I can’t even….
This was always going to be a tough game, on the road against the undefeated Panthers. Carolina has a legit defense with two outstanding linebackers (Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis) and the league’s hottest CB (Josh Norman), a tough workhorse RB in Jonathan Stewart, and Cam Newton, who can put his shoulder down and power for a TD or first down better than any other quarterback in the NFL. And give Carolina credit for having the best special teams unit the Eagles have faced in a long time, one that matched Philadelpia’s excellent special teams squad-toe-to-toe.
There was some room for optimism, since the Panthers have faced an easy schedule, and the Eagles defensive strength against the run matched up well with them. But the Eagles have struggled all year with chemistry problems and a rash of injuries among offensive linemen and inside linebackers. Vegas favored the Panthers by anywhere from 3 to 8 points.
The Eagles played sporadically great defense and intercepted Cam Newton three times. They ran well (177 yards) against a tough rushing D, and Sam Bradford was actually fairly decent in a Checkdown Charlie kind of way (26-46 for only 205 yards, no TDs, and one interception that wasn’t his fault).
But this loss was especially frustrating because it was so winnable. The Eagles were well on the way toward stealing this game, with three interceptions (they lead the NFL with 19 takeaways) and a beautiful 63-yard touchdown run by Ryan Mathews. But that hope was killed by a ridiculous number of drops and stupid drive-killing penalties on offense. Jason Kelce leads the NFL in offensive holding flags this year with six, one of which helped blow a very promising early drive.
I usually write a numbered list in this place after every game. Not this time. Seven drops is just that – the number of bad drops that Eagles receivers had today. Defining a drop is subjective, I get that. There might actually have been more. Even if you don’t count edge cases such as Zach Ertz’ potential touchdown – where Josh Norman tipped the ball and it floated in front of the TE, tapping his helmet – there were at least seven catchable passes muffed by Philadelphia’s receivers. Completing even half of them would have made this a win tonight.
It started on the very first drive. After three runs by DeMarco Murray for 20 combined yards — an excellent start — he bounced a perfect swing pass off his hands twice and dropped it. Then a false start penalty on Lane Johnson wiped out a 12-yard pass to Zach Ertz for a first down and a sack killed the promising drive.
The next drive was a single play — a four yard pass to (and a little behind) Jordan Matthews that went through his arms. As safety Colin Jones tackled him, the ball moved around and was pinned against Matthews’ stomach, but even then the wide receiver couldn’t get his hands on the ball and Jones pulled it in for an interception.
On it went all night. Matthews again. And again, until Chip had to bench him. Zach Ertz. Sproles, on a screen in the red zone (at the 11 yard line). Josh Huff — who had 11 receptions on 14 targets this year before tonight — in the back of the end zone, a great pass that should have been a touchdown. Then Miles Austin, who had previously caught 4 passes for 52 yards in the game.
The game ended, fittingly, on three ineffective checkdowns to Sproles and a drop. Actually the last play was more like a Hail Mary batted down, but by then it was far too late. Drops and penalties had limited three excellent scoring opportunities, stemming from interceptions, from touchdowns into just two field goals (and a miss that long snapper Jon Dorenbos took responsibility for).
These weren’t Sam Bradford’s fault for once. I count at most two of the drops where Bradford’s throw was a significant contributor, thrown behind the receiver as is Sam’s style. And it wasn’t just one or two receivers, (though Jordan Matthews was especially bad)– they were so common and crushing that the mind races to find some global explanation.
Greg Richards took the technical approach.
That may seem like a crazy idea, but it was seriously considered and posed to actual Eagles players after the game:
Kyle Scott had a more cynical take that, sadly, seems almost realistic:
It’s not the end of the world, going into bye week — the Cowboys lost, and the Eagles hold the tiebreaker over the division-leading Giants if they pick up a game on them, which shouldn’t be too hard. These problems should be fixable, but we’re almost halfway into the season and at a certain point, these flaws become what this team is.