It sure looked like it would be an Eagles kind of day early on Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field. But by the end of a crushing 20-19 defeat, a game that the Eagles just allowed Miami to hang around until the Dolphins took a lead, the Eagles faced an uncertain immediate future, particularly at the quarterback position.
First, the game: The Eagles vaulted out to a 16-3 lead at the end of the first quarter, their best of the season. All was joyful at Lincoln Financial Field. The offense had it going on, with Sam Bradford moving in and out of the pocket, finding open receivers and the passing game picking up huge chunks of yardage. The defense got to quarterback Ryan Tannehill on a perfect Walter Thurmond blitz that resulted in a safety and, well, it looked like the Eagles would build on the early performance and win a big one to start the season's second half.
Early in the second quarter, though, things changed. The momentum shifted. A low Jon Dorenbos snap didn't help placekicker Caleb Sturgis, who missed an easy 32-yard field goal attempt, and the winds turned. Miami put together an 11-play, 74-yard field goal drive and it was 16-6.
Then the Eagles' offense stalled, and a high Dorenbos snap, partnered with a well-executed Miami rush, resulted in a blocked punt, the second allowed this season by the Eagles and suddenly Miami had the football at the Philadelphia 12-yard line. Two plays later Tannehill swung a pass left for running back Lamar Miller and he raced into the end zone and it was, shockingly, 16-13 late into the second half.
And you know what? The Eagles got nothing going. Zippo. The offensive line, playing again without Jason Peters, took a beating with Lane Johnson at left tackle, Allen Barbre at left guard, Jason Kelce at center, Matt Tobin at right guard and Dennis Kelly at right tackle. Miami's interior dominated, particularly Ndamukong Suh, who finished the game with eight total tackles, a sack for a loss of 7 yards, three tackles for loss and three quarterback hurries.
"Whenever he wants to turn it on, I don't think there's anybody better in the league as far as a defensive tackle," Johnson said of Suh. "He's hard to stop. He's one of those guys, you see him lollygagging, b.s.ing and that's what makes him dangerous. I guess he got tired of losing. He's one of those guys, whenever he wants to turn it on, he can do it."
The offensive line had its troubles and was called for three holding penalties and a false start, and then in the third quarter gave up pressure that resulted in a sack of Sam Bradford that knocked him out of the game with a left shoulder injury and a concussion. Kelly was beaten on the play, an inside move by linebacker Chris McCain. Bradford went down hard, out for the rest of the afternoon. How much time he may miss remains the big-picture question. Despite plenty of big hits and a lot of pressure, Bradford was 19-of-25 for 236 yards and a touchdown before he went out.
In came Mark Sanchez for his first playing time of the season. He was put into comeback mode after Miami drove 87 yards in seven plays to take the lead on a crazy play -- a Tannehill pass on first-and-goal from the Philadelphia 4-yard line was batted high into the air by Connor Barwin. The Eagles' defense didn't react quickly, and wide receiver Jarvis Landry leaped up for the catch in the end zone.
"I got my hands on the ball and it went so high and I didn't see what happened until their receiver came down with the ball," Barwin said. "It was one of those kinds of days. Plays that like, bounces here and there, really hurt us."
It was 20-16, but there was most of the fourth quarter to play. And Sanchez responded, moving the offense into Miami territory. On first-and-10 from the Miami 22-yard line, he threw an apparent touchdown pass to tight end Zach Ertz and ... wait. Flags on the field. Miami had 12 men on the field. An illegal shift was called against the Eagles.
"That was all my fault," wide receiver Riley Cooper said. "I just didn't line up fast enough. It was on me. No excuses. That cost us."
Instead of a touchdown, the Eagles settled for a Sturgis field goal to trim the deficit to 20-19.
The Eagles threatened late in the fourth quarter. Starting a possession at the 50-yard line, they moved to Miami's 8-yard line as Sanchez completed passes to DeMarco Murray (12 yards), Zach Ertz (10 yards) and Murray again for 20 yards. A run by Murray lost a yard. On second-and-goal, Sanchez made the killer mistake.
He rolled left, rolled some more and tried to thread a pass to a crowded area for wide receiver Miles Austin. Sanchez said there was miscommunication with Austin. Interception by safety Reshad Jones.
It was the kind of killer turnover that marred Sanchez last season, his first with the Eagles. And it was the fifth end zone interception this season by Bradford (4) and Sanchez.
The Eagles returned home to face the Dolphins in Week 10 of the regular season. View the full gallery here...
This time it cost the Eagles with 4:32 remaining in the game. Miami took over on the 4-yard line and gained a pair of first downs and ate enough clock that the last-possession chance the Eagles had reached the Philadelphia 44-yard line before Sanchez' completion on fourth-and-10 to Jordan Matthews gained only 6 yards.
"It's a really tough game to lose and we're all upset at the way things went," said Celek, who had a 60-yard catch and run on the first offensive play for the Eagles. He caught four passes for season-high 134 yards on the day. "You can't lose these kinds of game. We let them hang around and hang around. We had our chances to put them away and we didn't do that. You can't play like that and expect to win in this league."
The Eagles outgained Miami 436 yards to 289 yards. They piled up 29 first downs. They were 7-of-18 on third downs and they averaged 6.8 yards per passing attempt. Heck, the Eagles even controlled the football for 31:07.
It added up to hollow numbers. A loss. A horrible way to open the second half of the season. They let a very winnable game go because they lost at the line of scrimmage, they allowed their quarterback to take a beating, they were an ineffective 2-of-5 in the red zone and they never took the football away from Miami's offense.
And while the defense was effective at times, limiting Miami to 289 total net yards and 15 first downs and scoring the early safety, it couldn't get the stop it needed at the end.
"We didn't play well enough," defensive coordinator Bill Davis said. "You're judged by wins and losses in this league and we lost the game. That's the bottom line. That's what matters. We didn't get it done today."
Next up is Tampa Bay, which had a thrilling come-from-behind win over Dallas on Sunday. Who plays quarterback? How do the Eagles bounce back emotionally? What happens with running back Ryan Mathews, who gained 18 rushing yards on eight carries before leaving the game with a concussion? Can the offensive line find some stable footing?
Most of all, what are the Eagles going to do with the final seven games of this regular season? Can they get to a high level and stay there for an extended period of time?
That's all there was at the end of an empty football day for the Eagles on Sunday. Questions. Plenty of them. Up and down and all around after a tough-to-digest loss in a game the Eagles had no business losing.