NFL games are 60 minutes long. There are four quarters, each lasting 15 minutes. The only thing that truly matters is which team is leading at the end of those 60 minutes.
On Sunday, the Eagles dominated the game for the first three quarters. They led 17-0 and were in control of the game. There was every reason for fans and players to have big smiles on their faces. The Eagles were kicking butt and life seemed pretty good.
Unfortunately, games last for 60 minutes, not 45. Carolina dominated the final quarter, outscoring the Eagles 21-0. That's all the Panthers had to do to win the game. That one great quarter made the first three quarters irrelevant. Those smiles turned to frowns and scowls. Life was anything but good.
NFL teams are pretty evenly matched. Games often boil down to which team makes the key plays. For three quarters, that game was all about Carson Wentz, Zach Ertz, Alshon Jeffery, Fletcher Cox, and Michael Bennett.
That final quarter was all about Cam Newton, Luke Kuechly, Christian McCaffrey, and the Panthers. They moved the chains. They got stops on defense. They scored touchdowns.
This loss hurt. Bad. When you're up 17-0 in the fourth quarter in a home game, you have to win. NFL games are hard. Most are going to be back-and-forth affairs, filled with pressure moments. When things go your way and you can build a 17-point lead, you must close that game out.
Coaches and players all share blame in a loss like this. They'll watch the tape and suffer through every little mistake that led to the final outcome.
The biggest frustration is that the Eagles looked so good for most of the game. Carson Wentz finished with a quarterback rating of 119.6. He made some great throws. He had great touch and accuracy. Wentz threw a pair of touchdowns and had five completions of 20 or more yards.
Ertz had a monster game, catching nine passes for 138 yards. Those numbers don't tell the whole story. Several of the catches were incredibly impressive, requiring great hands and body control. He is having an amazing season. No other tight end is close to his production this year.
Jeffery caught seven passes for 88 yards and had a touchdown. He also made some tough catches. Jeffery and Wentz have really developed great chemistry.
The defensive line looked great at times. Newton dropped back to pass 12 times in the first half. He was sacked twice, pressured regularly, and forced to scramble once. Carolina did a better job in protection in the fourth quarter. The Eagles got some pressure, but weren't able to come up with a sack.
When it mattered most, the Eagles didn't have any answers.
Doug Pederson mentioned in his postgame press conference that players have to make plays. In a way, it really is as simple as that. The coaches certainly could have changed up what they did, but the bottom line is players just couldn't make plays at the key moments.
Pederson still has a lot of confidence in his team. He talked about how the Eagles are only a couple of plays away from being 5-2. While true, some people see that as twisted logic and putting a bad spin on a poor start to the season.
Pederson is absolutely right. The Eagles' season has come down to a handful of plays. The team made them against the Colts and Falcons and won. The Eagles didn't in losses to the Titans, Vikings, and Panthers.
The 2007 Eagles were a similar team. They finished 8-8. The 2011 Eagles also dealt with a lot of close games. They also finished 8-8. Heck, just go back to 2016. That team played in a lot of close games. They finished 7-9.
Can the 2018 Eagles be different?
Pederson believes this team will start winning the close games. He knows how good these players can be. He knows Wentz is a great quarterback. The talent is there.
There is reason for optimism. The Eagles had a four-game win streak in 2016. They had a nine-game win streak last year. Pederson has shown that he can get his teams to play at a high level for an extended period of time.
Getting healthy will also help the situation. Darren Sproles, Haloti Ngata, and Sidney Jones could all be back in the next couple of weeks. Mack Hollins and Mike Wallace could be coming back. That would improve the offense, defense, and special teams.
It will be interesting to see how the Eagles play this week. Good teams can compartmentalize. If they lose a bad game, they move on. If they have a big win, they move on. They live week to week. It is fair to question if this is a good team right now so this week's game will give us some answers.
I think Pederson is doing the right thing in showing faith in his players. Fire and brimstone speeches make for good movie scenes, but they don't always work in reality. Execution is more important than emotion. We are almost at midseason and that has to change if this team is going to be different than the 2007, 2011, or 2016 Eagles.