Sunday's loss to Tampa was a frustrating game. The Eagles made just enough mistakes to lose. Some fans are all gloom and doom, but there is no shame in losing 27-21 on the road to a red-hot team. I think part of the problem is that the Eagles hadn't lost a real game in a long time.
Sure, there were losses in the preseason, but those were exhibition games. There was a loss to Dallas in the 2017 season finale, but that might as well have been an exhibition, with the Eagles resting most of their starters. You have to go all the way back to December 3, 2017 to find a real loss. The Seahawks beat the Eagles 24-10 in a very frustrating game.
That loss didn't affect the Eagles in any long-term way. Doug Pederson got his players ready for the next game and they beat the Rams in a heavyweight showdown. The 2017 Eagles had an amazing ability to compartmentalize things. They could overcome a bad play or a bad series. They didn't let a bad quarter or even a bad half get the best of them. When they somehow played a bad game, it didn't spill over to the next week. They lived in the moment.
There was no panic on Sunday, not when the Eagles gave up a touchdown on the first play of the game nor when they were down 20-7 at halftime. The Eagles kept grinding and they gave themselves a chance to win the game. You need to see that kind of resiliency on a day when the team isn't playing well.
Each season is going to have its own kind of struggles. Last year the Eagles had key injuries to deal with and a challenging road schedule. The players and coaches handled things one game at a time. That focus served them well. There were no "trap games" because of that. The Eagles took everyone seriously and effort was never a question.
Injuries have been an issue this season as well. Mike Wallace and Jay Ajayi got hurt early in the game in Tampa and that left the offense scrambling for answers. Eventually, Nick Foles settled down and the guys around him stepped up.
Nelson Agholor caught a short pass and turned that into a 50-yard gain. Corey Clement had a catch-and-run that went for 19 yards. Kamar Aiken had an 18-yard reception. Josh Perkins caught four passes for 57 yards, including an impressive 30-yard reception. It turned out to be too little too late, but it was good to see players finally making some plays on offense.
The bigger problem on Sunday was the defense.
We knew Ryan Fitzpatrick was brilliant in the season opener. We knew the Bucs had weapons. But facing the Eagles' defense, that would change things. Right?
Unfortunately, it was the Eagles who were in for a rude awakening. Malcolm Jenkins inexplicably bit on an underneath route on the first play and DeSean Jackson suddenly had the deep middle of the field all to himself.
Jalen Mills doesn't have the speed to run with Jackson. Mills expected to have safety help, but Jenkins biting on the short route left him exposed and Jackson hauled in a 75-yard touchdown pass. You know the coaches told Jenkins all week to stay deep. The saying in the football world is "deeper than the deepest." Don't let anyone behind you.
A simple mental breakdown cost the Eagles seven points. Ronald Darby later turned a short play into a long touchdown by also having a bad moment. Tight end O.J. Howard caught the ball 11 yards upfield. Darby was right there for the tackle.
Instead, Darby made some bizarre attempt to strip the ball and whiffed badly. Howard, who is a gifted athlete, was off to the races. That gave the Bucs another 75-yard touchdown.
You just aren't going to win many games when you give up explosive plays like that. The Eagles' defense is still a very talented group and I have high expectations for it. It doesn't matter how good you are if you make key mistakes against an explosive passing game.
The Eagles had some good moments on defense. They came up with a pair of takeaways. Believe it or not, they forced Tampa to punt the ball six times. It doesn't feel like that, but it's true. The Bucs actually punted more than the Eagles.
The defense stiffened after halftime, allowing only one scoring drive, and that started near midfield. As with the Eagles' offense, it proved to be too little, too late, but you are encouraged that the team kept battling and gave themselves a chance to win.
As disappointing as the coverage issues were, it was also frustrating for the defensive line not to get better pressure on Fitzpatrick. Fletcher Cox had another strong game. He had a sack and got multiple pressures, but overall the group wasn't as good as they needed to be. The defensive line dominated against Atlanta. That wasn't the case in Tampa.
One bright spot in the game was Cameron Johnston. The first-year punter averaged 56 yards per punt, routinely flipping the field for the Eagles. He has become a weapon. Johnston is now the leading punter in the NFL at 53.9 yards per punt. That's impressive.
The Eagles were sloppy on offense, defense, and special teams. A dumb penalty negated a long punt return by Clement. A series of penalties put the offense into a third-and-41 situation early in the game. I've never heard of such a thing. There was a breakdown in the red zone that left Tampa receiver Chris Godwin wide open for an easy touchdown.
You aren't going to beat talented teams making costly mistakes like that. The coaches must clean that up and get the Eagles back to playing smart, efficient football.
Everyone is excited by the return of Carson Wentz, and rightfully so, but please don't expect that he's going to fix all the problems. Football is the ultimate team sport. For the Eagles to get back on the winning track, the whole team must step up.