eagles lined up to give Elliott a shot at winning the game with a 59-yard field goal. But guard Matt Pryor committed a false start penalty and Pederson sent out the punting unit.
Game over. Game tied.
A deeper dive into the way the game played out reveals some of the usual suspects that have plagued the Eagles all season …
• Wentz threw two more interceptions, one on a tipped pass, and now has six interceptions and only two touchdown passes this season. He completed 29 of 47 passes for 225 yards on Sunday, although Wentz did make some things happen with his legs, running for 65 yards on nine attempts, including the one at the end of regulation that pushed the game into overtime. It didn't help that he spent most of the game throwing to young receivers like Greg Ward, Deontay Burnett, and rookie John Hightower after Goedert went out in the first quarter and Jackson suffered his hamstring injury later in the first half. The passing game is not in sync. Wentz averaged just 4.1 yards per passing attempt, at least 3 or 4 yards fewer than desired in the NFL. Twenty-one of Wentz's 47 attempts went to Ward (11 targets) and Ertz (10 targets). Goedert had one catch for 7 yards before his injury and Jackson had two catches for 11 yards on four targets before leaving the game.
• The Eagles piled up the rushing yards, 175 of them on 36 attempts, as Miles Sanders led the way with 95 yards on 18 carries. The Bengals contained Sanders in the passing game, however, limiting him to 12 yards on four receptions. That was huge. The Eagles had no safety valves and as the Bengals adjusted to the running game and gave up only a few Wentz runs as he scrambled away from pressure, Sanders was not as much of a factor – he gained 64 of his rushing yards in the first half and had three receptions for 9 yards in the second half and overtime. It just wasn't enough.
• Penalties were an enormous problem. The Eagles committed 11 of them for 93 lost yards. That's not what teams with postseason aspirations do.
• The defense had trouble with the Bengals' taller wide receivers – 6-foot-4 rookie Tee Higgins had five catches for 40 yards and two scores, and 6-2 slot receiver Tyler Boyd caught 10 passes for 125 yards on 13 targets as Burrow spread the ball to nine pass catchers. The pass rush came alive with eight quarterback sacks and a ton of pressure on Burrow, and the Eagles were better in the red zone, limiting Cincinnati to two touchdowns in four trips inside the Philadelphia 20-yard line. For a third straight game, however, the Eagles' defense did not take the football away, and that is extremely concerning. This Eagles' offense needs every bit of help it can get from the defense forcing turnovers.
• Defensively, the Eagles limited Cincinnati to three points scored after its two takeaways, an encouraging sign.
• Philadelphia failed to put the Bengals away after driving 10 plays and 39 yards to open the second half, scoring three points on Elliott's 54-yard field goal to go ahead 16-10. Instead of seizing momentum and holding it, the Eagles saw Cincinnati drive 76 yards on 10 plays as Burrow completed all seven of his passes for 78 yards including a 4-yard touchdown pass to Higgins.
At the end of the day, a tie is better than a loss, especially in an NFC East that is wide open and should remain that way all season. Pederson made the call he felt was right punting rather than having Elliott try a 64-yard field goal. We saw how the Eagles benefited in 2017 in the last few seconds of the game against New York when Elliott kicked his 61-yarder to turn the season around. Cincinnati would have taken over from the Philadelphia 46-yard line and, with maybe 12 or 13 seconds remaining after what would have been an Elliott field goal try, could have hit a 15-yard pass play and stopped the clock to give placekicker Randy Bullock a chance to win the game. Second-guessing isn't going to win the game for the Eagles, anyway.
With a brutal schedule ahead, the Eagles certainly have their work cut out for them. The uphill climb became even steeper on a day when the Eagles had a chance to notch a win against an 0-2 Bengals team, and didn't get it done. Just as the loss at Washington to open the season did, this tie is one the Eagles would like to have back. We'll see what it means when the dust settles in the NFC East.