The Eagles played a lot of mistake-free football in starting the season 3-0. That was not the case on Sunday when the Eagles fell to the Lions, 24-23. There were too many penalties. There were dropped passes and missed tackles. The Eagles had their first turnovers of the young season. This was a game the Eagles should have won. They just couldn't overcome the sloppy mistakes they made throughout the game.
The Eagles can actually benefit from the loss if Doug Pederson and his staff can turn the mistakes into lessons for future use. Start with the Eagles final play of the game. Carson Wentz threw his first interception of the season. Wentz didn't make a good throw or a good decision on that play. The Eagles were down just one point. Wentz needed to focus on getting the team down in to good field goal range, somewhere inside the Lions 30-yard line. Scoring a touchdown would have been great, but wasn't necessary. Focus on the field goal.
Prior to the snap, Wentz should have been thinking about the fact it was first down and there was 1:28 left on the clock. That wasn't a situation that called for desperation. The Eagles had plenty of time and downs to work with. Wentz needed to be smart with the football. Anything other than a turnover would have been acceptable. Unfortunately Wentz got a bit too greedy and tried to hit Nelson Agholor for a huge play. You can argue that there was contact with the defender and a flag should have been thrown. You can argue that Agholor should have broken up the pass. The bottom line is that Wentz should not have thrown that pass. It wasn't the smart move in such a critical situation.
The good news is that Pederson has done an excellent job of coaching this year and that Wentz is a very smart rookie. Pederson can use that play to teach Wentz what to do in a future situation where the Eagles find themselves trailing late in a game. The lesson should have more impact because it comes from a tough loss. Players don't listen as well when things work out. You can bet that is a play that Wentz will run in his head over and over and over. He hates to lose and is a very driven young man.
The shame of that final pass is that it will overshadow another strong performance by Wentz. He faced the first real adversity of his young career, finding the Eagles down 14-0 in the first quarter. Prior to that, the biggest deficit was 7-3 in the Chicago game. Wentz never panicked. He stayed in control and made some terrific throws. The short touchdown pass to Josh Huff looked simple, but watch the way Wentz threw it. He made sure he had the right angle and then had the right combination of touch and velocity. Wentz hit Jordan Matthews along the right sideline for a gain of 27 late in the first half. That came on second-and-25. It moved the chains and helped set up a field goal.
Wentz saved his best throw of the game for the next to last drive. The Eagles faced third-and-six with 3:35 left in the game. Pederson could easily have just run the ball and relied on his defense to come up with another stop. Instead he trusted his young star and Wentz delivered. Wentz hit Matthews with a perfect throw on the right sideline for a gain of 10. Wentz put the ball low and to the outside. That kept it away from the defender and Matthews went down and made a clutch catch.
You never want to fall behind 14-0 or 21-7 like the Eagles did on Sunday, but it was good to see how Wentz and his teammates responded. The Eagles scored on five of six drives to take a 23-21 lead late in the game. There weren't a bunch of crazy plays. The Eagles moved the ball efficiently and executed well on offense. With a young coach and young quarterback, it would have been easy for that situation to spiral out of control. Heck, that can happen to veteran players. Look at what the Eagles did to the Steelers two weeks ago. That team is full of veterans and they completely fell apart. Pederson is a rookie coach and Wentz is a rookie quarterback, but they are not normal rookies. Forget about the standard learning curve with these two.
The biggest mistake of the game belonged to veteran Ryan Mathews. He fumbled on the next to last drive, the one thing he couldn't do in that situation. The Eagles were near midfield. Not converting on third down was okay. You then punt the ball and rely on the defense. Mathews got hit squarely and the ball popped out. Instead of pinning the Lions deep, they got the ball just outside of field goal range. That turnover led to the game-winning points.
What happened to the Eagles juggernaut defense on Sunday? They were invisible in the first half. Actually, that's a poor choice of words. They were far too visible, getting stuck on the field for 35 plays and three touchdowns. Jim Schwartz's unit has been great this year, but struggled mightily in the opening half. They let the Lions get outside on some run plays. There were coverage breakdowns. Mychal Kendricks missed a key tackle on third down that kept a drive alive. Fletcher Cox pulled the helmet off Matt Stafford to keep a drive alive with a penalty.
Things changed in the second half. The Eagles played with more urgency and started making plays instead of making mistakes. They held the Lions to 45 yards and three points, which is great defense. Linebacker Nigel Bradham was all over the field. He finished with three tackles-for-loss and a fumble recovery. The Lions ran the ball 10 times for just three yards after halftime. That is some dominant run defense.
We do need to give the Lions a lot of credit for this game. They were 1-3 coming off a bad loss to the Bears. Teams are most dangerous when they are the most desperate. The Lions got creative with their offense. They used Golden Tate as a runner, giving him three carries. Stafford didn't force the ball to Marvin Jones, the second leading receiver in the league. Stafford spread the ball around. Jones finished with just 37 yards, easily his lowest output of the year.
The sign of a good team is one that can make adjustments. Schwartz and his players figured out the Lions attack and executed much better in the second half. You could really see this when they tried to run outside. Suddenly there were several Eagles staying wide and forcing the runner to go back inside or deeper than he wanted, which gave time for pursuit to come in and help make the play.
Losing games is never fun, but it can be beneficial if used correctly. Pederson said his team wasn't happy in the locker room and was on their iPads on the plane ride back to Philly, trying to figure out what went wrong and how to fix those mistakes. That's exactly what you want to hear from a team coming off their first loss. Don't deny it. Don't excuse it. Embrace the loss and use it as a lesson on what went wrong and for motivation for the next game.