There was more to the defeat on Monday Night Football than a rude bounce or an inch this way or that, but the Eagles didn't get much of a break in a defeat that drops them to 3-5 at the season's halfway mark with an NFC game against Dallas on Sunday that, for the loser of the game, would be an incredibly damaging loss. More on that game later.
Losing to the Saints was hard to take.
The Eagles moved the ball well enough on offense, accumulating 447 total net yards, including more than 200 on the ground, but they failed to score a touchdown in five red-zone opportunities, the first of which actually put the Eagles in a hole that proved to be too much.
On second and goal from the New Orleans 6-yard line, Michael Vick's pass on the left side to tight end Brent Celek against an all-out Saints blitz was a shade wide for Celek -- say, three inches -- and instead of a catch for Celek, the ball tipped off of his hand into the hands of cornerback Patrick Robinson, who returned the interception 99 yards for a touchdown and a 7-0 New Orleans lead.
Then the Eagles came right back and put together a drive that landed them at the New Orleans 4-yard line. But three cracks for the Eagles from there went nowhere and the Eagles scored only a field goal to make it 7-3.
From there, though, the Eagles lost control of the game. They trailed 21-3 at the half. They climbed back in it during a spirited third quarter, but again failed in the red zone and were trailing 28-13 late in the third quarter when Bobby April's special teams tried to reverse the game's momentum.
Brandon Boykin took a kickoff up the left sideline and stopped and threw back to the right side for Riley Cooper. Cooper played possum on the play, pretending to fall down in the end zone. He then got up and caught Boykin's across-the-field throw and headed up the sideline untouched for an apparent touchdown.
But the referees ruled, correctly, that Boykin's attempt was an illegal forward pass and the return was nullified and, well, those inches again came into play.
In the end, though, there was much more to the loss. The Eagles didn't score touchdowns in the red zone once again. The defense had all kinds of trouble against a New Orleans running game that entered Monday night ranked 32nd and last in the league. New Orleans racked up 163 yards through three quarters, averaging 8.6 yards per rushing attempt. Drew Brees had his way in a very solid pocket, completing 19 of 25 passes for 237 yards and a couple of scores through those critical three quarters.
There were too many times when the Saints broke tackles and ran wide open against an Eagles defense that had another tough outing under Todd Bowles.
Offensively, the Eagles piled up yards and Vick threw the ball well, but the loss of right tackle Todd Herremans to an ankle/foot injury further depleted an injury-plagued offensive line. Vick took a lot of shots in the pocket and both right guard Dennis Kelly and right tackle Demetress Bell were beaten badly all night.
Vick, battered and beaten all night, was sacked seven times, and his ability to move away from trouble kept that number in single digits. The Eagles were overhwelmed by the 32nd-ranked defense in the NFL as Saints coordinator Steve Spagnuolo blitzed relentlessly.
Philadelphia's running game gained 105 yards in the first quarter and came up scoreless. All told the Eagles ran for more than 200 yards, but the struggles in the red zone robbed the Eagles of the chance to take an early lead or sustain momentum in the third quarter.
It was a frustrating night for the Eagles, who had an opportunity to get right back onto the heels of the NFC East-leading Giants. All three division teams lost on Sunday, and an Eagles win would have given the team something positive to build upon going into the final half of the season.
But it didn't happen on Monday night. There were too many missed opportunities and too many inches that went the other way and, ultimtely, too few points in the red zone. The Eagles had four possessions on which they had first-and-goal plays, and they came away with a total of six points scored and two giveaways accumulated on those four possessions.
Dallas waits, and the Eagles must have a great second half of the season to reach the playoffs. The losing streak has reached four games, and the season is at its most critical state.