The Bengals turned all of those plays – four fumbles, an interception and a blocked punt – into 34 points in a 34-13 Eagles loss. It was a sloppy exhibition from the Eagles, who at one point erased a 10-0 deficit to lead 13-10 at halftime.
But it all unraveled in the third quarter, with the Eagles nursing that three-point lead, starting when Nick Foles underthrew an open Jeremy Maclin running open behind the coverage on the left sideline. Foles threw the ball poorly – "I need to spin it, and I didn't" – and cornerback Leon Hall made the interception and returned it 44 yards to the Eagles 40, and the rout was on.
Crazy to think that way, right? The Eagles still led, and the defense was playing well, and why did it seem to turn so quickly? The Eagles unraveled in record time after that interception. Cincinnati used 8 plays to drive the 40 yards and score the touchdown and take a 17-13 lead.
When Foles and Co. got the ball back, it took all of two plays for the problems to continue. A Foles handoff to running back Bryce Brown was sloppy, and Brown never had control and he lost the ball – he was not assigned the fumble – and the football was there for Bengals defensive end Wallace Gilberry and he jumped on the ball quickly and raced 25 yards for a touchdown and a 24-13 advantage.
It got worse, folks. But you know that already. Tight end Clay Harbor fumbled after catching a Foles pass on the next possession and the Bengals recovered and kicked a field goal. It was 27-13 early in the fourth quarter, and then it became really sloppy: The ensuing kickoff was muffed by Cedric Thornton, the Bengals recovered and marched in for another touchdown.
Five turnovers – and a blocked punt that happened when Mat McBriar's kick went splat into wing protector Marvin McNutt's backside on a play that started late because the Eagles had only 10 players on the field and had to rush Harbor out to the field (Andy Reid said the play was on linebacker Ryan Rau, who missed an assignment to get on the field) – led directly to all of Cincinnati's 34 points. So it was a loss, a bad one on national television, and the Eagles have a long weekend to think about the poor performance.
In the big picture, there are some things to talk about. Foles took a sideways step in his fifth start after four games during which he progressively improved. His first half was fairly strong – Foles was 12 of 24 for 145 yards and a touchdown – and then it was all downhill in the second half. He was just 4 of 9 for 37 yards and an interception in the third and fourth quarters.
Foles missed on the deep ball to Maclin that was intercepted, and then he failed to reach Maclin on a throw down the right side later in the half. The question of Foles and his deep arm strength and accuracy comes into question, and it's something he will have to answer in the coming weeks.
Otherwise, Foles played a decent game. Not great at all, for the offense was ineffective in the red zone and Foles bears some of the responsibility. The play-calling was questionable – the Eagles threw a pass to tackle-eligible Matt Tennant and Foles' pass went into Tennant's gut and fell incomplete.
The Eagles scored one touchdown in three red-zone trips and were zero for two in goal-to-goal situations. It's been a problem, of course, for many seasons.
And what about Brown? He ran for just 34 yards on 16 carries, his second straight subpar performance. There wasn't much running room as Cincinnati dominated the line of scrimmage, but there were times when Brown should have taken the ball up the field rather than trying to bounce outside. He has to learn to take his two or three yards and not worry about trying to break a big one, but the truth is that he just may not have confidence right now that holes are going to be there between the tackles.
Bright spots? Oh, there were some. Brandon Graham played a fine game at left end with 2 ½ quarterback sacks and a forced fumble and now has 5 ½ sacks on the season. Trent Cole was good from the right end spot and Cullen Jenkins gave the Eagles a strong performance. Rookie tackle Fletcher Cox did a good job with 1 ½ quarterback sacks. The defensive line has responded to new coach Tommy Brasher and, in fact, the defense played well enough to win on Thursday night.
But when you turn the ball over five times, and when the special teams don't do much of anything right, it's hard to win against a solid Cincinnati team that is in playoff contention. The Eagles were just a mess in the second half of Thursday's game. They ran out of gas, or they lost their focus, or all of the injuries – they lost Harbor and left guard Evan Mathis on the night – finally caught up to them.
At 4-10, it's about pride and developing players and assigning grades and finding out who is deserving of an invite back for 2013. Thursday was a dreary night of football, including one of the worst halves of play from the Eagles all season.
That's the way it's been all season and, perhaps, the loss to the Bengals mirrored the season: The Eagles started fine enough, were in the lead, and then had the bottom drop out. They now are last in the league in the giveaway/takeaway department, one of the key measuring statistics for teams that win and teams that lose in the NFL.
On this night, the Eagles gave it away, and then some, in a loss worth forgetting, a loss that too accurately mirrors a season that began with so hope and ends with the Eagles playing the role of spoilers to division rivals Washington (December 23) and New York (December 30).