Among the many frustrations things about the 2012 Eagles season, one of the most exasperating aspects has been the team's penchant for beating themselves. That characteristic manifested itself in a big way Thursday night during the Eagles' 34-13 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. All six Bengals scores came as a result of mistakes made by the Eagles. Aside from a fumble return for a touchdown, the other five Bengals scoring drives began in Eagles' territory.
The costly turnovers began early, as wide receiver Jeremy Maclin fumbled on the Eagles' second play from scrimmage, giving the Bengals the ball on the Eagles' 48-yard line. Six plays later, Bengals running back Benjarvus Green-Ellis plunged in from a yard out to give the Bengals a 7-0 lead. They would extend that lead to 10-0 following a blocked punt that set the Bengals up in the red zone. Andy Reid would clarify after the game that the blocked punt came as a result of linebacker Ryan Rau, in his second NFL game, not coming onto the field when he was supposed to.
Though the Eagles fought back to take a 13-10 halftime lead, the second half took an ugly turn. An 11-yard Andy Dalton touchdown run capped an eight-play, 40-yard drive that came on the heels of Leon Hall's interception of Nick Foles. On the second play of the ensuing Eagles drive, the exchange from quarterback Nick Foles to running back Bryce Brown was disrupted when Brown was met behind the line of scrimmage by Bengals defensive tackle Pat Sims. Bengals defensive end Wallace Gilberry scooped up the ball and ran in 25 yards for a touchdown that gave the Bengals a 24-13 lead.
On the Eagles' very next offensive play, Foles completed a pass over the middle to tight end Clay Harbor, only to see Harbor fumble the ball away. Backed up against the wall, the Eagles defense then held strong, forcing the Bengals to convert a field goal. But the ensuing short kickoff was mishandled by Eagles defensive tackle Cedric Thornton and the Bengals got the ball right back. Though the defense held strong again, an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for simulating the snap count on the Eagles gifted the Bengals a first down, which they would convert into an A.J. Green touchdown.
"I thought the effort, the guys played hard, you just can't have those turnovers. That's a problem," said head coach Andy Reid following the game. "The turnovers were throughout the game, but there were a couple of them right there where we had three series and three turnovers. You have to take care of the ball. There's nothing that I can say about that, I have to make sure the guys do it. I take full responsibility and full blame for it."
All told, the Bengals' 34 points came directly on the heels of errors made by the Eagles, including an astounding stretch in which the team turned the ball over three out of four times touching the ball and surrendered 24 points in 3:26 of game time. In the process, the team's turnover margin on the season dropped to negative 22, tied with the Kansas City Chiefs for worst in the NFL.
"It was tough," said Harbor. "We were all trying hard. We kept telling ourselves, 'Alright, we're only down a score now. We're only down two scores now.' We wanted to go back on the field and do something for the team. It just snowballed for us and really got out of hand quickly, especially when I had an opportunity to come up with a big play and I fumbled the ball."
The various turnover culprits could hardly explain the confluence of miscues. Thornton, for his part, admitted that he should have fair caught the short kickoff.
"I never drop them in practice and I dropped that one when the game was on the line," he said. "I just need to be more focused. It was my fault. I lost sight of the ball when it was in the air and it was my fault, I was on the go and I need to be more focused … Definitely should have been a fair catch."
"Honestly, everything happened so fast," said Brown, who has three lost fumbles on the season, about the botched handoff that was charged to Foles. "I know that right at the exchange I'm getting hit. It was tough there. They got penetration as I'm going downhill. He could have hit Nick (Foles), he could have hit me, either or. But they did a good job of getting penetration and getting there before the exchange.
"From what everybody was telling me, they said there's not much I could have done. But I'll look at the film and see for myself if there's anything I could have done."
On the injury front, fullback Stanley Havili will have an MRI on his hamstring after leaving the game for good with a strain. Left guard Evan Mathis reinjured the ankle injury which kept him out of practice during the week and cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha hurt his hand, but returned to the game. Finally, cornerback Brandon Hughes was being evaluated following the game after he was hit by a pair of illegal blocks late in the fourth quarter.
Meanwhile, Reid confirmed that Foles, who went 16 of 33 for 182 yards, one touchdown and one interception for a quarterback rating of 62.9, will remain the team's starting quarterback for the final two games.
"I'm going to stick with Nick," Reid said.
Michael Vick is likely to return as the No. 2 quarterback when the team returns to practice next week. Pro bowl running back LeSean McCoy, unlike Vick, is still waiting to get his full post-concussion clearance from an independent neurologist.
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