NASHVILLE --It was right there for the Eagles, and they couldn't finish the deal. They had the lead. They had the ball. They were going in for a score that would have given them a big lead and maybe put the Tennessee Titans away. But one play changed everything. And in the aftermath of the 37-19 loss to the Titans on Sunday at LP Field, that one sequence was a big-time game changer.
"One play changed everything," said quarterback Kevin Kolb, referring to a fumble in the third quarter that killed an Eagles drive inside the Tennessee 5-yard line. "It sure seemed to give them some life."
Asante Samuel's interception of a Kerry Collins pass gave the Eagles, leading 16-7, at the Tennessee 41-yard line early in the third quarter. The Eagles used seven plays to reach Tennessee's 3-yard line, and then on play No. 8, the entire game changed. On first and goal, quarterback Kevin Kolb attempted a handoff to the right side to running back LeSean McCoy. But the Eagles' makeshift offensive line -- King Dunlap was injured four plays earlier, forcing left guard Todd Herremans to left tackle, with Nick Cole inserted at left guard -- couldn't handle defensive tackle Jason Jones, who shot a gap and jarred Kolb. McCoy never had control of the football and it bounced away from his grasp. Tennessee recovered at its 3-yard line.
"They blitzed and hit a gap and they made the play," said right guard Max Jean-Gilles. "We didn't get the job done up front. It's on us."
Center Mike McGlynn accepted the responsibility afterward, but every player shared in the defeat. Even with the turnover, the defense had Tennessee pinned at its 1-yard line, facing a second-and-12 snap. The Eagles just needed to hold, get the ball back and score again. They were moving the ball well all day, mixing the run and the pass. But the defense couldn't stop Tennessee. Not then. Not the rest of the game. A pass-interference penalty against Ellis Hobbs gave Tennessee a first down at its 22-yard line and the Titans manufactured a 74-yard drive that ended in three points.
The Eagles countered with a David Akers field goal to lead 19-10, but the Titans owned the fourth quarter. The offense failed to sustain drives and the defense didn't stop the Collins-to-wide receiver Kenny Britt combination and, well, it was a terrible final 15 mninutes. Britt, who didn't start the game after he was involved in an off-the-field altercation early on Friday morning, more than made up for it with 7 catches for 225 yards and 3 touchdowns. One of them was an 80-yard score when the deep coverage -- on this play safety Nate Allen -- couldn't stop Britt.
"When you're playing against a big receiver who can run and the ball is in the air, you have to make the play," said safety Quintin Mikell. "We have to be better there. We have to make those plays."
A game that appeared to be the Eagles' turned into a nightmare finish, and it raised a lot of questions as the Eagles fell to 5-7 in the Andy Reid era in their game before the bye week. Philadelphia led 16-10 after three quarters, even with the botched handoff. But the defense fell apart in the fourth quarter and the offense gained 49 yards in five possessions, with one final, terrible turnover that was returned for a touchdown on the last play of the game.
It also didn't help that Jorrick Calvin fumbled a punt in the quarter, but by then the Eagles were down 8 points and losing traction.
And it didn't help that the Eagles were 1 of 4 in touchdown efficiency in the red zone, or that the defense allowed so much down the field when their first focus, containing running back Chris Johnson (24 carries, 66 yards), worked to near perfection.
The Eagles had a chance to put the Titans away several times and failed to do so.
"I felt like we battled. I felt like we put drive after drive after drive together, but I'll tell you right now that I missed two many easy ones early when we had a chance to get one of those shots on them, really about three of them," said Kolb. "I just didn't execute. I felt like that let them hang around and you can't do that. I've been saying this for a couple of weeks now: We have to have that step-on-their-throats mentality and it came back and bit us today.
"We're a young team and we have to learn from it. I have to learn from it."
The Eagles blew a golden opportunity to reach 5-2 at the bye week. Now they will spend the week healing and self-evaluating the first seven games. When the season resumes, Michael Vick will be the starting quarterback and hopefully the team's performance in the red zone will be as good -- perfect -- as it was when he started at Detroit and Jacksonville. By then, left tackle Jason Peters should be good to go, along with DeSean Jackson and defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley.
And maybe at some point the Eagles will learn to correct their mistakes and put teams aways when they have the chance to do so. Maybe this team will cut down on its mistakes -- the Eagles committed 10 penalties for 100 yards lost -- and Kolb averaged just 4.6 yards per passing attempt. Minus Jackson, the offense lacked the big-play effect, so the Eagles need to get him back on the field. They also need to work tight end Brent Celek back into the flow -- he had just 2 catches for 8 yards.
Defensively, the Eagles sacked Collins 3 times in the first half and zero in the second half. The coverage down the field was terrible against Britt, who had a career game. Teams are clearly throwing at Ellis Hobbs at the right cornerback position, so what kind of adjustments can Sean McDermott make?
The Eagles will come back from this loss, but right now it smarts. A lot. The win was right there ... and then it wasn't. And everybody shares in the blame for this loss, just as everyone will need to look at himself in the mirror and improve during the bye week.
It was a crazy loss. The Eagles converted 10 of 18 third downs and held the ball for 33 minutes, 24 seconds. They contained Johnson. They led at the half and lost the game for the first time after 22 successful holds.
This was a total team effort, one that requires a total team recovery.