What is left of this season after a difficult-to-digest 20-19 loss to Miami on Sunday? Hey, you're down in the dumps and you're angry and that's fair, but for the Eagles the transition to the here and now is very important with a division title still at stake.
The Eagles aren't going to snap their fingers and win seven straight games. They aren't going to play better in the red zone, cut down on their penalties, tackle more consistently and have improved ball security in the course of a press conference. Truth is, they aren't going to have much time to train with games on Sunday against Tampa Bay quickly followed by Thanksgiving Day in Detroit.
Head coach Chip Kelly met the media on Monday and talked about the slim difference between winning and losing in this league. One play makes a difference. The team that makes "one more play," as Kelly said, comes out on top.
This isn't the place to have a "woulda, shoulda" conversation. The Eagles can't look back and lament what has been. They've got a young-and-coming team in Tampa Bay visiting Lincoln Financial Field this week. At 4-5, thankfully, the Eagles are just a half-game back of New York in the division. You can talk about this going wrong and that not happening and, yeah, it's disappointing to be 4-5. But there is still hope.
So how do the Eagles turn this thing around? First, there is the matter of health. Kelly had no update on quarterback Sam Bradford, who was knocked out of Sunday's loss with a left shoulder injury and a concussion. Can Bradford play against Tampa Bay? If he doesn't go, it's Mark Sanchez with Thad Lewis as the No. 2 quarterback. Other players who need good news on the health front are running back Ryan Mathews (concussion) and left tackle Jason Peters (back), and we know how much of a difference they make when they're on the field.
Getting Peters back would be a huge plus for an offensive line that had a rough game on Sunday. Peters hasn't played since the Carolina game, so maybe he's got some fresh legs and is ready to play as a dominating left tackle down the stretch. It would be a gigantic help for the line to have Peters at the top of his game on the left side, with Lane Johnson moving back to the right side.
This is the start. Get the offensive line right and go from there. Whether it's Bradford or Sanchez against Tampa Bay, the offensive line needs to play much better than it did on Sunday.
No. 2, the running game needs to be the focal point of the offense, particularly in the red zone. The Eagles were 2-of-5 inside Miami's 20-yard line, and while the interception Sanchez threw in the end zone – the fifth end zone interception of the season for the Eagles - was so crushing, the two other missed chances in the red zone were also harmful. Leaving points on the field has been costly for the Eagles the last couple of seasons, especially in the red zone.
Running the football well down the stretch makes all the difference in the world for the Eagles, who can then set up the play-action passing game and give Bradford/Sanchez an extra tick to set up and throw the football. The shocking part of Sunday's loss was an Eagles rushing attack that gained only 83 yards against a Miami defense that had allowed 266 on the ground the week before against Buffalo and that ranked 31st in the league against the run.
I'm looking for an offense that plays with confidence and discipline and that exercises ball security in these final seven games. The Eagles need to be so much better on third downs - the offense ranks 30th in the NFL with a 31.8 third-down conversion percentage. It's a game-by-game proposition, isn't it? The offense has its work to do, starting Tuesday when training resumes at the NovaCare Complex.
Then there's the other side of the ball. The defense has had some shining moments in 2015. The run defense has been solid, for the most part. The Eagles have a lot of takeaways. They've been able to manufacture a pass rush without having a premier edge rusher, per se.
And the defense played pretty well against Miami. But the Dolphins opened the game with a field goal drive, scored 17 straight points after falling behind 16-3 and then milked valuable minutes off the clock late after the Sanchez interception by gaining a couple of first downs.
The key for this defense: Getting off the field on third down. Miami converted just 5-of-15 on Sunday, and that 33 percent rate is a great target for the Eagles in the coming weeks. The Eagles are 19th in the NFL in third-down defense, allowing opponents to convert on nearly 40 percent of their third downs.
On special teams, well, the Eagles are getting every teams' best performance each week. There have been too many breakdowns this season - two blocked punts, some missed field goals, mistakes in the "operation," of the kicking game, which means the snap and hold, too many penalties and not enough big returns.
Is there a reason to think that all of a sudden things are going to turn around? The time is now. The urgency is here. The Eagles, despite an underachieving 4-5 record, are very much in the thick of a muddy NFC East. Let's see if they can take advantage of their good fortune in these final seven games, starting Sunday against Tampa Bay.