Nelson Agholor, for the second straight game, had made a costly error, and as he walked off the field, Jason Peters blocked his path.
Last week, Agholor dropped a sure touchdown late in the Eagles’ loss to the Falcons. On Sunday, he muffed another Carson Wentz pass before fumbling late in the second quarter of what would become a 27-24 loss to the Detroit Lions at Lincoln Financial Field.
The wide receiver was just one of many Eagles, particularly on the offensive side, who made ill-timed mistakes. But Agholor’s turnover after last week’s blunder drew the attention of Peters, who has historically been blunt with teammates when conveying a message.
“He told me, ‘Hey, we’re going to need you to win this game. Move on,’” Agholor said.
But Agholor’s reaction to Peters said something different. He became visibly irate until guard Brandon Brooks joined the conversation.
“You got to understand that JP’s old school and has a certain way,” Brooks said. “He let him know what he thought. And he has a right to say it. But I’m also a little more like Nelson. Can’t let one drop ball or fumble affect you. He’s a great player. I just needed him to know that, because everybody’s on you.
“But don’t get me wrong, people are frustrated. We’re trying to win games.”
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And the Eagles, despite all their talent, keep shooting themselves in the collective foot. And, no, that isn’t a subtle reference to their disproportionate number of foot and other such injuries. But a self-harm metaphor could be a way to describe Agholor’s inconsistent NFL career.
For all his ability, and despite the resiliency he has shown multiple times – and again Sunday -- Agholor can’t seem to get out of his own way.
“I’m in my fifth year and every opportunity I get, I try to take advantage of it,” Agholor said. “Ain’t nobody in this league perfect. There’s no receiver who’s played a perfect game, and guys have made a lot of plays with drops.
“I know I’m not perfect, but I know I’m a good receiver in this league.”
But with outside starting receivers DeSean Jackson and Alshon Jeffery sidelined with injuries, the Eagles needed Agholor to be better, if not perfect. But he wasn’t the only one who fell short. Six ball catchers had drops against Detroit. Running back Miles Sanders fumbled twice and lost one. The Eagles committed three offensive pass interference penalties.
“Guys make mistakes,” Wentz said. “Any time somebody drops a pass or something like that, I make sure I go right up to them and tell them it’s coming their way the next time.”
The Eagles were placed in a pickle in Atlanta when Jackson, Jeffery and tight end Dallas Goedert were unavailable early. Backup receivers Mack Hollins and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside hadn’t practiced with the first-team offense and it was evident.
They had a full week of preparation for the Lions, but it would be disingenuous to suggest that the Eagles’ offense would be the same without their top two receivers.
“I wouldn’t say drastically,” Wentz said. “Obviously, when you have a guy like DeSean, the shock plays are usually a little more involved, but I think guys really rallied around each other.”
But Hollins and Arcega-Whiteside can’t stretch defenses like Jackson, nor can they win contested balls like Jeffery. The Lions’ game plan was to double tight end Zach Ertz, shade a safety to Agholor’s side, and take their chances against the outside receivers in mostly man coverage.
“It’s tough, obviously,” Ertz said of Jackson and Jeffery. “Those are two of the best receivers in the league. I got double-teamed almost every passing play.”
Hollins caught 4-of-7 targets for 62 yards, but he was called for pass interference twice and dropped a pass that hit his hands over the middle on the Eagles’ final drive. Arcega-Whiteside has now played almost the entirety of two games, but he’s had only two catches for 14 yards over that span.
And he couldn’t pull in a catchable Wentz pass on the Eagles’ final offensive play – a heave just over Lions corner Rashaan Melvin that also hit him in the mitts.
“I got to go get it,” Arcega-Whiteside said. “It was tight coverage. I was going to elevate, expecting some contact. There really was no contact. And then the ball just kind of ended up right there.”
Tight end Dallas Goedert’s drop was the worst, as he was wide-open in the end zone. Ertz and running back Jordan Howard had the other two. Coach Doug Pederson said that two of the prominent reasons for drops is a lack of focus or not being strong to the ball.
“Today it was probably more on the focus part of it,” Pederson said. “Just have to secure the ball.”
The same could be said of Agholor’s fumble. He caught a short pass from Wentz, and as he turned the ball popped out unforced. The 26-year-old receiver would rebound with a 20-yard touchdown, courtesy of an open-field spin move, and he would also catch a 2-yard touchdown to narrow the Lions’ lead to three in the fourth quarter.
But his 8-of-12 catching for 50 yards and a 6.3 average weren’t enough.
“I focus little on the good sometimes,” Agholor said. “That’s the reality of it because you didn’t win.”
Agholor’s confidence has been tested before. Pederson benched him in 2016. A few years back, he was dropping so many passes in practice, Peters brusquely told him that he wasn’t good enough to play in the NFL. If he meant to motivate the receiver, it worked as Agholor would become one of the better slot receivers in 2017.
The left tackle, who missed part of the game with an illness, wasn’t available to reporters after the game. After his fumble was upheld, Agholor sat next to Peters, who put his arm around him. They spoke briefly and then parted.
“I was very happy he came over to me,” Agholor said. “It meant a lot to me because he’s the guy. His words meant a lot. He said I needed to make plays to put us in the game and I tried to do that.”
But it wasn’t enough.