TAMPA, Florida – Despite it all, the big plays allowed by the defense, the up-and-down nature of the offense, the mistakes, the heat – the Eagles still had a chance. Tampa Bay football, 2:40 remaining, nursing a six-point lead deep in its own territory. The Eagles' defense stormed the castle on first down, tackling running back Peyton Barber for a 3-yard loss.
Timeout Eagles, with 2:36 remaining in the fourth quarter.
"I thought, right there," middle linebacker Jordan Hicks said, "that we were going to win the game. All we needed was another stop and we give the ball back to our offense and we're rolling."
But the combination of quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick to wide receiver DeSean Jackson struck for a 17-yard gain, and Tampa Bay was out of trouble. A third-and-3 completion a few plays later from Fitzgerald to Mike Evans to gain a first down, working against Jalen Mills – who had a very tough day – clinched it for the Buccaneers in a 27-21 win at Raymond James Stadium.
A lack of offensive explosiveness for much of the game and a defense that gave up too many big plays proved to be a lethal combination for the Eagles. The loss dropped them to 1-1 and raised more questions about an offense that has just not been successful pushing the football down the field in large gulps of yardage.
The defense? Hopefully, it was a rare blip. After the dominating performance in Week 1 against Atlanta, the defense allowed a pair of 75-yard touchdown passes and four of them, in total, to Fitzpatrick, whose thrown eight touchdown passes in Tampa Bay's 2-0 start.
The takeaways from this one? The defense couldn't get its claws into Fitzpatrick, who did an excellent job getting the football out before the pass rush could reach him. The Eagles didn't cover well enough on the back end, allowing a whopping 402 passing yards to Fitzpatrick, who completed 27 of 33 passes. Jackson had 129 yards, including a 75-yard touchdown on the game's first play from scrimmage, on four receptions. Evans caught 10 passes for 83 yards. Tight end O.J. Howard had a 75-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown and Chris Godwin had five receptions for 56 yards and a score.
Offensively, the Eagles were challenged once again and quarterback Nick Foles targeted newly signed receiver Kamar Aiken six times and Joshua Perkins, a tight end lining up in the slot more often than not, six times. Most of the time, though, Foles threw to tight end Zach Ertz a bunch (12 targets) and wide receiver Nelson Agholor a bunch (12 targets). And Tampa Bay knew it.
The options, then, were limited for an offense missing wide receivers Alshon Jeffery and Mack Hollins. Left tackle Jason Peters played only two series before leaving the game with a quadriceps injury. Wide receiver Mike Wallace suffered an ankle injury in the first quarter and did not return. He left the stadium wearing a walking boot. Running back Jay Ajayi spent much of the game on the sidelines trying to loosen up a first-quarter back injury and, although he returned and scored a touchdown in the third quarter, Ajayi had just seven carries for 23 yards.
"There's no panic, but we have to play better football," said Ertz, who gained 94 yards on his 11 receptions. "We had some key penalties, we turned the ball over (two fumbles), and we didn't sustain drives. It wasn't good enough."
A slow start didn't help matters, either. The Eagles were fortunate to trail only 7-0 after the first quarter as punter Cameron Johnston flipped the field with his kicking and the defense held Tampa Bay off the scoreboard. A 13-play, 78-yard drive culminated by a Corey Clement 15-yard touchdown drive tied the game at 7-7 in the second quarter, but on the very next play from scrimmage Fitzpatrick found tight end O.J. Howard over the middle for a completion and Ronald Darby whiffed on a tackle attempt and Howard got to the sideline and turned up the field for a 75-yard catch-and-run touchdown.
"I just missed him," Darby said. "Too many mistakes. That was a big one. I need to make that tackle."
A three-and-out series by the offense gave Tampa Bay another chance in the first half and Fitzpatrick led a touchdown drive that ended with a touchdown pass to Godwin. The PAT made it 20-7 Bucs at halftime.
Philadelphia gained possession of the football first in the second half and failed to convert a fourth-and-4 play from the Tampa Bay 49-yard line, and the Bucs took possession at their 46 and put together a seven-play, 54-yard drive that ended with another Fitzpatrick touchdown pass, this time to Mike Evans.
It was 27-7 at this point. The thousands of Eagles fans on hand tried to keep the energy, and the Eagles responded. An Ajayi touchdown capped a nine-play, 84-yard drive late in the third quarter. Another long drive, eight plays and 78 yards, ended with a Nick Foles scoring pass to wide receiver Nelson Agholor.
The Eagles had some hope. They had some momentum.
The defense just couldn't make one final stop.
"We need to start faster and finish stronger," Mills said. "We had too many breakdowns, too many miscues. We can't do that and expect to win. We'll keep working and get it better."
Up ahead, the Eagles host Indianapolis on Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field. The expectation is that the turnaround has to start then, and to do so, the Eagles need a 60-minute game. As they learned again on Sunday in Tampa, late rallies and scoring flurries are exciting, but they aren't often good for the win-loss totals.
Check out all of the best photos from Philadelphia Eagles vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium on September 16, 2018.